When Indiana and Maryland meet at Assembly Hall on Thursday night, it'll be a battle for first place between two teams picked 9th and 10th in the Big Ten, respectively. They are the two biggest surprises in the conference and among the biggest in the country.
Here's the thing, though: Maryland has gotten tons of respect for its early-season success. For the Hoosiers, that respect has come much slower.
As of Monday, Maryland was No. 16 in the KenPom.com rankings. Indiana was No. 52.
Now, let's look at the resumes:
There's no doubt, by examining the resumes, that Maryland is the better team. But 36 spots better? I don't see it. The Hoosiers won at Illinois. Maryland lost there. Indiana has wins over teams ranked 22nd and 26th in the KenPom rankings. It has two road wins in conference play.
Maryland shot to the top of the KenPom rankings during the non-conference season. I get it. The Terrapins beat Iowa State and Oklahoma State. But the Hoosiers beat SMU, Pittsburgh and Butler. The wins aren't all that different.
My point is, the Hoosiers are still not getting respect, but maybe that's a good thing. Among Tom Crean's best attributes is his ability to motivate his players, and it's much easier to motivate guys when the world is disrespecting them. Some of Crean's best teams in his career have been the ones that were overlooked and came out of nowhere.
“I don’t think any of our guys were overly consumed early on with doubts or lack of expectations or negativity, and they don’t need to be consumed with praise right now," Crean said on his radio show Monday night.
Crean says his players don't pay attention to any of the outside noise, but I don't believe that. I think he uses the naysayers to fuel is team, and it has worked well to this point in the season. The Hoosiers just keep winning, whether they are expected to or not.
If Indiana upsets Maryland on Thursday night, it will sit atop the Big Ten standings through six games. Nobody saw that coming, and that's quite alright with Indiana. That's just the way Crean likes it.