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Overviewing Maryland's Premier Out-of-Conference Opponents for 2010-11: Murderer's Row?

With the news that Maryland will very possibly be playing Villanova and Temple next year in basketball, the out-of-conference schedule for the 2010-11 season is starting to shake out. Only one more thing remains to be seen - the opponent in the BB&T Classic.

The schedule that stands now is a rather interesting one. There's a rematch, a family affair, and even a few teacher vs. student battles. But probably the most interesting thing to me about the high-major out-of-conference schedule is that it's so robust. There are five potential top 25 teams and one average team, not counting anyone from the BB&T. Compare to that to last year, when Maryland's only good opponents came in the Maui Invitational; had they struggled instead of flourished down the stretch, the lack of a quality OOC win could've been devastating.

Gary Williams certainly avoided that possibility for next season with this group of teams, which includes three top ten squads and one top 15 squad. After Maryland faced a handful (being generous there) of good teams OOC last year, this is a comparative murderer's row. Actually, it might just be a murderer's row on its own. Let's take a closer look at each opponent:

Villanova Wildcats, in Philadelpha: This is likely a sort of silent repayment for Nova trekking a few miles south to play in the BB&T Classic, a virtual home game for Maryland. The Terps lost last year by 9, but that was due in large part to some ridiculous outside shooting by the Wildcats. Jordan Williams dominated the Villanova frontline, albeit without Mouphtaou Yarou, and Sean Mosley had an offensive outbreak, so from that angle I like Jay Wright's squad quite a bit.

Nova, like Maryland, loses their best player, Scottie Reynolds, but they have a much stronger returning cast than the Terps. Three starters return, and two of them figure to be potential stars in Corey Fisher and Antonio Pena. Yarou will also return and figures to be healthy this time around, and last year's freshman studs Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek will have much more prominent roles. For the record, Andy Katz has Villanova at #8 in his early top 25; they're in the top ten of virtually every single ranking I've seen.

It's a game that Maryland won't be expected to win and probably won't unless Williams and Mosley are better than expected and Villanova's unproven potential stars, like Fisher and Yarou, aren't as good as possible. I still wouldn't rule Maryland out, though, because ultimately Villanova is an unproven team, almost as much as MD. You never know what can happen, even if Nova will be heavily favored, and with reason.

Temple Owls, in College Park: Temple coach Fran Dunphy is a Gary Williams protegee, so this will be a meeting of master and student, which brings some intrigue. Temple was one of the better unknown teams in the NCAA last year, beating Virginia Tech, Villanova, Xavier, and Dayton thanks one of the best defenses in the country.

That's the way Dunphy coaches, so don't expect that to change even if they do lose their leading scorer. Like Williams, Dunphy makes sure his team is ready to play at every moment; it might not be the prettiest games, but both these teams are well-coached and will probably rely more upon that than the talent on the floor.

The Owls do, however, have some big guns. Lavoy Allen is the big man inside, measuring out at 6-9 and averaging 11 and 11. The battle between Allen and Jordan Williams should be entertaining. On the outside, Temple's star is Juan Fernandez, a 3-point specialist that knocked down 45% from beyond the arc last season. But they aren't guaranteed to provide the offensive firepower that Temple so lacked at times last season even with leading scorer Ryan Brooks. That will have to be Maryland's point of attack, exploiting Temple's hopeful lack of scoring ability.

This will likely be Maryland's best shot at a top 25 win. Temple is #22 for Katz's early poll and reach as high as #10 for Luke Winn and #9 for Gary Parrish, but they'll be in College Park and aren't invincible.

Penn St. Nittany Lions, in University Park: Is this really a marquee game? Probably not; the Nittany Lions don't figure to be one of the better teams in the Big Ten, let alone ACC. But it's not a gimmee, either; Talor Battle is better than you might know, and they return quite a bit of the team from last year.

Ultimately, this is a game Maryland should win, and probably needs to win, but isn't a guaranteed game. It won't be a big resume win, but it has the potential to be a resume loss.

Two of the following at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic:

  • Texas Longhorns: This is another potential matchup with a member of the Gary Williams coaching tree, Rick Barnes. Everyone remembers Texas' collapse, but don't forget that they were amazingly good the first half or so of the season last year, and even after that weren't awful. Luckily for Maryland, the key cogs of that run are departing; Damion James, Dexter Pittman, and Avery Bradley are all headed elsewhere. The Longhorns will instead have to rely on talented sophomores Jordan Hamilton and J'Covan Brown and a monster incoming freshman class of Corey Joseph and Tristan Thompson. If they're as good as advertised, there will be matchup problems all across the board. If not, Maryland will have a pretty good shot at getting a decent resume win with a great name. Oh, and Jai Lucas.
  • Pittsburgh Panthers: I still have no idea how Pitt was so good last year with absolutely nothing in recognizable talent. Even though I only know their best players from last year because one is the brother of Terp commitment Sterling Gibbs (that would be Ashton Gibbs) and the other has a funny last name (Brad Wanamaker), they were able to knock off Syracuse, West Virginia, and Villanova. (Speaking of Sterling and Ashton, I wonder who Sterling would be rooting for in this matchup. Some great quote material there). All of their starters except Juan Dixon's brother, Jermaine, return, and they figure to be a potential top 10 team. Maryland's potential advantage comes in the paint; starting center Gary McGhee's 6 and 6 per game would be nothing on Jordan Williams. But even that could change if local former McD's AA sophomore Dante Taylor develops as expected. This one would be a tough matchup. 
  • Illinois Fighting Illini: Hey, I'm sensing a theme here; if prognosticators are to be believed, Illinois will be a top 25 team. Katz says #15; Parrish does, too. The reason they're so highly touted after a pretty mediocre year? Well, they return basically their entire starting lineup, for one; their top 5 scorers are all back in Champaign for next year. Oh, and their recruiting class is one of the best in the country, with three top 100 players. Illinois was a rather mediocre team next year, so they'll need to make some leaps to reach the middle of the top 25, but that's not hard to do when returning basically the entire team and adding some premier talent. This one won't be easy for Maryland.
And that's basically it, not counting the BB&T Classic opponent, which will probably be announced sometime in June. Guessing for that is hard to do, but personally I always thought Ohio State, Notre Dame, or Michigan State would make sense if they have room.

Two years ago, Maryland got into the tournament with wins over Michigan State and Michigan. This year, they'll have potentially five marquee win chances, not counting the BB&T Classic. For a team as young as this one figures to be, that'll probably mean a couple of blowout losses, but they only need one big win to point to come March.

And don't forget that playing big-time teams like Pitt and Villanova is a lot better for young players than playing Fairfield and UNH, at least in development terms. When they see the Dukes and UNCs of the ACC, the shock factor will be a lot less prevalent; think of Jordan Williams' development when Dino Gregory was out last year.

Semi-related note: I wonder if Seth Greenberg finally scheduled a good team this year.