Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon knew that the 2017-18 Big Ten schedule would be more difficult long before it was released, if only because the first two games would be played in early December to compensate for the conference tournament being held the first week of March and for Fox’s TV schedule.
When the schedule was announced Wednesday, Turgeon’s trepidations about the upcoming Big Ten season were realized.
After starting the league schedule the past two years against bottom-feeders Penn State and Illinois at home, the Terps will play reigning Big Ten regular-season champion Purdue in College Park on Dec. 1. Maryland will get a rematch in West Lafayette, Ind., on Jan. 31.
The Boilermakers, despite seeing 2017 Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan leave after his sophomore year, are expected to be among those who can challenge clear favorite Michigan State, another of the five teams the Terps will play both home and away.
“Every year there are different challenges, especially throughout league play, and this season is no different with how good we anticipate the conference will be from top to bottom,” Turgeon said in a statement.
Here are three takeaways about Maryland’s Big Ten schedule:
Protecting the home court will be crucial — and difficult: A year after the Terps were a disappointing 5-4 at Xfinity Center in the Big Ten, this season’s schedule could be even more challenging. It is difficult to expect Maryland to repeat last season’s 7-2 road magic, so being a dominant home team is paramount.
Aside from Purdue and Michigan State, Maryland will also face Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Penn State and Rutgers at home. Turgeon will have to figure out how to get his Terps to play better in College Park than they did a year ago when they were blown out by both the Gophers and Hawkeyes, and lost close games to Purdue and Nebraska that they should have won.
Maryland will get a chance to work on its homecourt mojo early in the season, during the nonconference portion of the schedule, with back-to-back home games against Butler and Bucknell in mid-November..
The will be three different two-day turnarounds: This is a throwback to Maryland’s old Atlantic Coast Conference days, when it was common to play Thursday and Saturday the same week. Back then, coaches would talk publicly about how it prepared their teams for the NCAA tournament, but quietly seethed about TV ruling the day.
Along with the opening weekend, when a Friday night game against Purdue is followed by a Sunday game at Illinois, the Terps have two-day turnarounds in January (Jan. 2 vs. Penn State, Jan. 4 at Michigan State) and in February (Feb. 17 vs. Rutgers and Feb. 19 at Northwestern).
At least one stretch in the nonconference portion could help the Terps get ready for this type of turnaround. After playing on back-to-back nights in the Emerald Coast Classic in Destin, Fla., from Nov. 24-25, Maryland will travel to Syracuse for a Nov. 27 game at the Carrier Dome.
Maryland catches a couple of breaks: Though the Big Ten gave three teams (Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa) a stretch of three straight road games, Maryland wasn’t one of them. The Terps do play three road games in a stretch of four games that starts the most daunting stretch of the season.
It is part of an an eight-game stretch that begins at Michigan State Jan. 4 and ends Jan. 31 at Purdue when the Terps play five games on the road. Only a road game at Ohio State could be a gimme during that run.
It is the prelude to a seven-game stretch to close the season when the Terps are home four times, with road games at Penn State, Nebraska and Northwestern (at cavernous Allstate Arena while 8,100-seat Welsh-Ryan Arena is being renovated).
Another piece of scheduling fortune came at the end of the regular season. The Terps play two of their last three games at home and avoid playing any opponents on Senior Night. The Terps avoided playing the most senior-dominated team, Northwestern, by playing in the Wildcats’ next-to-last home game.