ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Terps And Virginia


Since 1979, the Maryland Terrapins have only played three other teams in basketball more times than they have faced off against Virginia: Duke, North Carolina, and North Carolina State. In many ways, that list is a relic; a vestigial organ of the Terrapins time in the Atlantic Coast Conference. As time advances, that list will be filled with Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State, and slowly but surely the Terrapins will have one of the more diverse lists of opponents faced in college hoops.

On Wednesday, the Terrapins meet top ten-ranked Virginia for potentially the last time many of these players will face the Cavaliers during their whole career. It’s a weird feeling, because Maryland’s slight 38-34 edge in the head-to-head matchup the past 35 years is likely to hold by virtue of the fact that they simply won’t play too often anymore. Which is a shame, because it’s the closest thing Maryland’s got to a rivalry.

Consider this: over the past 35 years, Maryland’s total margin of victory over Virginia has been 38 points. Maryland’s wining, on average, games against Virginia by a razor thin margin: 72.9 – 72.4. These two teams show up against one another almost every time they step onto the court, and in both location and development on the court, they’re almost mirror opposites.

And now, with both teams ranked once again it appears that Maryland and Virginia will set themselves up for a pretty epic Big Ten – ACC Challenge tilt. Once teammates in the quest to prop up their respective conference, now Virginia looks at Maryland as a turncoat while the Terps are fraternizing with the enemy.


This Virginia team is not the same as their 2013-14 squad that went 30-7. Last season, they relied on a mix of underclassmen and seniors to an impressive tournament run where they secured a #1 seed and an eventual loss to Michigan State in the East Regional Semifinal. Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell are gone now, but as much as losing those two hurts, the backbone of the team remains. This year, they’re probably even more mature than before.

Now all five of their top players are upperclassmen with tournament experience who know what it takes to win. Justin Anderson has officially come into his own as a junior and is probably better than Harris was last year in the same role; Anthony Gill has outperformed Mitchell in both polish and skill; Malcolm Brogdon is as steady as ever as a junior point (with London Perrantes handling a lot of the assist load as well); Mike Tobey and Darion Atkins both round out that front court in an impressive fashion.

Last year, Virginia was a blue collar team that considered offense taboo. If they needed it, they’d get just enough to push them to victory, but in all other instances a heavy dose of defense was necessary. This year, they are only scoring 66.9 points per game (up from last year’s 66 PPG), but they are completely demolishing teams on the defensive end by holding them to 43.6 PPG.

No team they have faced so far this year has shot over 40% from the floor against the Cavs. Heck, only one team has shot over 32% against Virginia. Even though the schedule has not been impossibly tough, the Cavaliers are forcing turnovers at an alarming rate with 77 over their first seven games and not committing many themselves.

Tony Bennett is showing that you don’t necessarily need premier talent to win games. Justin Anderson was a 4-star from Montrose Christian, but Mike Tobey wasn’t exactly a top-flight talent despite being a three-star. Malcolm Brogdon was solid at Greater Atlanta Christian, but Norcross, Georgia isn’t considered a basketball hotspot by any stretch. Virginia works hard because they believe in Tony Bennett’s system, and it shows through their consistently inspired play.


Maryland’s taken a different route to 7-0.

The Terrapins are chock full of young players that are both ripe with talent and learning on the fly. By most accounts, they seem to have gotten it much quicker than some expected, and their McDonald’s All-American Melo Trimble is looking like the best point guard to play at Maryland since Greivis Vasquez. Even with the injuries to both Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz, the younger guys like Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens have made backcourt woes look like yesterday’s problem no matter which senior gets hurt.

Everyone Maryland puts out on the court except Richaud Pack and Damonte Dodd was ranked a four-star by most recruiting services. That’s after having lost five players in the offseason that were ranked a four star or better. What team in the country can boast that kind of depth? Maryland is better than last year despite losing coveted talent that got sopped up ricky-tick by the transfer market the second they hit it.

The Terps have legs that want to get out and run, and they play a brand of basketball that’s almost throwback in it’s approach. Maryland plays much less isolation and one-on-one basketball in favor of a more evenly distribution model that opens the floor up significantly. It’s fundamental in it’s approach, and while there aren’t gaudy assist numbers like you’d expect from a team that moves the ball well, they are efficient.

The Terps effective field goal percentage is 55.6, and a large part of that is because of Melo Trimble being one of the more efficient players in the country. Very few freshmen ever have a true shooting percentage of 73.6, because most true freshmen never really get to the line. Put into context, he’s technically a more efficient scorer than Jake Layman is right now, and only 26 players in the country score slightly better than him.

They’re winning because their young guys play like older guys on the offensive end, and that’s making the difference regardless of what happens on the defensive end.

When these two teams meet, it’s going to come down to veterans frustrating youth, or sheer talent outclassing their opponents. Both styles of play can win basketball games, but one thing is for sure: these old ACC foes will be in for a very good basketball game.