UM hoops serves notice to title-hunting Maryland: This is a big game for us, too
Ann Arbor — When Michigan and Maryland meet in Sunday’s regular-season finale, the stakes will be high. Well, at least for one team.
For the No. 9 Terrapins, at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season title and a possible No. 1 seed in the conference tournament will be on the line.
For the No. 25 Wolverines, there’s a chance to boost their resume and improve their seeding for the postseason. And, not to mention, a shot to deny Maryland’s claim for the conference crown.
“I know it's the last game of the season, but we’re still playing to see where we can end up in the Big Ten tournament,” senior center Jon Teske said after Thursday’s win over Nebraska. “We're just going to go out there and we know what they're playing for. We're trying to play spoiler if we can.”
The Wolverines (19-11, 10-9 Big Ten) will have a pair of teams cheering for them to ruin Maryland’s Senior Day and pull off the upset: Michigan State and Wisconsin.
That’s because the Terrapins (23-7, 13-6) are locked into a three-way tie atop the conference standings with the Spartans and Badgers after squandering two chances to clinch a share of the title. They couldn’t get the job done at home against Michigan State last week and followed that up with a dud at Rutgers on Tuesday.
While a title won’t be up for grabs for Michigan, there will still be seeding implications. The Wolverines are more than likely going to finish as the No. 8 or No. 9 seed for next week’s Big Ten tournament. Of the 128 possible tiebreaker scenarios remaining with one game to go, all but four have them playing in the 8-9 game against either Rutgers or Purdue.
Still, there’s a minuscule chance Michigan could climb up and grab the No. 7 seed. For that to happen, the Wolverines would need to beat Maryland and would also need wins by Rutgers (at Purdue), Penn State (at Northwestern), Ohio State (at Michigan State) and Illinois (versus Iowa). In that case, Michigan would either face Indiana or Purdue.
The winner of the 8-9 game advances to face the No. 1 seed. The winner of the 7-10 contest plays the No. 2 seed.
A road win over Maryland would also give Michigan its seventh Quad I victory of the season and would help its case to move up a seed line in the NCAA Tournament. Bracket Matrix, a composite of NCAA Tournament projections, has the Wolverines listed as a composite No. 6 seed.
So even though it may seem like Michigan doesn’t have much to play for on Sunday, senior guard Zavier Simpson said message to team will be simple: Stay focused.
“Obviously we can't win the championship that day, but we have a conference tournament championship coming up and hopefully the NCAA Tournament to win as well,” Simpson said. “The most we can do is continue to build habits. Even if it doesn't work that game, it's the habits that we're building so we have an opportunity to be on the other side of the ball like Maryland is and play for a championship.”
Leaving the Xfinity Center with a win will be no easy feat. The Terrapins are 15-1 at home with 11 of those victories coming by double figures. They will be playing with no shortage of desperation and motivation to avoid letting their first Big Ten regular-season title slip through their fingers
And even though they’ve trailed throughout the majority of their past four games, they still boast one of the most talented rosters in the Big Ten and have one of the best big man-point guard combos in sophomore Jalen Smith and senior Anthony Cowan Jr.
“They're a confident team. It'll be exciting,” Simpson said. “Them being at the top of the conference shows me a lot because our conference is pretty loaded this year."
Michigan, though, will have the final say whether Maryland finishes there or not.
“They're a well-coached team with a lot of great players and a great point guard, so we've got to handle our business,” Teske said. “We've got to come prepared to win. If not, it could be a long day.”
Michigan at Maryland
Tip-off: Noon Sunday, Xfinity Center, College Park, Maryland
Records: No. 25 Michigan 19-11, 10-9 Big Ten; No. 9 Maryland 23-7, 13-6
Outlook: This is the third consecutive meeting where both teams are ranked in the top 25. … Michigan has won four straight in the series and its last two trips to College Park. … Maryland has lost three of four and is vying for its first regular-season title since joining the Big Ten in 2014-15. Anthony Cowan Jr. (16.2 points) and Jalen Smith (15.4 points and 10.5 rebounds) both rank in the top 10 in the conference in scoring.