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UMBC-Indiana Preview

AP - Sports

The Indiana basketball program bottomed out following coach Tom Crean's first season in Bloomington.

There's no telling how high the ceiling is for his group in 2011-12.

The 17th-ranked Hoosiers figure to extend the program's best start in 36 years Thursday night when they host Maryland-Baltimore County in their final game before the start of Big Ten action next week.

Hired in 2008 following nine years at Marquette, Crean took over an Indiana program in disarray. Star guard Eric Gordon had just left for the NBA after one season, and the Hoosiers were looking to pick up the pieces after Kelvin Sampson was forced to resign due to NCAA rules violations.

Crean's Hoosiers went 6-25 in 2008-09 - the program's fewest wins since it finished 6-7 in 1915-16 - and followed that with two more losing seasons.

Indiana, though, is back in the Top 25 for the first time since Crean arrived, and its 11-0 start is the school's best since the 1975-76 team went a perfect 32-0. With one more victory, the Hoosiers would match their win total from all of last season.

Any questions Crean had about a letdown following wins over then-No. 1 Kentucky and Notre Dame were answered Monday when six Hoosiers scored in double figures in a 107-50 victory over Howard.

It was the program's most lopsided win since a 94-29 victory over Notre Dame on Dec. 18, 1971, and no Indiana team had scored more points since a 108-88 win against George Washington in the 1999 NCAA tournament.

"Our guys were on it," Crean said. "They were ready to play, excited to play and excited to join some elite company. When there are only a few (three) teams in the illustrious history of this program that have done something (like going 11-0), they wanted to join that group."

Barring a major upset Thursday, the Hoosiers will open Big Ten play Dec. 28 at No. 19 Michigan State as the league's only unbeaten team.

Maryland-Baltimore County (1-9) seems unlikely to avoid a third straight defeat as it faces Indiana for the first time.

The Retrievers are looking to bounce back from Saturday's 73-66 overtime loss to Rider. UMBC used a 22-8 rally to force the extra session, but it shot a season-low 30.3 percent from the field overall.

Indiana hit a season-best 67.3 percent (35 of 52) on Monday, with the bench converting 15 of 20 shots. The Hoosiers lead the nation in 3-point percentage (46.8) after matching a season high with 11 3s against Howard.

UMBC's last two opponents have combined to hit 15 of 33 from beyond the arc.

Hoosier guards Verdell Jones III, Jordan Hulls and Victor Oladipo will have to keep tabs on Brian Neller, who is among the nation's leaders in 3-point attempts (97) after going 5 for 18 from long range and scoring 19 points Saturday.

This game will feature two of Indiana's top high school forwards from last season.

Cody Zeller, the 2011 Mr. Basketball, leads the Hoosiers with 15.3 points and 7.4 rebounds, while UMBC's Chandler Thomas, an All-State player at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, is scoring 7.4 points per game with 4.2 boards.

The Retrievers likely need a big effort from sophomore forward Chase Plummer - the team leader with 14.2 points per game and 8.9 rebounds - if they're going to snap the Hoosiers' 18-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents.

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