INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 08: JerShon Cobb #23 of the Northwestern Wildcats attempts to control the ball against Austin Hollins #20 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers during their first round game of 2012 Big Ten Men's Basketball Conferene Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 8, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
As a staunch B1G advocate, I should probably be celebrating a B1G road trip simply for the sake of not making me look like a fool later when I talk about how awesome those great Midwestern metropoli are, but just I can't quite get excited about Maryland's draw in the 2012 ACC-Big Ten Challenge. You could certainly do worse than a trip to Chicago, even if it's late-freaking-November, and you could do worse on the court, as well. A Penn State grudge match, a trip to Nebraska, and at Minnesota would all be less appealing on both counts, especially when recalling that it's late-freaking-November. So I'm not complaining, per se. It's just not moving the needle for me, not when Michigan State and Michigan and OSU and Wisconsin and Purdue were all options. (C'mon, we'll be better than Clemson and Virginia, give us an appealing matchup.)
Although, y'know, Northwestern fans are scoffing at us, too. So maybe this is a better match than I'd like to admit.
The Wildcats have turned into a decent program, even if they've still never made an NCAA Tournament, which is starting to feel like some long extended prank on that fanbase. They were a bubble team last year and only lose a couple of players; unfortunately, one of those is John Shurna, who defined that team for the past few seasons. The addition of Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire will help things, as will the return of their entire backcourt, with Drew Crawford, Reggie Hearn, and Dave Sobolewski all back. It's tough to imagine them getting better after the departure of Shurna, but it's plausible that they could be a bubbler once again.
Which is probably where Maryland will be, too. Which actually worries me a bit. Northwestern isn't a name opponent, and it's a winnable game, but they're not a cakewalk. A young Maryland team, with several freshmen still getting acclimated to high-major college basketball, on the road early in the season against a half-decent team ... it might actually be a tall order. And a loss never looks good. All things told, though, it'll probably be the best early-season indicator of what'll be in store for '12-'13.
By my count, this is the third out-of-conference game we know of, joining the season-opener against Kentucky at the Barclays Center and the return trip to Notre Dame. Whoever plays in the BB&T Classic will make four, which, you might recall, is exactly what Mark Turgeon said was his target number. Sadly, none of these four will be playing in the Comcast Center, something that's long been a complaint of the fanbase (especially when whoever plays in Verizon for the BB&T gets a return game). Sometimes the B1G Challenge can mitigate that like it did last year with Illinois, but it might not be a bad idea to get a home-and-home with another decently big name for years when the Challenge takes Maryland on the road, even if that means a fifth big game.
So, who's up for a snowy road trip?