The Hoosiers (14-4, 4-1 Big Ten) are ranked for the first time since the end of the 2012-13 season, and they have a chance to grab first place in the conference against the other surprise team in the Big Ten. It's a late 9 p.m. tip in Bloomington, and Assembly Hall figures to be loud.
“It’s going to be a big-time environment," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “This one’s got a little added meaning.”
Added Maryland forward Jake Layman: “When you think about the Big Ten, you think about Indiana and Assembly Hall.”
Indiana has spent the early part of this week downplaying the ranking. That makes sense. The first step for a young team is earning the ranking. The next stop, often a much more difficult one, is proving you deserve to keep that ranking.
In the grand scheme of things, rankings mean very little. Especially if they're short-lived. If the Hoosiers want to stay in the Top 25, they'll have to earn it against one of the nation's best teams.
Maryland (17-2, 5-1) possesses a unique blend of youth and experience, and length and quickness. If anybody thought the Terrapins' non-conference win over Iowa State was a fluke, they made sure to quickly silence any doubters with a two-game sweep of Michigan State.
"They can play through everybody on the court, and I think that's what makes them rare," Indiana coach Tom Crean said Wednesday. "They're one of the best passing teams that I've seen, and I'm not sure we're at that point. There are some similarities [to us], but they've earned their stripes, they've earned their ranking, they've earned their notoriety."
The Terrapins prefer to play at a much slower pace than do the Hoosiers -- they rank 182nd in adjusted tempo -- but that's nothing Indiana isn't used to by this point in the year. The Hoosiers will try to speed the game up, something they've had great success doing at home.
Indiana has played against bigger teams all season, but Maryland will be an especially unique challenge. The Terrapins have excellent length on the wings and inside, and they can play small or big without skipping a beat.
"If you watched UCONN last year, it's very, very similar to that," Crean said of the defending national champion Huskies. But there's probably even more skill guys up front and there's even more guys that can create offense for other people. They're the real deal."
That's quite a statement, but it's not an unfair comparison. Maryland moves the ball better than most teams in the country, and it has leaderships in Melo Trimble and Dez Wells that will make the Terrapins an incredibly dangerous team in March.
"There are guys on that team that are going to be playing basketball for a very long time at a very high level," Crean said.
Trimble, only a freshman, runs the show at point for Maryland. He's averaging a team-best 16.1 points per game while shooting 43 percent from the field and 38 percent from beyond the arc through 19 games.
Wells is the team's unquestioned senior leader, a player Crean called "as hard a matchup as there is in the conference." The 6-foot-5 Wells is scoring 13.7 points per game on 41 percent shooting. He only attempts two 3s per contest, but he makes them at a 50 percent clip.
Wells' greatest strength, though, lies in all the other things. He's averaging 4.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, and he wants the ball in his hands when Maryland needs a basket late in the game.
"He's as good a passer as there is in the conference, and he's doing things down on the block that we did with Dwyane Wade back at Marquette," Crean said. "He could just carve you up with somebody cutting to the basket, or kicking it out to somebody for a 3. I'm not calling him Dwyane Wade, I'm just saying he has the ability to do that out of the low post. It's an unbelievable weapon."
Hanner Mosquera-Perea will miss his third straight game with a knee injury for the Hoosiers, so Crean will likely go with 6-foot-7 sophomore Collin Hartman in the starting lineup once again. Hartman has held his own in the post this season, but the Terrapins will throw several different big bodies his way. Maryland regularly plays five or more guys that are at least 6-foot-8.
"We were never going to be conventional this year. We thought we'd be a little more conventional inside, but we're not, based on circumstances and injuries. You just deal with it."