With all the talent that departed to the NBA after last season, not many people thought Maryland would ever be in first place in the Big Ten this season.
And it’s likely that many people don’t even realize that the Terrapins sit alone atop the conference standings after three weeks of conference play.
Yet, there they are.
Michigan State’s 72-67 loss at Ohio State on Sunday left Maryland in first place in the Big Ten at 4-1.
There’s a long season ahead and Wisconsin (3-1 Big Ten) will get a chance to pull even with Maryland when the Badgers host Michigan on Tuesday, but it’s not too early to take a look at if the Terrapins have what it takes to stay in the conference race.
It won’t be easy.
After all, Maryland has had a somewhat forgiving schedule thus far.
The Terrapins have played three of their five Big Ten games at home, with the two road wins coming at Michigan and Illinois, who are both 2-3 in conference play. However, as the early season has shown, road wins are never a gimme in the Big Ten and getting two right off the bat is a good sign.
Maryland’s best win of the conference season was a 75-72 home win over Indiana on Jan. 10. The Hoosiers have limped their way to a 2-3 start in the Big Ten, but any time you can beat a team that puts that type of talent on the floor, it’s a good win.
The schedule sets up fairly nicely for Maryland. There are currently three ranked Big Ten teams, and the Terrapins will only see two of them, conference favorites Wisconsin and Purdue, once. The Terrapins will have to head to Madison to face the No. 18 Badgers on Feb. 19, while No. 17 Purdue comes to College Park on Feb. 4.
The third ranked team in the Big Ten, No. 24 Minnesota, likely won’t be ranked when the new polls are released on Monday. The Terrapins will visit Minnesota on Jan. 28 before hosting the Gophers on Feb. 22.
Furthermore, Maryland has already gotten its one game against Indiana out of the way and will only play Michigan State once, hosting the Spartans on the final day of the regular season.
Finally, Nebraska, the only Big Ten team to beat the Terrapins, isn’t on Maryland’s schedule the rest of the way.
With all that being said, the Terrapins are about to enter a tough stretch where they play six of their next nine games on the road. That’s never easy at this point of the season and Maryland suffered a late-season collapse just last year, losing five of their last eight games in conference play.
Veteran guard play can typically keep teams from collapsing, and Maryland has exactly that in Melo Trimble. The junior is averaging 17.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game as the undisputed leader of the Terrapins.
With Trimble in the backcourt, the Terrapins should never be at a disadvantage at the point guard position in the Big Ten. However, one of the positives from Saturday’s 62-56 win at Illinois was that the Terrapins showed that they can win despite an off game from Trimble.
Trimble struggled to score, shooting 5-of-16 from the field, including 2-of-11 from the 3-point line, and finishing with 12 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Freshman guard Anthony Cowan picked up the slack, finishing with a game-high 19 points on 5-of-7 shooting while also grabbing a team-high seven rebounds.
The Terrapins also got solid backcourt production from junior guard Jaylen Brantley, who came off the bench to add 12 points, six rebounds and two steals.
Maryland has also gotten it done defensively, giving up 64.8 points per game during Big Ten play.
As far as where exactly Maryland will finish... It’s hard to say in a very balanced Big Ten Conference. The conference is down this year, but early-season parity has shown that anyone can lose on any given night.
Wisconsin and Purdue should still be considered the favorites to win the title, with Indiana having all the talent to put a big run together.
But as Purdue’s loss at Iowa on Thursday showed, if Maryland can win at home, beat the teams they are supposed to beat on the road and pull off a couple of upsets, they should be able to stay in the race.