No. 8 Maryland faces No. 3 Iowa in the first matchup between Top 10 teams ever at XFINITY Center. Not only that, but it could go a long way toward shaping the race in the Big Ten.
Here are five things you need to know.
1) What Thursday night’s game decides
Head coach Mark Turgeon said he won’t call a January game a “must-win” and in certain ways he is right. This is an NCAA tournament team (obviously) and a Big Ten title contender and, yes, still a national title contender in a wide open field.
But games like Thursday’s showdown shape NCAA tournament resumes.
How? Maryland has a number of nice wins, like against Georgetown at home, Connecticut on a neutral floor, and Wisconsin on the road. But what about signature wins? Winning Top 10 matchups are the games that separate No. 1 and No. 2 seeds from No. 3 seeds and No. 4 seeds.
Maryland has no bad losses, but it also has not gotten signature wins on the road against North Carolina and Michigan State. Thursday is a big opportunity to make a national statement.
2) Back home
Maryland has not lost a game in College Park since joining the Big Ten. Coming back home after a road loss to Michigan State, the Terrapins will be greeted by the return of students on campus -- who have now returned to classes.
That should make for a raucous environment in what is obviously a big game.
Turgeon said Wednesday that it was clear the crowd at Michigan State gave the Spartans a bump. Terrapins fans have aided in comebacks against Penn State and Rider earlier this year. Against the Hawkeyes, making the arena hostile for the opposition will help.
3) Jarrod Uthoff’s ascent continues
Jarrod Uthoff has gone from Iowa’s best player to the possible Big Ten Player of the Year to a legitimate contender for National Player of the Year.
He is averaging 18.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game while shooting 48 percent from three. He has scored in double digits in every game this season and is a true inside-out threat. Put a smaller defender on him and he will go into the post. Put a bigger defender on him and he will make you chase him around the perimeter.
Which leads to the next point...
4) Defensive responsibilities fall to Layman and Carter
Jake Layman and Robert Carter, Jr. will be the two most important pieces of the overall game plan for Maryland. Uthoff and Peter Jok are the offensive engines for Iowa and they will likely be the responsibility of Carter and Layman, respectively.
This has been Maryland’s weakness -- playing small lineups when they have so much size. They can play small, but not for extended time because of the lack of backcourt depth. That is why Carter and Layman will be relied upon to slow down Iowa’s two best offensive weapons. They have the size, but still the versatility to play against the Hawkeyes’ varying lineups.
5) Finish. Possessions.
Maryland has played good enough defense over the last two games, but struggled often to finish possessions by getting a defensive rebound. It was the dagger late against Michigan State. It was part of the reason that the Northwestern game went to overtime.
Against a team like Iowa, which ranks 12th in the nation in offensive efficiency, giving the Hawkeyes more chances to score could be deadly. Not only does it get reflected on the scoreboard, but 30 seconds of defense can be wasted, forcing another 30 seconds of defense and risking fouls and fatigue.
Over the course of 40 minutes, that takes its toll.