COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland locked up a double bye in the Big Ten tournament with its victory over Illinois on Thursday in College Park. Now they head to Bloomington to face the outright Big Ten champions with more to gain in the longer-term than the short term against Indiana.
Maryland is looking to improve in areas where it is lagging behind other contenders when it comes to NCAA tournament resumes -- in RPI Top 25 and Top 50 wins and looking to add a quality road win in their last opportunity to do so before the postseason. That would stand in contrast to the immediacy of having to secure a Top 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament or win a Big Ten regular-season title.
But head coach Mark Turgeon wants to rein in that free-spritedness -- or at least channel it.
“I don’t like that approach because then you set yourself up for embarrassment sometimes,” Turgeon said on Saturday.
“We should go out there and play free and play hard. You hope we’re excited, playing the league champion in their building. I think we’ve played all the top teams in their building this year, so I think our guys will be excited. We’re playing better basketball and it’s a big challenge for us.”
Indiana played the softest part of its schedule to begin the conference season and many expected a regression to the mean as they came down the stretch. But the Hoosiers beat Purdue and beat Iowa twice to earn the outright title.
As Turgeon made a passing reference to, Maryland only gets to see Indiana on the road this season, just as it only saw Michigan State in East Lansing. These games are familiar to the Terrapins, but their only real breakthrough on the road in conference play has been against a Wisconsin team that had not yet hit its stride back in January.
Combine that with the fact that Indiana’s high-powered offense has the ability to run you out of the gym if they get hot and it’s easier to see why Turgeon was cautious and not willing to endorse anything closely resembling playing with reckless abandon.
The feeling seems to be the same among players.
“We’re just focused on each other, focused on this team, getting better,” Robert Carter, Jr. said. “Just to try different things before we get around to crunch time and hopefully it works out and we get the team playing together.”
One thing that Maryland has tried of late has been a small-ball approach with Carter or Diamond Stone shifting to the center spot and Jake Layman becoming the power forward. The result is a floor that is more spread out toward the perimeter with driving lanes and open spaces to pull up from deep.
Against Indiana it could be more of a necessity than a luxury. The Hoosiers typically play small and shoot 42 percent as a team from three. Maryland could lean on Layman and wing Jared Nickens simply to keep pace.
Tip is set for 4:30 p.m. in Bloomington.