Maryland. Again. Yay?
For the second time in the last 5 years (the length of Maryland's tenure in the B1G), UVA will make a road trip to College Park to face the Terps in the ACC-B1G Challenge. Some people love this. Some people hate it. They're both right.
First things first, the ESPN/ACC/B1G schedulers are lazy. Over the last 7 challenges, we've played just 3 distinct teams. Wisconsin three times (12, 13, and 17), Ohio State twice (15 and 16), and now Maryland twice (14 and 18). There are fourteen teams in that conference, yet we seem stuck on 3 of them. Creativity it lacks.
Second things second, how you feel about Maryland is going to have little to do with how you objectively view this matchup. Hoo fans didn't like Maryland when they were in the ACC, and with good reason. When they bolted for the B1G, some met it with a "good riddance," others branded them as quitters or traitors. Either way, most Hoos would be happy to have as little to do with them as possible for as long as possible.
My feelings about them? I loved them as a rival when they were in the ACC, because they were perfect to hate. They were everything that made a rival great, polar opposites in many respects, peers in many others. And they were fun to hate. They were assholes, but they were our assholes. Which, to me, is why their defection stung all the more.
But, like it or not, Maryland we shall play come December. So is it a good matchup or not?
Yes, we're considered the better team in both, "playing down" to some degree. CBS has us 7th and Maryland 23rd. ESPN has us 7th and Maryland unranked. But lets dig a little deeper. Frankly, the B1G isn't that strong, while the ACC is top heavy. The ACC had 7 teams ranked in the CBS poll (3 in the Top 10), the B1G has 4 in the Top 25 (and none in the top 10). ESPN's breakdown is about the same. So what were the odds we were going to get someone on par with us? Most of the top ACC teams are playing down.
Additionally, we were due for a road game after two straight years at home in the Challenge. Looking at the B1G teams that drew home dates in this event (Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin), Michigan is the only one that stands out as a better team than Maryland, or a more "worthy" opponent. Yes, arguably we should've gotten them (UNC will go there instead), but from a rankings perspective, Maryland isn't a bad consolation prize.
Non-Conference Schedule Fit
Another aspect to analyzing this draw is seeing how it fits in with our overall 12-game non-conference slate. While we don't have all the specifics, many details have trickled out, enough to put together a bigger picture. Here's what we know so far:
Home dates against William and Mary, Marshall, George Washington, and VCU
Road dates at South Carolina and Maryland
Three neutral site games at the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament (other participants include Wisconsin, Florida, Butler, Dayton, Stanford, Oklahoma, and Middle Tennessee)
That's 9 total that I've got in my notes, 5 away from home. I expect we'll round out the schedule with three lower tier opponents, MEAC variety usually.
The schedule is light on Top 25 teams. Maryland and Butler are fringe Top 25, and Florida isn't far outside. South Carolina isn't ranked but did get a boost with the return of Chris Silva. We'll get our Top 10 firepower with Duke (x2 this year) and Carolina, and Maryland will slot in nicely as a solid Top 40 RPI game along with South Carolina and some potential Bahamas opponents.
So what're we getting as an opponent in Maryland this time around?
They do lose a lot from last year. Jared Nickens, Sean Obi, and Michael Cekovsky have graduated. Dion Wiley transferred. And Justin Jackson and Kevin Huerter declared for the NBA draft.
But there is the seed of a good team returning. Rising junior PG Anthony Cowan is a solid young player who could blossom in a big role this year. Rising sophomore 2-guard Darryl Morsell is dangerous going downhill, though his 3-point shot is a liability. Power forward Ivan Bender should come back strong from a torn meniscus, and center Bruno Fernando was good enough to be on some NBA draft radars this year.
After that, though, we have to start talking about their freshman class. Don't get me wrong, it's a really good freshman class. Wing Aaron Wiggins and big man Jalen Smith were both highly rated targets that Tony Bennett hotly pursued. Shooting guard Eric Ayala is a composite 4-star, and PG Serrel Smith has some developmental potential. But still, they'll only be freshmen, and they'll all be thrust into major roles from the get go. Upside may be there, but how much of that upside is going to be unlocked a mere 3 or 4 weeks into the season? Enough to stand up to a veteran, ranked ACC powerhouse?
Color me skeptical.
This is a game that ultimately the Hoos should win. It's very reminiscent of our 2014 matchup against them, when a young Melo Trimble suited up for the Terps, along with three other true freshmen playing major minutes. The Hoos walked out of College Park with a comfortable double digit win that night. I'll probably end up predicting the same this time around.