EAST LANSING, MICH. — The irony was not lost on the Maryland fans who made the trek out to Michigan State for their first-ever game at the Breslin Center. It wasn't exactly balmy in East Lansing on Saturday morning, but there wasn't even a single flake to be found.
Kathryn Zoulias, a 2011 Maryland graduate, drove from Frederick on Friday morning with her boyfriend, Andrew Murphy, leaving before dawn to "beat the snow and make it out here." Season-ticket holders in College Park, the couple wanted to experience a road game in the Big Ten.
"It's warmer than home right now," Zoulias said with a laugh.
Obviously, it wasn't the weather but the matchup with the 11th-ranked Spartans that inspired Zoulias and her boyfriend, who also attended Maryland, to witness ESPN's "College GameDay" festivities a few hours before tip-off.
In a sea of green-and-white Michigan State supporters, a dozen or so Terps fans were quite noticeable in their red.
"We want to show a little Maryland pride," Zoulias said.
Ben DiMauro, a 2005 graduate who lives and works in New York City, has been on the road for basketball games to Oklahoma State last season, North Carolina this season and Baltimore last month for the game against Princeton at Royal Farms Arena.
Since he lives in Manhattan, he doesn't include the Maryland game he attended against Connecticut at Madison Square Garden in December, a week after the Terps lost to the Tar Heels. Until Saturday, he had never been on the road for a Big Ten game because of conflicting schedules with work.
"Except for Rutgers and we don't count that," said DiMauro, who flew to East Lansing from New York on Friday.
DiMauro, who was a freshman the year Maryland won the national championship in 2002, doesn't quite compare this year's team to the Juan Dixon- and Lonny Baxter-led Terps.
"When I was a student, I thought we had more experience. Dixon was a senior, Baxter was a senior and we had a lottery pick in [Chris] Wilcox," DiMauro recalled. "This team has a couple of McDonald's All-Americans on it. We didn't have any in 2001-02. Trimble and Diamond Stone were McDonald's All-Americans."
Sue McMaster went back to school at Michigan State in the late 1970s, after her husband had finished his undergraduate degree. She found herself not only on the same campus as the now-legendary Magic Johnson, but on at least one occasion in the same classroom.
"That was a lot of fun being in class with Magic," McMaster said of Johnson, who in 1979 led the Spartans to the national championship in an historic game against Indiana State and Larry Bird.
McMaster gets to see her old classmate, or at least a life-sized bronze statue of him, outside Breslin Center with regularity. She and her husband come to nearly all of the home games from their 100-year-old farm in nearby Laingsburg, Mich., and had been to "three or four" GameDay events before Saturday.
Wearing State Farm headgear shaped like a basket and net that ESPN handed to most of those attending GameDay, the retired schoolteacher seemed just as fanatic as the students, right down to her homemade sign that read "Spartans' Turtle Soup."
Asked to compare the atmosphere now to when she was in school going to games at Jenison Field House, McMaster said, "It's more exciting now."
The crowd in what is called the "Izzone" cheered when ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg picked the Spartans to beat the Terps on Saturday and also to become one of the teams with the best chance to get to the Final Four. They also booed Jay Bilas, who made Maryland his No. 1 overall choice to reach the national semifinals in Houston.
Bilas said he thinks Maryland sophomore point guard Melo Trimble is not only a candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year along with Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff, Indiana's Yogi Ferrell and Michigan State's Denzel Valentine. Bilas also believes that Trimble is still in the running for national Player of the Year.
"If we were just talking about players, we'd probably be talking about Ben Simmons the most," Bilas said. "His team is not winning, so he's further down in the Player of the Year conversation even though he's probably the best player."
Uthoff, Iowa's senior forward who played in the shadow of Roy Marble and then Aaron White, is averaging 19.7 points per game in league play and has been in double figures every game this season for the surprising No. 9 Hawkeyes, who are unbeaten in the Big Ten.
Iowa plays at Maryland on Jan. 28 in the teams' only regular-season meeting.
There is also Ferrell. After a sluggish start for both Ferrell and the Hoosiers, the senior guard has turned the Hoosiers into a legitimate contender for the Big Ten regular-season title and himself into a possible Big Ten Player of the Year candidate.
"Winning is a huge component in that," Bilas said.
Asked if Trimble still has a chance to be both the Big Ten's Player of the Year as well as a contender for national Player of the Year, Bilas said, "I think so, but that's going to be dependent on what other guys do."
"When you see someone going for 46 and if [Oklahoma's Buddy] Hield consistently averages 26, it will be like Doug McDermott a couple of years ago. I think most players would tell you they'd rather play on the championship team than say they have a Player of the Year on their team."