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Big Ten Tournament: Michigan State vs. Maryland preview and pick

Profile Picture: Dan Halverson

March 10th, 2021

The Big Ten Conference Tournament begins Wednesday, but Thursday morning brings us the most intriguing matchup from the early games of the tournament as the Michigan State Spartans take on the Maryland Terrapins.

Michigan State leads the league with six conference tournament victories and has the best all-time record at 32-16. Maryland has had less success in the tournament, but will make for a formidable foe as the Spartans kick off their postseason.

The winner of this contest will take on the top-seeded Michigan Wolverines on Friday.

Henry spearheads the Spartans' attack

Michigan State experienced a blowout two games back against their rival, Michigan, but bounced back quickly with a notable 70-64 victory of their own in the rematch on Sunday. They are being led by forward Aaron Henry, an athletic junior who competes hard on both ends of the court. Henry doesn’t do any one thing at an elite level, but still finds a way to end up with the ball in his hands.

Henry leads the team with 15.5 points and 3.5 assists per game, but also turns the ball over 2.7 times per contest, and isn’t an excellent outside shooter. He is an above-average defender, which seems to inspire his teammates as they have improved to the point of becoming the 34th most efficient defense in the country.

Head coach Tom Izzo isn’t hesitant to rotate players from off his bench, as the Spartans have 10 players averaging double-digit minutes per game. Senior Joshua Langford is another key piece, as the Spartans tend to struggle when he has bad shooting nights and play well when he shoots at an average or above-average level.

Defense has been the Terrapins' calling card

While the Spartans rotate many pieces, the Maryland roster really only goes seven deep. They are led by Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, and Donta Scott, who all average double-digit points per game.

The Terrapins are 27th in defensive efficiency and rank in the top-40 in overall defensive field goal percentage. In their last matchup against Michigan State, a 73-55 Maryland victory, Aaron Henry was held to just 11 points on 4-16 shooting. 

Expect Michigan State to struggle mightily on offense

Michigan State has star power in Henry and Izzo, but this is a bad matchup for the Spartans. When these teams faced each other just 10 days ago, the Spartans' mediocre offense managed just 33% shooting from the field.

Maryland has faltered of late, losing two straight to Northwestern and Penn State, but they should have far more success against Michigan State, given the strength of their rock solid defense. If Eric Ayala finds as much success as he did in his previous 22-point effort against the Spartans, the Terrapins should win easily.

Score prediction: Maryland 70, Michigan State 63

Big Ten Pick: Maryland