Charboneau: Maryland stuns Big Ten in basketball

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Melo Trimble reacts after nailing a 3-pointer for Maryland in its victory over Michigan State on Saturday. The freshman guard had 21 points in the first half for the Terrapins (17-2, 4-1 Big Ten).

Back in early October, when the Big Ten asked members of the media to pick how the conference would play out this season, there was generally one consensus — Wisconsin was the best and anything after that was a total guess.

After several seasons of being arguably the best conference in college basketball, the Big Ten suffered its share of losses from last season. Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana — you name the team and each was expected to be facing an uncertain 2014-15.

So, that made predicting an order of finish difficult. Many picked Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State somewhere near the top, as well as Nebraska, a team that was returning plenty of talent from an NCAA Tournament team.

Well, Wisconsin has been as good as expected, half a game behind in the conference, while Nebraska hasn't handled its expectations well at all, sitting at 10-7 overall and 2-3 in the conference. And, sure enough, Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State have been all over the map. So, too, to a certain extent, have Iowa and Indiana.

But where everyone was wrong — even more so than expecting Nebraska to contend for the championship — was figuring out Maryland.

Along with Rutgers, Maryland was entering its first season of Big Ten play and the expectations weren't especially high. In one set of predictions, the Terrapins were picked 10th.

Yeah, that was a little bit off.

Entering Thursday's game at Indiana, Maryland is 17-2 overall and atop the Big Ten at 5-1.

"We are just getting better," coach Mark Turgeon said after the Terrapins dominated Michigan State on Saturday. "I keep telling everybody that this team is going to get better. Today was a step in the right direction. I think people are excited and they should be. They have a team that plays hard and plays together and tries to do the right thing."

Trimble leads Terrapins

As good as Maryland has been in the first half of the season, it's easy to see why its success was so hard to predict.

Last season, the Terrapins were 17-15 overall and 9-9 as part of the Atlantic Coast Conference. They also missed the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season and it didn't seem like much help was on the way.

That, of course, was assuming freshman guard Melo Trimble wouldn't have the impact he has had.

It was something Michigan State has seen up close and personal, especially Saturday when Trimble scored 21 first-half points and demoralized Lourawls Nairn on the final play of the first half, putting a crossover move on the Michigan State freshman that forced him to fall to the ground. Trimble then buried a 3-pointer to give the Terrapins a 16-point lead, one they never looked back from.

"If he shoots it like that," Izzo said of Trimble, "he's not only Big Ten player of the year but that team could win it because they have the size to match up with Wisconsin, if he shoots it like that. … That's a pretty good team. They got size, they got scorers, they got a point guard that came out of nowhere."

And now Maryland has as many victories this season as it did all of 2013-14.

In good position

It guarantees nothing moving forward, especially in this conference, one that sees Michigan State roll over Indiana and Iowa — both ranked teams — and then go to overtime at home to beat Northwestern.

But a look at the schedule shows Maryland has as good a shot as anyone to win the Big Ten championship. Its two games with Michigan State are done — both wins — and the Terrapins play Wisconsin only once, and that is at home.

However, they face Indiana twice and have road games against Ohio State and Iowa and close the season at Nebraska.

It's a schedule full of potential ups and downs, but with Trimble and Jake Layman playing the way they are and the size of the frontcourt controlling the glass, the Terrapins are in a position few expected them to be.

"Obviously I'm really proud of my team," Turgeon said after the Michigan State win. "That's what I've been waiting for. I don't think we've played our best basketball and our guys stepped up today and really played well. ... It was a great win. We were really good."

And that might end up being the Big Ten's best.