Maryland has looked every bit the national title contender it was perceived to be entering the season, though the true indicators have yet to take place.
The fourth-ranked Terrapins' credentials will be better revealed during a Big Ten schedule they'll begin Wednesday against visiting Penn State.
Maryland (11-1) performed to expectations over a non-conference slate that counts a loss at former ACC rival and No. 7 North Carolina as the lone blemish but lacked any signature victories, with a 10-point decision over Connecticut at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 8 the most notable win.
Article continues below ...
The defeat is the Terps' only road game to date, but they'll visit improving Northwestern on Saturday and Wisconsin and Michigan later on prior to a Jan. 23 trip at top-ranked Michigan State.
“I think we're ready for it,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “Our guys like to be challenged, they'll be excited. That's the great thing about league play, you get challenged every night, so you're team improves because you're challenged and have to concentrate to play well.”
Penn State (9-4) doesn't appear to pose a major threat to the Terps' 21-game winning streak at XFINITY Center, as it finished 3-13 in the Big Ten last season and graduated do-everything guard D.J. Newbill. The Nittany Lions did play Maryland tough in two 2014-15 meetings, however, including a 64-58 loss at College Park in which the teams were tied with under five minutes to play.
Brandon Taylor heads an offense that's shown more diversity than the one that mostly depended on Newbill last season. The senior forward is averaging 16.2 points and had a career-high 29 in Wednesday's 75-69 win over Kent State in the Las Vegas Classic.
Shep Garner (14.7 ppg) and Payton Banks (11.7 ppg) also are averaging double figures for Penn State, which has won seven of nine following a 2-2 start.
“We have more of a balance,” coach Patrick Chambers said. “On any given night someone can get us 20 (points), which is very exciting. The more guys that can get us double figures, it's tougher for our opponent to scout.”
Penn State has held four of its last five opponents under 38 percent shooting, but the Terps rank third nationally in field goal percentage (53.3). They've been particularly proficient from the perimeter lately, hitting 47.9 percent on 3-pointers over their last three after making 13 of 27 in Sunday's 87-67 rout of Marshall.
Melo Trimble is 8 for 13 from beyond the arc over that stretch. The preseason Big Ten Player of the Year was held to four points in last season's home win over the Nittany Lions but scored 20 in a 76-73 victory at Penn State on Feb. 14.
The Terps also are getting an inside presence from Diamond Stone. The heralded freshman has five straight double-figure games since Turgeon removed him from the starting unit following the UNC loss on Dec. 1.
“I accepted the role and realized that we're a team and it's not all about me,” said Stone, who was 8 of 10 from the field for 16 points against Marshall. “If we're winning and I'm coming off the bench, it's a good win. There are no individual goals, this is about Maryland, and we're all a unit.”
Maryland has won 11 straight conference games at home, where its last loss came to then-No. 7 Virginia in last season's ACC/Big Ten challenge. Its last league defeat at XFINITY Center came as an ACC member, a 57-55 setback to then-No. 4 Syracuse on Feb. 24, 2014.
Penn State was 1-8 on the road in Big Ten play last season.