Maryland's game at North Carolina in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday night might be as interesting to Greek mythologists as to NCAA tournament bracketologists.
The subplots feature the renewal of the battle between two longtime foes, two members of the same coaching tree planted by the legendary Dean Smith, a former standout from the teams' shared, hated rival, Duke, in a different uniform and an early season struggle that could dictate the way their respective seasons turn out.
"I like playing great teams. North Carolina is a great team with a great coach," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Monday. "It should be fun. It's been a highly anticipated game since it came out on the schedule. A great environment, the game of the night, the late game. The only thing is that I used to work for Roy Williams and you don't like going against coaches or people that you care about greatly. That's the only [aspect] that's difficult about it."
Sophomore point guard Melo Trimble said the matchup against their one-time Atlantic Coast Conference rival is part of the motivation for the No. 2 Terps.
"A lot of people that go here to Maryland [don't] like UNC, so of course it's going to have a lot of excitement to it," Trimble said
It marks the first time Maryland has played on what was once known as Tobacco Road since leaving the ACC for the Big Ten Conference, and the first time the Terps have had as much talent as, if not more than, the Tar Heels since Turgeon came to College Park. Turgeon is 0-7 against Williams, his former Kansas boss. Turgeon played for the Jayhawks when Larry Brown, a former Tar Heel, coached in Lawrence, then worked under Brown for one season and as an assistant to Williams from 1988-92.
"It's a good feeling, it's why you come to Maryland. I felt the first few games we really didn't have much of a chance, to be honest with you, even though we led them by eight or nine at home the first year, which was a minor miracle in itself," said Turgeon, whose team is a seven-point underdog despite ranking seven places higher than the Tar Heels in the Associated Press and USA Today polls. "I think they had four [NBA] first-rounders on that team. Yeah, we match up better" now.
Said senior forward Jake Layman: "I think it's the same mentality: You go in and play as hard as you can. I think with this team if we go in and play as hard as we can on defense and execute on offense, I think we'll be there in the end."
Still, this will be No. 2 Maryland's first road game of the season. What gives Turgeon confidence is the fact that three players — Layman and transfers Rasheed Sulaimon and Robert Carter Jr. — have played at North Carolina, and all the key players except freshman Diamond Stone have played in hostile road environments in college.
"I'm glad we've got some upperclassmen and we've got a really poised sophomore point guard, too," Turgeon said. "That helps going into this game. It's not a normal road game because it's your first road game in a tough environment, so that's always difficult. That's going to play a part. We have a lot of veteran guys. That gives me more comfort for this road game."
Said Layman: "We have some guys who know what it's like to play there. Our young guys have played at Indiana last year, which is very similar. I think we're ready to this type of environment."
Though some of the luster of this late-night showdown at the Smith Center was lost when the preseason No. 1 Tar Heels lost at Northern Iowa on Nov. 21 while still playing without All-American Marcus Paige, the return of the senior point guard from a broken hand will help bring back some of the hype.
Asked what Paige's return means to the Tar Heels, Turgeon said, "Just adds more depth to an already deep team they have. Obviously [he has] great experience."
"Guy's played in big games, a guy who can get buckets for them. The one thing they have struggled a little bit is shooting 3's, and that helps bringing him back. There's a reason they were preseason No. 1 — they have really good players. I anticipate him playing, I anticipate him playing well."
The matchup between Paige and Trimble, who missed making first-team all-American by a single vote, might not even be what North Carolina fans will be thinking about when the game begins, especially given the presense of Sulaimon, the former Duke guard, wearing a Terps uniform.
"I'm looking forward to that matchup, but most of all, I'm forward to a win for the team," Trimble said Monday.
In advance of the din at the so-called "Dean Dome," Maryland players practiced Sunday with the recordings of rappers Future and Drake blaring in the background. Turgeon did the same thing last season before the Terps took on Iowa State in front of a pro-Cyclones crowd at a tournament in Kansas City. Maryland, then unranked, upset the No. 13 team in the country to win the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.
"Songs that I liked, maybe that's why I practiced so well," Trimble said of Sunday's musical choices. "I'm sure Coach Turgeon doesn't approve" of the lyrics.
Turgeon, who is hoping to use tonight's game to gauge the progress the Terps have made this season, likes the fact that he will likely be able to stick to the same lineup he used during the 23-point win over Rhode Island in the championship game of the Cancun Classic on Nov. 25 in Mexico.
"We were built for games like this," Turgeon said. "Rhode Island was a big team and we matched up well with them. They weren't as big as Carolina, as long as Carolina and as talented as Carolina. It should allow us to play our big lineup for 40 minutes if we stay out of foul trouble. It's a good matchup for us. It will let us know where we are, where we stand as team. … It's hard to really gauge until you play games like this."