IOWA CITY — Coming into this season, the Iowa and Maryland basketball programs were very nearly mirror images of one another from a personnel standpoint.
Each of them had just one returning starter who figured to be the team’s unquestioned star and a leading candidate for All-Big Ten honors. Much of the rest of their lineup figured to be made up of freshmen and other players with sparse experience at the college level.
There was going to be some growing pains.
It definitely has worked out that way for Iowa, which is 11-8 overall heading into a matchup with Maryland tonight at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The growing pains haven’t been nearly as acute for the Terrapins, who are 16-2, in first place in the Big Ten after three weeks of conference play and ranked 25th in this week’s Associated Press poll.
“They have good guard play right now, great quickness,’’ Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Maryland. “The young guys are playing well … They've got a lot of weapons, and (head coach Mark Turgeon) does a good job with their offense at getting guys shots. So we've got to be ready.’’
The Terps have had three freshmen in their starting lineup all season and they rely heavily on junior guard Melo Trimble, a preseason All-Big Ten pick.
It’s very much like Iowa, which has started four freshmen for most of the Big Ten season along with Peter Jok, who leads the Big Ten in scoring.
Both teams have a 6-foot freshman starting at point guard. Both have freshmen as their second, third and fourth leading scorers.
One reason for the disparity in the two teams’ records is the schedule. Maryland has not played a nationally ranked team all season while Iowa has had four matchups against teams that were ranked when they played them.
But the Terrapins also have done something the Hawkeyes have not: Win on the road. Iowa is 0-4 in true road games, Maryland 3-0.
The Hawkeyes have played very well at home, however, winning their last seven games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, a stretch that includes upsets of Iowa State and Purdue.
“I think everybody plays better at home. I don't think it's anything more than that,’’ McCaffery said. “The numbers bear that out. Some teams have a particular resiliency on the road. I think that's sometimes more interesting to look at.’’
The Hawkeyes (3-3 in the Big Ten) are coming off perhaps their worst game of the season — an 89-54 loss at Northwestern — but their pattern has been to follow rough road games with strong efforts at home.
“I don’t know what it is honestly, if it’s just us being young or if we like having a home crowd,’’ freshman guard Jordan Bohannon said. “But we really feed off their energy and we like having a home crowd obviously … It’s just trying to be locked in 100 percent for each game and we haven’t really been doing that each game on the road especially.’’
They will need to do it tonight. McCaffery said they need to be especially conscious of Trimble, who was exclusively a point guard in his first two years at Maryland but who has played more as a shooting guard this season.
“He's got an incredible burst,’’ McCaffery said. “He's got the ability to play upright and still go by you, which is rare, so you'd think he's not going to go and then he goes, and that will draw some fouls.’’
Trimble has been able to move off the ball largely because of the emergence of freshman Anthony Cowan as the starting point guard.
“He is also bullet quick and crafty,’’ McCaffery said. “So now you have two guys that are coming at you 100 miles an hour getting in the lane, and the thing about it is they're not just fast guys. They can score and they can shoot, so you've got to pick them up early. You can't just keep backing up because they'll make you pay for that.’’
McCaffery is very familiar with one of the other freshmen starting for the Terps. Forward Kevin Huerter is from the Albany, New York, area, where McCaffery formerly coached at Siena College. Huerter’s father, Tom, was a broadcaster for Siena basketball games and Kevin became very good friend with Conner McCaffery, the coach’s son.
The Hawkeyes tried unsuccessfully to recruit Huerter, who averages 8.2 points per game and had 26 points recently in a loss to Nebraska.
“He's a very good player,’’ McCaffery said. “The thing that has been impressive to anybody that's watched them this year is that he doesn't rush. He plays at his pace, and he really understands how to play, fits very well with their team. But he's the kind of player that would fit with any team.’’