You good, Big Ten men’s basketball?
It’s been a wild ride since league play started a month ago. Upsets have become the norm, and no team’s spot in the standings appears stable.
Traditional powers such as Michigan State and Indiana have endured losing streaks, while upstart squads like Minnesota and Penn State opened hot before fizzling in recent games. Even Rutgers, which has won four conference games since 2014, has stolen a victory.
That’s what makes the Maryland men’s basketball team’s 6-1 start in the Big Ten even more impressive, intriguing and puzzling.
Does it mean the squad that starts three rookies after losing four starters from last year’s Sweet 16 group is lucky to have avoided too much chaos thus far? Or are the Terps underrated, possessing the composure and stamina to navigate the league’s parity without too many lapses?
With the Terps winners of five straight and 11 of their last 12, touting the program’s best 20-game start in 18 years, choose the latter.
“Obviously you can think back to all the players that have played here since ’98, and obviously how great a coach Gary Williams was,” guard Kevin Huerter said, “and for how young of a team everyone tells us we are, I think it’s definitely awesome to kind of match that right now.”
Yes, the Nebraska collapse Jan. 1 was bad. If Maryland can’t hit a shot for the last six minutes and blows a 12-point lead to the Cornhuskers — who finished with double the amount of Big Ten losses than wins last year — how can it be considered among the league’s best teams? Starting the new year with a home dud isn’t a great way to assure fans this unheralded squad is a Big Ten title contender.
But the Terps learned from the loss and moved on. They haven’t lost since.
The defeat made them focus and become tougher. They practiced with a better sense of urgency. It taught the younger players about the perils of one off outing and have the veterans added drive.
They knew deep in the ensuing game against Michigan they had to find efficient shots. When looks didn’t fall in the second half against Iowa, their patience paid off with a couple of big threes from guard Melo Trimble. They were composed and they held on for wins.
Most of the remaining Big Ten teams looking up at Maryland in the standings can’t say the same.
Minnesota, for example, started 3-1 in the league but has dropped three straight. The Golden Gophers are the Terps’ next chance to prove their poise, their mettle and their need to be taken seriously during the final stretch of the regular season.
A year ago, the Terps waltzed into Williams Arena with one of the most talented teams in program history. But that didn’t translate into a win against the lowly Golden Gophers, which hurt Maryland’s tournament seeding come March.
Saturday, Turgeon’s squad will bring to Minneapolis the program’s best record since 1998-99. Obviously, it hasn’t played a ranked team and the nonconference schedule was lax, but given the youth and injuries thus far, the Terps achieved more than most anyone, including Turgeon, expected.
Does this mean they’re overachieving? That they’re primed to fall flat in the coming contests because they’ve been too lucky so far?
One of the team’s most promising newcomers doesn’t think so.
“All the freshmen and obviously the people who are already on the team have come from winning,” Huerter said with a sure tone, making eye contact with reporters amid a swarm of microphones and cameras. “Nobody’s really been on a losing team.
“We have a lot of winners on the team,” he continued. “I’m not surprised where we’re at.”