The script has flipped, and it could be flipped again.
After two straight wins, including their first road win of the season and a 67-63 victory over No. 11 Michigan State Thursday, Indiana is rolling and has changed this season’s perception quickly.
The now 15-4 Hoosiers have had a great record all season but concerns over the team’s legitimacy have been prevalent. Starting the season with seven games against low-major opponents and playing a relatively easy nonconference schedule did not help prove their worth. IU’s losses, particularly the way in which Indiana suffered those losses, did not help either.
The home loss to Arkansas was an alright effort, but the road losses were not encouraging. Indiana suffered double-digit beatings at Wisconsin and Maryland while turning in its worst offensive performance of the year at Rutgers.
One shouldn’t be quick to judge, but after the two consecutive wins, it’s almost as if the ugly losses have been forgotten (which they should not be).
Putting that loss in the rearview mirror
The Hoosiers have a legitimate chance to be ranked for the first time this season come Monday, but first they’ll have to continue the good stretch of performances and exorcise a few demons along with that.
Sunday afternoon, Indiana will host No. 17 Maryland and look to avenge its 75-59 loss at Maryland from earlier in January. That game was arguably the worst Indiana has looked all season. The 16-point differential doesn’t really do justice in showing how badly Indiana played though. For most of the final six minutes, Indiana was down by 20 or more points with the low point coming at the 3:44 mark in the second half when Indiana trailed by 30, 71-41.
A win on Sunday wouldn’t necessarily excuse the road outing against the Terrapins but it would overshadow that dismal performance while earning the team’s fourth win over a ranked opponent on the season at the same time.
Terrapins scuffling lately
Maryland, like Indiana, holds a 15-4 record. The nonconference was impressive on Maryland’s part, but the past four games have been a bit of a mixed bag. The Terrapins beat Purdue 57-50 on Jan. 18, but prior to that they lost to Iowa in a blowout and Wisconsin in a close battle, both on the road. Most recently, they beat Northwestern by 11 at home on Tuesday, but at halftime they trailed by 14 to the Big Ten’s last-place team.
Catching Maryland in an iffy stretch while the Hoosiers are hot and will be at home, might create a favorable scenario for Indiana, but at the same time, Maryland has legitimate talent that can’t be overlooked — the same talent that that beat Indiana to a crisp last time these two teams met.
Senior guard Anthony Cowan and sophomore center Jalen Smith are Maryland’s top two standouts. Cowan averages a team-high 15.4 points per game, and also leads the team with 81 assists and is a great rebounder for only being 6-foot with 3.6 boards per contest.
The 6-foot-10 Smith scores 14.4 points per game, grabs 9.5 rebounds per game and has 41 blocks on the season. Smith gets the job done on both ends of the floor, but what is arguably most impressive to his offense is the fact that he strokes the deep ball at a 39.5 percent rate at his size.
The most recent time these two teams played, four players ended up scoring in double-digits. Maryland’s two leading scorers on the season, Smith and Cowan, had 19 and 13 points, respectively, to lead the way. Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell also ended up with 13 and 12 points respectively, to lead the rest of the Terrapins’ depth.
Can’t give points away
It should be considered that as a whole, Maryland’s offense wasn’t phenomenal against Indiana. The Terrapins only shot 38.7 percent from the field for the game. Rather, they made the Hoosiers pay for their mistakes by taking full advantage of them.
Indiana fouled Maryland 21 times, which led to Maryland hitting 21 of 25 free throw attempts, a major boost. Additionally, Indiana’s assist-to-turnover ratio was awful, only creating seven assists compared to losing the ball 14 times, which gave Maryland 25 points off turnovers. Exactly two-thirds of Maryland’s points in that game came from either the charity stripe or Indiana turnovers.
The defense held its own for the most part that game. If Indiana wants to get revenge and beat Maryland, the team will need to fix the offensive woes from the first game. Fortunately for the Hoosiers, they’ve shown better offense as of late.
Keeping the current stretch of good ball movement and passing, decent shooting from the outside and plenty of post looks is the formula to success. They can’t allow themselves to get one-dimensional, only relying on the inside game, like they did in the first matchup. The mistakes from the first game are fixable and real opportunity is there to make up for last time’s disappointment.
Indiana will need to continue to establish something that they’ve struggled all year with doing, yet have shown signs of it as of late — consistency.