COLLEGE PARK — For years, Duke's arrival at Comcast Center provided Maryland fans a chance to generate noise and passion as they vented their heartfelt disapproval at the Blue Devils. No other opponent inspired such taunts.
With Duke, and also North Carolina, absent from this season's home schedule, the Terps and their fans must settle Monday night for the next best thing: a meeting with an elite Syracuse team that won its first 25 games of the season.
Will Maryland respond to Syracuse orange as they did to Duke blue? Because there is little history, Syracuse-Maryland is not a rivalry. But the Orange is the most accomplished team to play in College Park this season. And the Terps (15-12, 7-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) are sorely in need of a game to ignite their season and give their fans a reason to howl.
"I'm sure we're going to be pretty juiced up," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. "They won't be No. 1 when they come in here (Monday) night but (they're) a heck of a basketball team with great players. Hopefully a lot of energy in the building. It's a great opportunity."
The Orange (25-2, 12-2 ACC) was top-ranked until losing in overtime against Boston College on Wednesday and by six points at Duke on Saturday night. Florida is likely to be ranked No. 1 when the new poll is released Monday.
Maryland fans have embraced the "big game" feel. Syracuse is the first opponent to sell out the publicly-available tickets at Comcast Center this season. Maryland has invited students to arrive early to rehearse a flash mob-style dance.
The school did the same thing a year ago before its game against Duke. Maryland fans stormed the court after the Terps won, 83-81.
"We're really excited," forward Jake Layman said of the Syracuse matchup. "We know there's a lot of hype around the game. We know that if we win this game it'll be big for us."
Pittsburgh was the only other ranked team to visit Comcast Center this season. The Panthers, who defeated the Terps, 83-79, on Jan. 25, were then ranked No. 20.
The Orange, known for its zone defense, ranks third in the ACC in scoring defense (58.6 points per game) and first in steals per game (8.3).
"We've seen a lot of zone. We haven't seen this zone," Turgeon said. "Their zone is terrific. You can't simulate it in practice."
Maryland has gotten few scheduling breaks this season in its final ACC season before departing for the Big Ten.
But the Terps did get this past weekend off. The team will have had six days between games. Its last game was a 71-60 victory over Wake Forest on Tuesday in front of its smallest home crowd of the season (10,665) for an ACC game.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told reporter's after Saturday's Duke game that it was "strange" for the Terps to be off on Saturday while the Orange was playing at Duke. Duke won, 66-60, in a game in which Boeheim picked up two technical fouls and was ejected for arguing a charging foul on guard C.J. Fair near the end. Fair, a senior, and Maryland junior Nick Faust both attended City and are longtime friends.
Turgeon said he didn't know whether Maryland's layoff would help or hinder his team. He said the Terps — who still harbor postseason aspirations — turned a corner several weeks ago. Maryland is 2-2 over the last four games but played well in losses at Virginia and Duke, neither of which have lost a home conference game this season. Turgeon suggested it might have been best to not have so many off days.
"Yesterday was a strange day," he said. "It was Saturday and we weren't playing. "We've had a couple byes on the weekend. It's been strange. Does it help us? I don't know — we'll see."