Maryland, after an 84-76 win at Iowa, now stands at 5-1 in the Big Ten. The Terps are the only team in the league with five conference wins and are tied with Wisconsin in the loss column atop the Big Ten.
Is it time to start taking them seriously as Big Ten title contenders?
It just might be, less so for who Maryland is proving to be but, in part, for how the schedule lays out for the Terps.
The resume right now isn’t overly impressive, other than sheer volume of wins at 16. There’s the loss at home to Nebraska for one thing, but they haven’t been overly convincing in a win since their opener against Illinois.
Many of their issues were on display against the Hawkeyes, a team that has lodged a number of good wins but still shows loads of inconsistency with a roster heavily dependent upon freshmen. Maryland led by 15 in the first half and held a double-digit lead well into the second half. Then, as carelessness set in, it was gone with just over 6 minutes to play and the Terps trailed with as little as 3 minutes left.
Turnovers were nearly the Terps’ undoing. They committed 21 of them that led to 30 points for the Hawkeyes, who are hardly known for turning opponents over. Maryland, though, has consistently failed to take care of the ball with a turnover rate hovering around 20 percent.
What saved them against Iowa was, what (or who) else, than Melo Trimble. One of the game’s most clutch players, Trimble hit back-to-back 3s after Maryland fell behind to turn a three-point disadvantage into a three-point lead that the Terps wouldn’t hand back to a feisty Iowa squad. Trimble finished with 20 points, five rebounds and five assists.
So, 21 turnovers and a blown lead salvaged only by Trimble’s heroics doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in a team with as many question marks as Maryland, even if it came on the road.
The Terps, though, do keep winning and while close games do invite luck and chance into the equation, Trimble’s presence and Maryland’s track record suggests it may be able to survive the variance.
Then you’ve got to look at that schedule. They’ve got Rutgers at home before a tricky Minnesota-Ohio State road trip. Then of the Big Ten teams currently with two losses or less, Maryland gets Purdue and Michigan State at home and has just one game apiece against Wisconsin and Northwestern, though both are away from College Park.
So while it may be hard to fully buy in to Maryland given its so-so offense and unremarkable defense, the Terps have made it nearly to the end of January with just two losses and have a manageable road ahead.
That’s something that has to be taken into account, just like Maryland in the Big Ten.