For those among you who missed the link in Thursday's Maryland Minute, the ACC announced the matchups for the women's basketball side of the 2014 ACC - B1G Challenge Wednesday night. And what better time to think about women's basketball than two days before Maryland's baseball team begins play in their first ever Super Regional.
Interestingly, the Terrapins drew perhaps the most intriguing and intense opponent as they will face a rematch with their Final Four foe, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, in a nominally home game for Notre Dame that will be played in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The made for television series will be played over two nights beginning Wednesday, December third.
Here's a quick look at the fourteen games. We'll start by naming the ACC's non-partcipant (the ACC has 15 teams and the B1G has 14) - the Clemson Tigers who finished thirteenth last season and had the weakest RPI of any ACC school.
Wednesday, December 3
Minnesota at NC State - The Golden Gophers finished 22-13 overall and 8-8 in conference play. They had an RPI of 44 and won 2 games in the WNIT before losing at South Dakota State. The Wolfpack finished 25-8 and 11-5 in the ACC. Their RPI was 19 and they dropped their first round NCAA game to BYU playing with an injury depleted roster.
Indiana at Boston College - BC finished the season 12-19 with an RPI of 128. They won only three games in ACC play. In what will be far from a marquee matchup, they will be hosting the 9-21 (2-14), 171 RPI Indiana Hoosiers.
Florida State at Purdue - Though the Boilermakers finished fifth in Big Ten play at 11-5, they had an overall record of 22-9 and at number 8, finished with the highest RPI of any team in the conference. Their season ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a loss to number 15 Oklahoma State. The Seminoles had a disappointing 2013-2014 season finishing 7-9 in the ACC and 21-12 overall and ranked thirty-eighth in RPI. They lost to Stanford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Duke at Nebraska - This could be an interesting game of two quality squads. The Cornhuskers won the B1G Tournament after finishing third in the regular season with a 12-4 record. Overall, they finished 26-7 with an RPI of twenty. Like NC State, their season ended with a loss to BYU in the NCAA Tournament. Duke finished the season with a slew of injuries but still managed to finish second (12-4) in the ACC, reach the ACC Tournament title game and have the number four RPI. Their loss to DePaul in the second round of the NCAA Tournament ended their season at 26-7.
Wake Forest at Michigan - At 15-16, the Demon Deacons finished one win short of qualifying for postseason play. They were 5-11 in ACC competition and finished with an RPI of 113. Michigan's 20-14 mark is a bit deceptive as they played a relatively weak out of conference schedule finishing with an RPI of 89 and an 8-8 Big Ten record. The Wolverines won two games in the WNIT.
Virginia at Illinois - Despite being played at Illinois, this game looks like advantage ACC. The Fighting Illini won only nine games and finished last in the Big Ten with an RPI of 171. The Cavaliers finished tenth in the ACC with a 6-10 record. They were 14-17 overall and seventy-seventh in RPI.
Pitt at Ohio State - This looks like advantage B1G. Nothing about Pitt's 11-20 (3-13) record with an RPI of 142 says they should challenge the Buckeyes on their home court. Last season was a bit of a down year for Ohio State as they finished 17-18 (5-11), RPI 48 all of which should be enough to handle the Panthers.
Thursday, December 4
Iowa at Louisville - Maryland fans are certainly familiar with the Cardinals, coached by Jeff Walz. Walz has built something of a powerhouse program at Louisville. The Cardinal finished the season with the number 5 RPI, a 33-5 record and a loss to Maryland in the Elite Eight. The game with Iowa is also a rematch of a 2014 NCAA Tournament game. Louisville walloped Iowa by 30 in their second round matchup.
Penn State at Syracuse - This game matches last season's regular season Big Ten champs with an up and coming Orange squad won ten games in the ACC against only six losses. They had an overall record of 23-10, an RPI of 25 and ended the season with a loss at Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Nittany Lions who graduated one of their all time great players in Maggie Lucas as well as Maryland transfer Dara Taylor, are coming off a 24-8 season that saw them lose in the Sweet Sixteen at Stanford.
Northwestern at Virginia Tech - This should be a fairly evenly matched if not exactly high profile game. The Hokies won 14 games against 16 losses last season while picking up four conference wins. They had an RPI of 117 and a 10-6 record in Cassel Coliseum. Their opponents finished 17-16 overall and 5-11 in B1G play. they had a 3-8 road record and an RPI of 107.
Wisconsin at Miami - Though the Hurricanes ended their 2013-14 season with a home loss to Stetson in the WNIT, this is not a favorable matchup for the B1G. The Badgers finished 10-19 overall and won only three conference games. They had an underwhelming 134 RPI ranking. Miami finished at .500 in ACC play and eked out an overall winning record of 16-15 despite that loss to Stetson. Their final RPI was 93.
North Carolina at Rutgers - This is an intriguing game if for no other reason than the coaching matchup. Assuming Sylvia Hatchell returns to the sideline for North Carolina, the game will match two coaches Hall of Fame coaches with over 900 wins each as C. Vivian Stringer will oversee Rutgers. The Tar Heels were a very young team last season and were a bit erratic in their play. Still, they won 27 games including 10 in the ACC and reached the Elite Eight before losing at Stanford. Despite finishing 12-6 in their only season in the American Athletic Conference, the Scarlet Knights failed to earn an NCAA bid. Rutgers finished the season by winning the WNIT.
Georgia Tech at Michigan State - The second place finisher in the Big Ten last season, the Spartans won thirteen conference games and had a 23-10 overall record winning 12 of 15 at home. They finished thirty-eighth in RPI and lost at North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Yellow Jackets had a season ending RPI of 36. They finished 20-16 overall and 9-7 in conference play. They lost to LSU in their first round NCAA Tournament game.
Last but not least Wednesday's marquee matchup
Maryland vs. Notre Dame at Ft. Wayne - Maryland has lost three straight to Notre Dame and two of the last three meetings between the Terps and the Irish have been lopsided Irish wins on a big NCAA Tournament stage. Terps fans most likely want to forget the 26 point drubbing in last year's Final Four game and focus on the narrow four point regular season loss in College Park.
The Irish cruised through the regular season and the first five games of the NCAA Tournament with a perfect 37-0 record. Then they hit the UConn machine that finished off its own perfect season. While Notre Dame loses three key players from their 2013-14 squad in Natalie Achonwa, Kayla McBride, and Ariel Braker, they have plenty of talent returning - principally in the form of Jewell Loyd and an incoming three player freshman class consisting of three top 100 players and featuring the number two (ESPN's Hoopgurlz) overall recruit in 6'3" forward Brianna Turner.
Maryland, of course, is going to have to figure out how to replace their all-time leading scorer and rebounder - Alyssa Thomas - as well as Alicia DeVaughn and Katie Rutan. Despite having only one senior, Laurin Mincy on the roster, the Terps do have plenty of talent returning and could, like the women's lacrosse team, replace a superstar with a more balanced squad that will be a greater challenge for Maryland's opponents.
The Terrapins' backcourt will include rising sophomores Lexie Brown and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough while rising junior Malina Howard will join sophomore Brionna Jones on a powerful front line. The Terps will be adding a four player freshman class that should provide some immediate contributions as well.
The ACC is 6-0-1 in the seven years of the Challenge dominating the early years with the last four being much more competitive. Maryland is the only school from either conference to have participated in all seven previous Challenges without a loss. The 2014 matchup will certainly challenge the perfect Challenge record.