Monday March 7th, 2016

One year ago, when Indiana hosted Michigan State in its final regular-season game of the 2014–15 season, there was no Senior Day at Assembly Hall. Without a senior on the roster it was unnecessary, and the Hoosiers dropped a close 74–72 contest to spiral to their third straight loss. 

The Spartans, buoyed by the fact that they were playing their best basketball of the year, then made a run to the Final Four. Indiana barely made the NCAA tournament as a No. 10 seed before flaming out in the Round of 64.

This year, Indiana had a Senior Day. It would be the final game in Bloomington for Yogi Ferrell, Max Bielfeldt, Nick Zeisloft and walk-ons Ryan Burton and Jackson Tharp. Earlier in the week, head coach Tom Crean swore that there was “no way, there’s no way, there’s no way” the group wouldn’t be walking out of its finale against Maryland without their collective heads held high.

HAMILTON: Can Tom Crean make Indiana a consistent contender?

Yet even Crean might not have imagined the exact scene that would take place at Assembly Hall on Sunday, with the crowd chanting “Yo-gi Fer-rell” over and over and the game safely in hand with a few minutes still left on the clock. By the time Ferrell had a curtain call that was four long years in the making for the undersized star, checking out with 14.7 seconds remaining to a loud ovation from the Hoosier faithful, Indiana had an 18-point lead over a team once considered the league favorite and best chance at breaking the Big Ten’s 15-year national championship drought. The margin held and IU’s seniors indeed walked off the court with their heads held high—and with an 80–62 win in their pockets.

It would’ve been hard to believe earlier this season, specifically after their loss to Wake Forest in Hawaii or their disaster of a defeat to Duke, that the Hoosiers would end up looking like last year’s (and, really, this year’s) Spartans to end the regular season; a team peaking at the right time that seems poised to do damage in March. But Indiana has ripped off five straight wins, including victories over Iowa, Purdue and Maryland, and heads into the Big Ten tournament with a full head of steam as the No. 1 seed.

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The opposite can be said about the Terrapins, who had plenty of chances in recent weeks to go ahead in the Big Ten standings but went into a tailspin after seeing their 27-game home win streak snapped to Wisconsin on Feb. 13. Counting that game, Maryland has lost four of its last six heading into the postseason, with its lone wins coming vs. Michigan and Illinois at Xfinity Center. The Terps have been plagued by different problems at different times in that stretch—offense, defense, rebounding, turnovers—only appearing to click on all cylinders against the lowly Illini. 

On Sunday, Maryland simply had no answer for the Hoosiers’ offense, which ranks fourth in the nation in adjusted efficiency according to kenpom.com. Ferrell and junior forward Troy Williams had their way with the Terrapin defense, combining for 40 points on 12-of-25 shooting and getting to the rim with ease. The only offensive area Ferrell struggled in, three-point shooting, was picked up by the rest of the Hoosiers, who combined to go 7 for 16 (44%) from behind the arc.

If there’s a silver lining for the Terps, it’s that sophomore guard Melo Trimble continued to look more like the Melo Trimble to which many across college basketball have become accustomed, rather than the one who struggled mightily in February. In Thursday’s win over Illinois, Trimble looked sharp with 18 points, eight rebounds and five assists on 7-of-14 shooting. Against Indiana, he produced 17 points, four rebounds and three assists on 7-for-17 shooting. Far more important for Maryland than getting a road win in a notoriously difficult place to play (in a game that would not change either team’s Big Ten seed) is having the Trimble who went toe-to-toe with Marcus Paige of North Carolina in December or who hit a game-winning three at Wisconsin in January back for the postseason.

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Nevertheless, the Terrapins are looking quite fragile heading into the most critical part of the season, while Indiana is looking rather strong. Unfortunately for both, games will be played on a neutral court going forward. The two combined to go 33–1 on their home floors this year (the Hoosiers went 17–0) and will no doubt miss being away from their cozy confines. In the meantime, Maryland’s streak of losses on the road against ranked teams will continue into another season; the regrettable streak dates back to 2008 and stretches 20 games.

Even with its robust play of late, Indiana is no guarantee to pull off dual regular season/tournament Big Ten titles. Per usual, Tom Izzo’s squad in East Lansing looks like a team brimming with confidence in March, and with the Spartans as the No. 2 seed, the two would square off in the championship game if the chalk holds in the earlier rounds. On a neutral court, Maryland shouldn’t be written off either, and Purdue, Wisconsin and even Iowa, which like the Terrapins struggled down the stretch, all have the talent to be real threats. It should be a fun weekend in Indianapolis.

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