At least, that’s what analysts across the conference thought in October.
IU and Maryland were picked to finish ninth and 10th in the Big Ten’s preseason poll, ?respectively.
But things have changed since then.
The newly ranked No. 23 Hoosiers (14-4, 4-1) will play the No. 13 Terrapins (17-2, 4-1) at 9 p.m. today at Assembly Hall for a share of first place atop the Big Ten standings, one-third of the way through conference play.
For one team, the surprise start will continue.
But junior guard Yogi Ferrell isn’t worried as much about the rankings. He just wants to move further up the list.
“Being ranked, we saw that,” Ferrell said. “It just makes us work harder because you just want to keep moving up. What I’ve learned, especially from my freshman year, is being ranked doesn’t mean anything. You’ve got to get out there and at the end of the day still play.”
IU Coach Tom Crean admitted he doesn’t know Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon well, but in the few conversations they had in the offseason, Crean could sense an excitement in the way ?Turgeon spoke about his team.
That excitement is warranted despite five players, including former starting-guard Seth Allen, transferring in the offseason.
The Terrapins have instead turned to guards Dez Wells and Melo Trimble and forward Jake Layman.
Crean said it’s Maryland’s length throughout the bench that often creates the most problems.
Trimble in particular has been a welcome addition as a freshman. He’s averaging 16.1 points per game and has scored in double figures in all but one of Maryland’s games this season.
He had 24 points against Michigan State when Maryland played Saturday and is making an early argument for Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
Turgeon spoke highly of Trimble’s poise even as a young player quickly entered a key role on a top-25 team.
“A lot of it is just being young and just going out and playing,” Turgeon said Monday. “You don’t think about all the stuff everybody else thinks of. You just go out and play.”
What was most glaring to Crean was Maryland’s tendency to get to the free-throw line, which is a result of an aggressive offense that is comfortable ?attacking the rim.
Maryland ranks No. 15 in the country averaging 25.5 free throws attempts per game and ranks No. 4 making 19.3 of those ?attempts.
IU remains the leader in the Big Ten in both scoring (81.6 points per game) and 3-pointers made (8.7 per game), but both of those will be tested tonight. Maryland ranks first in field goal percentage defense (37.7 percent) and 3-point percentage defense (27.9 percent).
IU will also be concerned with Maryland’s length and play off screens, which the Terrapins use to space the floor and create isolation matchups across the floor.
He compared them to the previous year’s UConn team that won the national championship.
“They’re the real deal,” Crean said. “They can play through everybody on the court. That’s what makes them rare.”
Although neither team would admit any urgency, tonight is an opportunity to extend their seasons, inching closer to earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Maryland can win another quality road game and IU could add another win against a ranked opponent to its NCAA ?Tournament resume.
Which isn’t a bad place to be, considering where the Hoosiers were with three suspensions and an injured teammate less than three months ago.
“I think the key is for anybody to not internalize it,” Crean said. “Don’t internalize all the negativity and don’t start internalizing the praise and taking any of this for granted.”