Ah, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge: perhaps nothing so well exemplified the ACC's dominance over all other conferences than this annual beatdown of the Midwest schools until they had to go and ruin everything by winning it last year. That means that next year there might actually be some uncertainty in the tournament, some suspense.
To cut down on the suspense slightly (or maybe rachet it up), some of the matchups for next year's challenge have been leaked. While they won't be released in full until next week, Jeff Goodman has the premier ones. Michigan State will play against Duke in Durham, Purdue will play at Virginia Tech, and Ohio State will play at Florida State. Meanwhile, North Carolina will travel to Illinois and N.C. State will play Wisconsin in Madison.
Who does that leave for Maryland? Whoever decides these things tries to match up teams at similar areas in the standings, and attempts to avoid back-to-back years on the road (or at home) and rematches if at all possible (these are very flexible). Let's look at the Terps' potential opponents:
- Indiana Hoosiers: Not ideal for a variety of reasons, the foremost of which being that Maryland played them last year. The teams will be very different, though, and it would be a much better matchup this year. This might make sense if Indiana came to College Park.
- Penn St. Nittany Lions: I'd like to play Penn State just to see former target Taran Buie in action, but if it happens it'll have to be in State college; PSU has played the last two years away and I'd imagine they'd return home this year. It would be a fun matchup to watch with Talor Battle, though. This might be Maryland's best shot at a quality win.
- Minnesota Golden Gophers: Minnesota is famous for their Big Ten Tournament run last year, but they lose a few major cogs from the team in Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson. Devoe Johnson, Al Nolen, and Ralph Sampson return, so the cupboard isn't entirely empty. It would be an intriguing matchup between two teams with talent but a dearth of experience.
- Northwestern Wildcats: Northwestern plays a mid-major style, and Maryland rarely does well against it: almost half their shots last year were 3pointers, and only Samford had a greater percentage. They were 20-14 last year, and return all but one player from their starting five. A trip to Chicago notwithstanding, I'm loathing facing NW.
- Michigan Wolverines: You probably remember Michigan from two years ago, which is one reason they might not be Maryland's matchup next year. Michigan was basically made up of two players for the past couple of years (Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims) and both have now left town. They won't be very good next year, and it should be a relatively easy draw.
- Iowa Hawkeyes: No one makes as much sense logistically, because Iowa is the only team that would allow both teams to continue the home-away pattern without a rematch. Unfortunately, Iowa was pretty terrible last year, undoubtedly the worst team in the Big Ten, so it certainly wouldn't be competitive. They return a lot from last year's young team, but I'm not sure it'll be enough to make the game worth watching.
Because there's no concrete set of rules, it's impossible to determine who Maryland will play. For some reason I have a sneaking suspicion it will be Iowa, but it may just as likely be any of the teams listed above.
Who knows, maybe Maryland won't even play; one ACC has had to sit out every year since expansion, and Maryland hasn't had their turn yet. I couldn't imagine Maryland being kept out, but you never know. Nevermind. Still, point stands: it's confusing.