Despite the Maryland Terrapins being in a new conference this season, lately it just feels like there always happens to be some recent history tying an opponent to the team and making games feel more, let’s say intense, than others.
Against Michigan State, it was exacting revenge against Izzo for knocking the beloved Greivis Vasquez and the team that could have been out of the NCAA tournament. Now that that’s over with, it’s Indiana and a rematch of two teams that met in Maryland’s lone national championship game. The Terrapins beat them in 2009 as well, for good measure, and yet that wasn’t as conference members. This one has a bit more vitriol injected into it.
For Indiana, a team only trailing UCLA and Kentucky in national championships, Maryland beating them was a slap in the face. Any one of their fans can tell you that game remains a canker on their otherwise illustrious record. They made the tournament 16 straight times before that loss. In the 12 seasons since, they have missed it 50% of the time. For Indiana, that is peculiar. They still haven’t gotten back that prestige, and at least some of their fans look at that Maryland game as a reason why (and of course Kelvin Sampson).
But that was then, and this is now. The Hoosiers are finally ranked again (23rd nationally) after having missed the tournament last year, and they remain just one game behind Maryland and Wisconsin in the conference standings. With wins against Butler, Nebraska and Ohio State, but blowout losses to Michigan State and Louisville (as well as a home loss to Eastern Washington), this team is mercurial at best.
In many respects, they are more similar to Maryland than you would expect. They missed the tournament last season after failing to recover from losing their top player to the NBA draft, and saw a slew of transfers in the offseason (second only to the Terps) replaced by some young up and comers. In particular, a McDonald’s All-American sharpshooting guard named James Blackmon Jr., whose own stats aren’t that dissimilar to Maryland’s Burger Boy Melo Trimble. Both teams are led by a freshman phenom playing far above his age, and both teams lack a steady post presence to rely on.
All that said, Maryland has been the more consistent team this season. The only unexpected loss for the Terrapins has been against Illinois on the road, as Virginia was pretty much expected. This team has, despite being undermanned at times, done nothing but improve their stock as a whole through strong showings every night.
So why does it feel like Maryland seems to be a substantially better team than Indiana despite the fact that only two games separate them in the win-loss column? Mostly, that comes down to defense.
The Hoosiers are giving up over ten more points than Maryland at 71.4 allowed per contest, and a lot of that is a result of the lineups they run out. Indiana just doesn’t have a true big man on the roster that can defend the middle effectively, and as a result the Hoosiers oftentimes don’t play with one.
Devin Davis had a freaky accident on Halloween night that resulted in a really traumatic brain injury. He was predicted to be one of their better rebounding bigs. Meanwhile, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, their lone rotation guy taller than your average shooting guard, suffered a knee injury that will continue to see him miss time. In short, they are short.
What’s even more impressive is that it isn’t really bothering them much, and likely won’t a lot against Maryland either. Their losses have come against a big Eastern Washington team, a long Louisville team, Georgetown and Josh Smith, and a very large Michigan State. When teams have a post presence, there’s a chance Indiana will struggle unless they are shooting lights out.
Maryland is better equipped to deal with the Hoosiers because they remain tenth in percentage of points that come from the charity stripe. This in essence allows them to stay in every game regardless of how well they’re shooting. Even if Indiana puts together a clinic (in the same way that Rutgers did against the Terps in the first half of their game), Maryland should still have enough to stay competitive until their team starts shooting better.
But Maryland absolutely has to be concerned about which Indiana team is going to show up against them. If it’s the dead-eye, speedy team that is typical of games played at Assembly Hall, a lack of a big man and low free throw rate won’t matter. But if it’s the team that can’t rebound and can’t find points from places other than deep (where they score a third of their points) while at the same time allowing Maryland to slash away, it’s going to be a pummeling in the other direction.
Either way, we’re in for a good game.