After its second blowout road loss in three games, Maryland men's basketball will look to right the ship when it heads to Ann Arbor on Monday to take on Michigan, which is on the verge of being ranked after a great week. To get the skinny on the Wolverines, we talked to Michael Persak of The Michigan Daily. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
The Wolverines have been pretty impressive as of late — they just upset No. 4 Michigan State, and before that they nearly upset No. 5 Purdue. How has John Beilein's team exceeded expectations thus far?
In general, Michigan has just been much better defensively than most people expected at the beginning of the season. That especially showed through against the Spartans. I really thought that the Wolverines would struggle with the size of Purdue and Michigan State, and against the Boilermakers, they did. Against the Spartans, though, Moritz Wagner just went nuts on Nick Ward, and that was that.
Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. are gone, but Charles Matthews has given Michigan a boost in its backcourt. How does the Kentucky transfer compare to Irvin and Walton? Has he shown signs of rust after spending a year off the court?
Matthews really didn't show rust at all. He's had some off games, but I wouldn't say that's a result of rust. He's averaged 15.3 points per game this year, and there have been times when he's the best Wolverine on the court. He's also been good defensively. Really, he's been a good all-around player for Michigan, and that's been a big factor in why the Wolverines have exceeded expectations.
Michigan is really taking care of the ball this year — the Wolverines have the lowest turnover rate in the Big Ten by a long shot. How have they had such great ball security? Has that compensated for their middle-of-the-pack shooting (fifth in the conference in field-goal percentage, seventh in three-point percentage)?
I would say a big part of the turnover rate would be the emergence of Zavier Simpson at the point. That position was a question mark, and recently, Simpson has taken over and secured that position. I don't know if I'd say it's compensated for the shooting percentage, but obviously it's helped the offense in general.
Michigan is hitting just 66.4 percent of its free throws, the second-worst clip in the Big Ten. Why have the Wolverines gotten so much worse from last year (when they shot 77.9 percent from the charity stripe)? Can they improve in this regard down the stretch?
As you alluded to earlier, it's completely different parts on this team. Charles Matthews isn't as good of a free throw shooter as Irvin, and Simpson isn't as good in that department as Walton was. But one of the main reasons the Wolverines beat the Spartans was because they shot well from the stripe. So maybe they already are improving.
Fill in the blank: Michigan wins this game if…
…it continues to play how it's been playing, frankly. Michigan's on a roll right now, and to be honest, it should beat Maryland if it maintains its current pace.
Maryland wins this game if…
…Michigan can't keep focus after playing just two days prior. It's a grueling stretch in the schedule, and the Wolverines could slip if they're not careful after such a short rest.