1. The 2002 national title is still a painful subject for Hoosier fans. Many still remember how Juan Dixon dominated us during a 64-52 Maryland victory. How did that national title change the perception of Maryland basketball, both among its fanbase and nationally?
Alex: That's a good question. I wasn't in College Park and didn't cover the team then, but I think any time a team wins a national championship, it earns an air of legitimacy few programs have. That eventually faded, obviously, but Maryland looks to be all the way back now. The Terps haven't been this good since those Juan Dixon teams.
2. Last year, the Terps finished 17-15. Right now, they are 17-2 and 5-1 in their inaugural year in the Big Ten. What has clicked this year to provoke the turnaround, and how far do you think this team can get in March?
Alex: Maryland is better at virtually everything this year than last. A couple of statistical trends stick out; they've gone from a terrible free throw shooting team to having hit the second-most foul shots in all of college basketball, and they're knocking down a higher rate of their shots from the field, too. But the simplest thing is that the Terps have new players, and a couple of the holdovers from last year's shipwreck of a team have taken major steps forward.
3. Maryland ranks first in B1G conference play in defensive efficiency. How will the Terps try to stop an Indiana team that seemed to regain its mojo on offense last Sunday at Illinois?
Alex: The Terps are one of the best teams in the country in perimeter defense. They allow opponents to shoot just 28 percent on three-pointers, and they almost never send teams the foul line. Indiana's a really good long-range shooting team, obviously, but I expect Maryland's major point of emphasis to be taking away outside looks. From there, they'll rely on Damonte Dodd, Michal Cekvosky and Jake Layman to maintain order around the hoop.
4. This game will feature two excellent freshman shooting guards in Melo Trimble and James Blackmon, Jr. In their last games, Trimble and Blackmon scored 24 and 21 points, respectively. Will either team be able to stop these two shooters?
Alex: I think Maryland will do a decent job against Blackmon. Nobody's going to shut him out completely, of course, but the Terps' defensive strengths align pretty well with containing big-time guards. For instance, Michigan State's Travis Trice - a really terrific offensive player most of the time - has had two of his least efficient games against Maryland. Generally speaking, the Terps keep guards out of double-figures. Blackmon's superb, so he'll get his. But I don't expect him to have a signature game by his own lofty standards.
Trimble is adept at creating his own offense off the dribble, and even when he isn't shooting well, he gets to the foul line more than anyone else on the court, then makes the shots he takes from there. If he's firing like he did against Michigan State last weekend, he's pretty close to unstoppable. If he's shooting terribly (like he did over the first few games of conference play), he needs to rely on drawing fouls. Against Indiana, foul shots aren't easy to come by. So we'll have to see how he's shooting.
5. In the front-court, Jake Layman looks to be the star for the Terps. Will the 6-9 forward be able to exploit his size advantage over an IU team that won't start any player taller than 6-7?
Alex: Probably. Layman is the best professional prospect Maryland has, and he's played better as a power forward this year than he ever played as a small forward during his first two years in College Park. He's lankier than most of his matchups in the post, but Layman's blossomed into a dominant rebounder and inside-out scorer. He's the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, and it's fair to expect him to approach a double-double at the bare minimum. This is a ruthlessly efficient player.
6. When we played Georgetown, I asked Casual Hoya what the possibility of Georgetown and Maryland playing an annual rivalry game was, so I'll ask you guys too. Would you like the Terps to play the Hoyas on a regular basis, and do you think it will happen anytime soon?
Alex: I don't think it will happen, but I can't give you any kind of rational reason why. It seems to be something everyone wants.
7. Football talk: I read the Randy Edsall piece on your site earlier this week. After two 7-6 seasons, do Terps fans think Edsall can take this program to greater heights, or has he maxed out his potential as Maryland coach? Also, where do you expect Stefon Diggs to fall in the NFL Draft?
Alex: Even now, I don't have much of a read on Edsall. On the one hand, Maryland has improved incrementally every single year he's been at the helm. On the other, not only has he not beaten any good opponents; he's gotten crushed almost every time out against even second-tier Big Ten schools (Ohio State is the first tier all by itself, and the Buckeyes beat Maryland by 30 last year). The next season will probably be telling.
On Diggs, I'd expect him to fall in the late third or early fourth round. If he thrills scouts over the next three months, maybe he finds his way toward the second round. If he doesn't, he could fall to the fifth.
8. Prediction: who wins on Thursday night and by how much?
Alex: Maryland wins, 73-70. While Maryland's defensive strengths are a good counterweight to Blackmon and the Hoosiers' offense, Indiana's strengths (like preventing free throw attempts) could limit Maryland on offense. I think Indiana gives the Terps an entertaining game, but Maryland should manage to eek it out. It'll be tight, though.
Thanks again, Alex! The 13th-ranked Terps and 23rd-ranked Hoosiers face off tomorrow at 9 from Assembly Hall on ESPNU.