Combining Maryland’s seventh-place finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season and the recent decision by 7-foot-1 sophomore center Alex Len to leave early for the NBA, most figured that the Terps would not get a marquee matchup in next season’s ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
There was also some speculation that Maryland’s departure from the ACC after next season for the Big Ten might make the Terps a candidate for exclusion — something that had not happened to Maryland in the first 14 years of the series.
Maryland’s non-conference schedule — criticized last season for how soft it was and how ill-prepared it left the Terps once the ACC portion began — became noticeably tougher Wednesday when it was announced that Maryland will play at Ohio State on Dec. 4.
Though clearly not the headliner of the night — an honor that belongs to North Carolina’s visit to Michigan State — the Buckeyes are the most high-profile opponent the Terps will face in the series in several years. In the past three years, Maryland played Northwestern, Illinois and Penn State.
Maryland, which is 10-4 overall since the Challenge began in 1999, has won seven of its past eight in the series, including a 20-point win at Northwestern last season. It will also mark the fourth road game in the series for the Terps in the past five years.
Ohio State finished last season with a 29-8 record after losing to Wichita State in the NCAA tournament West Regional final in Los Angeles. The Buckeyes tied for second with Michigan State in the Big Ten (13-5). After going 8-10 in the ACC, the Terps finished 25-13 and lost to Iowa in the semifinals of the NIT.
The ACC-Big Ten matchups are based in part on a team’s RPI at the end of the previous season and its prospects for the upcoming season.
Given where the teams finished, those making the ACC-Big Ten schedule either figured the Buckeyes are going to be a middle-of-the-pack team in the Big Ten after losing leading scorer DeShaun Thomas, or that the Terps, who return eight of their top 10 players and add freshman point guard Roddy Peters as well as center Damonte Dodd, are going to be much improved despite Len’s departure.
The Washington Post also reported Wednesday that Maryland would add a non-conference game against Tulsa in December and play a summer tour in the Bahamas. An athletic department source confirmed the game against the Golden Hurricane as well as the trip to the Bahamas, scheduled for early August.
The game against Tulsa will be another opportunity for Mark Turgeon to coach against a close friend. In this case, it will be Danny Manning, who was 17-16 in his first season as a head coach. Turgeon played with Manning for three years at Kansas, graduating the year before Manning and “The Miracles” led the Jayhawks to the 1988 national championship.
In his first two seasons, Turgeon has faced his former boss at Kansas, North Carolina’s Roy Williams, as well as two other good friends in Kentucky’s John Calipari (who was a graduate assistant at Kansas when Turgeon played for Larry Brown) and Colorado’s Tad Boyle (who was a teammate at Kansas).
The summer tour in the Bahamas will be a homecoming for rising sophomore center Shaquille Cleare, who grew up there before moving to Houston for high school. Cleare, who played sparingly toward the end of his freshman season, is going to be counted on along with fellow sophomore Charles Mitchell and Dodd to help Maryland replace Len.
Here are the ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchups that were announced Wednesday.
Tuesday, December 3rd
Florida State at Minnesota
Illinois at Georgia Tech
Indiana at Syracuse
Michigan at Duke
Notre Dame at Iowa
Penn State at Pittsburgh
Wednesday, December 4th
Boston College at Purdue
Maryland at Ohio State
Miami, FL at Nebraska
North Carolina at Michigan State
Northwestern at North Carolina State
Wisconsin at Virginia