Editors note: This article was written by Jason Colenda, contributing writer and basketball expert, who is forced to submit work through a proxy until our bosses step their game up. Jason formerly played at Villanova basketball, and knows what he’s talking about on and off the court. When he writes, you read.
The big announcement came last week from University’s Board of Directors: Maryland will be
taking it’s athletic talents to the Big Ten starting in 2014. Although the move was widely leaked
by news outlets prior to the announcement, when it became official the news sent a shockwave
through College Park. Over the last week there have been dissenting opinions about the move’s
viability, about reasoning behind the move (as with all things Conference realignment it came
down to the proverbial buck), and what it means for Maryland athletics moving forward. There are
some influential former coaches and players who support the move (Gary Williams among them),
and there are some who are vehemently against it; but support aside, the Terps will be the newest
members of the growing Big Ten in 2014. Maryland will be leaving a conference that it helped found
(the ACC) and joining a conference that has stronger football tradition and more middle-American
roots. With the Big Ten Network, the financial incentives to join the league are obvious, but what
how does the shakeup affect Maryland hoops? As we prepare for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, I
wanted to take a further look into 5 burning questions that surround the Terrapins’ move to the Big
Ten and what it means for Maryland basketball moving forward.
1. How does the level of competition change for Maryland as it joins the Big 10?
Big Ten basketball historically is definitely a step down from the competition in the ACC. In
my opinion, of the top 5 programs in the two conferences the ACC boasts 3 of 5 (and the top
2) in Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse, with the Big Ten representatives being Michigan
State and Indiana. Outside of these two proud universities, the Big Ten is not made up of
basketball powers, but strong football schools that also happen to play decent hoops. Programs
such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and Purdue, although winners currently and at times
historically, have always held basketball as second fiddle to their football programs. In my
opinion, this is the biggest difference between the two conferences. The ACC, although it had
some strong football members, was a league forged by basketball-roots. Top to bottom, the ACC
is a stronger basketball league than the Big Ten.
The talent level in the Big Ten is the second biggest difference between ACC and Big Ten hoops.
The ACC regularly recruits some of the very best athletes in the country each and every year,
and many of its middle of the road competitors (like Florida State) are known to be tough, long,
and athletic. The Big Ten on the other hand, regularly plays the slowest and most methodical
basketball in the country, and this isn’t because the good-folks in Big Ten country love watching
38-43 games. The real culprit for the offensive offense? Big Ten schools attract a slightly lower
quality athlete (much of which is due to the fact of football superiority amongst its members) and
thus play at a grind-em-out pace.
2. How does the move to the Big 10 affect recruiting efforts?
I brushed over this point earlier, but want to come back to it; the Big Ten’s football first
mentality negatively impacts its’ basketball recruiting. The reason is pretty simple: the best and
brightest recruits are treated like superstars and adored on their college campuses around the
country. For a school like Michigan, the “stars” on the basketball team shine nowhere near as
bright as the “stars” on the football team. If you are a big-time recruit, why would you want to
go somewhere and have to play second-best to an entire 120-man team? The answer is pretty
simple: you don’t. For this reason, leagues like the SEC and Big Ten (historic football powers) have always had inferior basketball to the ACC and Big East (historic basketball powers). For
Maryland, this move further complicates things on the recruiting trail. Turgeon and his staff will
now have to fight off the Big Ten football-stigma when trying to land top, 5-star recruits.
Outside this stigma, however, I don’t think the move changes anything for Turgeon and his staff.
As I have always believed, the reason Gary Williams (and thus the Terps program) was not as
successful as he could, or should have been, was due to his inability to keep the top area talent
in the area for college. There are currently 6 NBA players (including three all-star caliber talents
in Kevin Durant, Ty Lawson, and Roy Hibbert) that grew up in the DMV, but chose to attend
a school other than Maryland for college. That goes to show, that the talent pool here is deep,
and vastly un-tapped by the Terrapins. I may be biased, but the WCAC is the best high school
basketball conference in the country (inarguably, its top 5), yet Maryland continues to whiff on
the best players the Gonzaga’s, DeMatha’s, and O’Connell’s of the area have to offer. In order
for Turgeon to be successful, this trend will have to change whether we are competing in the
ACC or Big Ten.
3. What is the biggest difference between Big Ten basketball and ACC basketball?
Big Ten basketball is slow, methodical, low-scoring, and horrible to watch as fans. ACC
basketball is fast-paced, played above-the-rim, high-scoring and generally a very entertaining
brand of basketball. So there’s that. Moreover, the ACC regularly has several NBA-lottery bound
players each and every year playing in the league. Simply put, the Big Ten does not. However,
the Big Ten does boast some extremely high quality coaching, with Bo Ryan, Matt Painter, Thad
Matta, Tom Crean and of course, Tom Izzo, leading the way for their respective programs.
Without the talent of the ACC, these coaches rely more on their program identities of toughness,
great defense and half-court execution to get their team wins. Some can argue that Big Ten
basketball is a purer form of basketball, and they may be right, but who the hell wants to watch
65 points scored on a 40 minute game??!! Knowing that scores of 35-41 are on our horizon does
not get me excited as a fan preparing for Maryland’s move to the Big Ten.
4. With all else equal, will this help or hurt the Terrapins chances for an NCAA Tournament bid
This is the one question I am having the hardest time coming to a conclusion on. On the surface,
I would say the move makes it tougher for the Terps as they move from a league destined to get
8 teams minimum every year to a league that will struggle to get 6 consistently. However, I do
believe the weakened bottom of the Big Ten will provide Maryland a few more resume-padding
wins each year, while there remains the same potential for knocking off media-darling programs
every year (Michigan State and Indiana) to get marquee wins. Although, there just aren’t the same
number of top-level teams in the Big Ten, making each big game that much bigger. And “trap”
games against bottom-feeders in the conference are much more damning to a March resume
in the Big Ten than in the ACC. But all-and-all, I would say that it’s a wash. If Maryland takes
care of its business by recruiting well, winning at home, and staying out of NCAA trouble, the
Terrapins should be competing for an NCAA tournament birth each and every year in the Big
5. What will happen to the Duke-rivalry game?
Unfortunately, it looks like the yearly Duke-Maryland rivalry game is going to end up as another
victim of conference realignment. Terps fans have loved to hate the Blue Devils for years, and
the series has seen some truly great moments, but 2013 looks like the last time these two rivals
are guaranteed to be squaring off. College sports are all about great rivalries, and it’s a true shame
that this one will be brushed-aside in favor of fatter university pay checks. Obviously, the two
can still renew the matchup in the annual Big Ten-ACC Challenge, but these selections are done
at random and rotated. Another option is creating a home-and-home series between the two
universities. Although neither school regularly schedules a non-conference game as tough as this
matchup gets, a series between the two could be thrown together. Here’s to hoping Coach K and
Coach Turgeon get something worked out, I wouldn’t want to imagine a year without having a
shot at our most hated rival.