Preview: No. 1 MSU resumes Big Ten play against Maryland's stingy defense
Editor's Note: Maryland forward Justin Jackson is out for the season because of a torn labrum, and won't play in Thursday night's game against the Spartans.
Who: Maryland (13-3 overall, 2-1 Big Ten)
When: Thursday at 8 p.m.
Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, Michigan
TV/Radio: FS1/Spartan Sports Network
Now that Tom Izzo’s Spartans are the top-ranked team in the country, he enjoys having an enormous target on his team’s back.
MSU (14-1, 2-0) jumped to No. 1 in the newest AP poll on Monday just in time to welcome Maryland to the Breslin Center for the rest of conference play. MSU earned wins against Nebraska and Rutgers in December to open the Big Ten slate and are coming off a 108-52 win against Savannah State on Sunday.
MSU earned its first No. 1-ranking since Jan. 2016 after scoring at least 100 points its last four games and outscoring opponents 428-235. Though the ranking is justified by Izzo, he said the team still has work to do.
“I think when you play good defense and you shoot well, that means you’re playing both ends of the court and I think we earned the right to feel good about that but let’s not lose perspective,” Izzo said on Tuesday.
Here’s what to watch for against Maryland:
Stingy defense: Mark Turgeon’s Terrapins come into Thursday the best team at defending 3-pointers in the Big Ten, limiting opponents to 28.1 percent shooting and rank third in field goal defense, holding teams to 37.7 percent.
Though Maryland forces the fewest turnovers in the Big Ten, averaging 4.8 a game, Izzo thinks early turnovers can hurt the Spartans in conference games against opponents that can capitalize on them.
“It’s one of my biggest concerns because last year, mistakes weren’t always dealt with because we were trying to survive and this year, you don’t get to make those same mistakes and try to win the Big Ten now,” he said. “You know, you can’t have just some days that you just don’t come.”
Terrapin threats: Starting guards Anthony Cowan Jr. and Kevin Huerter and forward Bruno Fernando are the bulk of Maryland’s offense, each averaging over 10 points a game. Forward Justin Jackson also adds 9.8 points for the Terps, compared to the five Spartans averaging double figures.
Since losing to Purdue 80-75 at home on Dec. 1, Maryland has won its last seven games. Thursday will mark UMD’s first road game since Dec. 3, when it took a 92-91 game from Illinois in overtime.
Strengthen the rotation: Izzo said he’s going to continue to find meaningful minutes for bench players to help keep starters fresh. Shooting guard Matt McQuaid and point guard Lourawls Nairn Jr. have been MSU’s go-to guys off the bench, averaging 20.5 and 20.7 minutes a game respectively.
Forwards Gavin Schilling and Kenny Goins check in at 11.2 and 11.3 minutes each, but Izzo said their roles could change depending on the nature of the game.
“You know, we’ve got a rotation,” he said. “Now, that rotation isn’t going to be as strong as it’s been probably. You know, you hope they get as many shots as we’ve been getting but Big Ten play, any conference play there’s going to be less possessions probably. So those will all be things that we’re going to have to adjust to that I think will be interesting.”
Casey Harrison: MSU 85, Maryland 78
Michael Duke: MSU 81, Maryland 67