In a little over a month Iowa will head to Chicago to play for a Big Ten Tournament title.
Sunday's trip to Maryland will go in a long way in determining if the Hawkeyes are playing for a regular-season title next month as well.
First place in the Big Ten standings will be on the line in a top-20 showdown between No. 20 Iowa (17-3, 8-1) and fifth-ranked Maryland (18-2, 9-0) at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Xfinity Center in College Park, Md. (ESPN2).
Iowa has won six in a row since its only Big Ten loss of the season and can grab a share of the conference lead with a win in its first ever Big Ten meeting with Maryland.
"It's exactly where you want to be," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "I guess exactly where you would want to be would be 9-0, but considering the loss to Illinois it's the best that we could have happen. We have nothing to lose, we are going to go in there and give it our all, we are the underdog."
The first and only regular-season meeting between the current league leaders figures to play a central role in who finishes on top.
In order to grab a share of the conference lead on Sunday, Iowa will need to do something no Big Ten team has been able to do this season: beat Maryland.
The Terrapins and head coach Brenda Frese, a Cedar Rapids native, have opened their first season in the Big Ten winning nine consecutive games by an average of 18 points per game.
Maryland brings a 12-game winning streak into Sunday's game and hasn't lost since a Dec. 3 setback at then-No. 2 Notre Dame.
"They are ranked fifth, they are undefeated in the Big Ten, it's on their home court so it's one of those situations where we know they are a good team and we respect it but we aren't going in there with fear in our eyes," Bluder said. "We are going to go in there with a little chip on our shoulder trying to prove something."
Iowa comes to Maryland fourth in the RPI rankings and riding a wave of momentum.
The Hawkeyes snapped an eight-game losing skid to Nebraska in overtime Monday then drilled a Big Ten-record 19 3-pointers in a wild 102-99 win over Northwestern this past Thursday in Evanston.
Iowa shot 68 percent from 3-point range in Thursday's win and had a school-record 32 assists on 33 made baskets.
"I think it is a confidence builder because we withstood their challenge," Bluder said of the Northwestern win. "I think any time you win you can learn a lesson from it."
Iowa may need more sharp shooting to upend the Terrapins.
Name a statistic and Frese's bunch is at or near the top of the Big Ten.
Maryland leads the conference in scoring (83.2 ppg) and is second in scoring defense (59.7).
The Terrapins are first in margin of victory at 23.5 and also lead in field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage.
Perhaps most concerning for Bluder and the Hawkeyes, the Terrapins are the best rebounding team in the conference, outrebounding foes by a league-best 12.4 per game.
Maryland is averaging a Big Ten-best 16.1 offensive rebounds per game.
"We have to box out really well," Bluder said. "They are exceptional on the offensive boards, they are averaging 17 offensive rebounds a game so I think that is important."
Both teams have four players averaging double figures.
Melissa Dixon, fresh off a 9-for-10 performance from 3-point range against Northwestern, leads Iowa at 16.2 points per game while Ally Disterhoft adds 15.4 per game.
Sophomore guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough leads Maryland with 14.3 points per game while Laurin Mincy adds 14.1 points per game.
Brionna Jones, a 6-foot-3 sophomore center, averages 12.4 points and 8.5 rebounds for Maryland.
"They are balanced, they have four people in double figures, they just don't have any really weak links on their team," Bluder said. "They don't have anybody you can really help off of anything like that."
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
No. 20 Iowa (17-3, 8-1 Big Ten) at No. 5 Maryland (18-2, 9-0 Big Ten)
•Specifics — 3 p.m. Xfinity Center, College Park, Md.
•Following the game — TV: ESPN2. Radio: KXIC (800 AM), WMT (AM 600), WHO (1040 AM) Hawkeye Radio Network. Live scoring: www.hawkeyesports.com.
•Preview — First place in the Big Ten standings is on the line in a top-20 showdown as Maryland and Iowa meet for the first time as Big Ten members. Maryland, coached by Cedar Rapids native and former Iowa State assistant Brenda Frese, has won 12 straight while Iowa has won six in a row.