Maryland-Michigan St. Preview

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Not much was expected of Maryland in its inaugural season in the Big Ten after a mediocre showing in its final ACC campaign. The 12th-ranked Terrapins are on their way to proving a lot of people wrong. Maryland opens conference play with Tuesday night's visit to Michigan State, which is expected to have Branden Dawson back from injury. The Terps (12-1) were picked to finish eighth in the 14-team Big Ten after they went 17-15 overall and 9-9 in the ACC in 2013-14, but contributions throughout a deep rotation have helped coach Mark Turgeon's team rise to its highest AP ranking since 2004. Maryland's only setback was a 76-65 loss in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at then-No. 7 Virginia, which is 11-0 and now ranked No. 3. The Terps have won five straight since then after beating Oakland (Mich.) 72-56 at home Saturday. Jake Layman had 15 points and a career-high 12 rebounds, and standout freshman Melo Trimble went 5 of 6 from 3-point range and finished with 17 points. Layman and Trimble are Maryland's leading scorers at 15.8 points per game apiece, but Trimble is more excited about how well the Terps have played defensively. They rank third in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage defense at 37.5. "We're very confident," Trimble said. "Our defense is starting to pick up, and everything starts on defense. That's where we've been getting out confidence from." Maryland also gets a jolt heading into Big Ten play with the return of senior Dez Wells. After leading the '13-14 team in scoring at 14.9 points per game, Wells was averaging 16.2 when he suffered a fractured right wrist that kept him out of seven games. Wells returned against Oakland and scored 10 points in 22 minutes off the bench. "It's nice having another scorer out there," Layman said. "It's great to have him back. He's one of our leaders and makes us feel more comfortable on the floor." Spartans coach Tom Izzo has taken little comfort in his team's start. Michigan State (9-4) has respectable losses to then-No. 4 Duke, then-No. 11 Kansas and current No. 14 Notre Dame, but it hit a low point Dec. 20 when it fell at home 71-64 in overtime to Texas Southern, which entered the contest with a 1-8 record. Denzel Valentine scored 18 points to help the Spartans bounce back two days later with an 82-56 win over The Citadel. "I just don't think we're in great shape," Izzo said. "I just don't think we're there, so hopefully, we'll have a little rest and then we'll go at it. Maybe we can get a rotation, maybe we can get guys playing their proper positions." Michigan State has dealt with plenty of injuries, most notably a non-displaced fracture in Dawson's left wrist that has kept him out the last two games. Freshman Javon Bess, who missed the first 10 with a foot injury, hurt his ankle and has been limited at practice. Dawson will play with a brace, while Bess likely will see limited action. This is the first meeting between these schools since Korie Lucious' 3-pointer at the buzzer gave Michigan State an 85-83 victory that sent the Spartans to the regional semifinals of the 2010 NCAA tournament. Izzo won the only head-to-head matchup between the coaches when Turgeon was at Wichita State in 2005.