Back at home for the first time since students returned to campus, Maryland basketball is set to tip off for the first-ever battle between top-10 teams at Xfinity Center as 3-point favorites over the Iowa Hawkeyes. It's a major event.
The Terrapins have been hot at home for quite some time now, as the University of Maryland's class of 2018 has seen a nearly unblemished display of hoops. Students who were freshmen a year ago have seen just one home loss in one and a half seasons of play. The team's last defeat came against the No. 7 Virginia Cavaliers in a December 2014 game Dez Wells missed with an injury. It's been a run of 24 straight home wins.
Yet Maryland is still in search of a signature win to add to its mild resume, and Thursday night (7 p.m. EST, ESPN) presents a real opportunity – but it's going to be brutally hard.
"We're playing a great team that's been playing as well as anybody in the country," said coach Mark Turgeon. "[They're] just killing teams. Games aren't really close. So it's a great opportunity for us."
Iowa has taken the Big Ten by storm, dethroning Michigan State twice by double-digits and winning all seven of its conference games by 7 or more points.
"They're the most skilled basketball team in the country," said Turgeon. "They're nine-deep. They can all shoot the three, except [7-foot center Adam] Woodbury, but he might even be able to hit some."
The Hawkeyes are the ninth-best 3-point shooting in the nation, and their starting lineup features two of the best shooters from deep in the country in national player candidate Jarrod Uthoff (at a ridiculous 48.3 percent) and his sidekick Peter Jok at 39.6 percent.
In addition to guarding the perimeter, which Maryland has done fairly well, it'll need to focus on its rebounding, a criticism that picked up steam as the Terps have lost that battle by a combined 87-68 margin over their past two games. A concerning 33 of those 87 have come on the offensive end for opponents.
"We haven't boxed out as well," said Turgeon. "We've been out-hustled for some [rebounds].
"In the Michigan State game, there was like three or four bounces that just bounced in their direction, and that's college basketball," Turgeon said. "That's the way it is. But we have to do better, though. We have to do better on the boards."
Maryland will look to its frontcourt to pick up its defensive intensity, as Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon led the Terps in rebounding last week with seven each.
"I had a conversation with them," said Trimble. "I just told them that we have to get better on the boards. 'I mean, you guys are taller than me, of course you should get the rebound.' It's just about boxing out and getting the rebound."
The good news for Maryland is that it's not too late.
"I think," Trimble said, "[Thursday] will be the perfect time for them to pick it up."