So in an interesting twist for this season's Big Ten / ACC Challenge, this will be Maryland's season playing for the ACC before they jump ships over to the Big Ten. Maryland is one of two teams joining the Big Ten (Rutgers is the other), and the move has received quite a bit of backlash amongst Big Ten fans, with most seeing it solely as a ploy to increase television revenue and for the Big Ten to branch out to two major media markets.
While a lot of people disagreed with and are still opposed to the new additions set to join the conference next year, I for one am not. Then again, I do have a bit of a biased opinion on the matter. My love of all things collegiate sports has always been rooted in the Big Ten, which is no surprise considering I'm from the midwest and live between Ann Arbor and Columbus. Interestingly enough I became a Purdue fan, a rarity in Toledo, but that's another story. The Big Ten has always been my favorite conference but I've always had a soft spot for ACC basketball. While the Big Ten reigned supreme, the ACC quickly rose to second best in my eyes and I found myself watching the conference almost as much as the Big Ten growing up.
When it comes to the ACC, the standard of excellence usually runs through Duke and North Carolina, easily the two powerhouses of the conference. Growing up and watching the conference play week in and week out, though, I felt complete indifference towards North Carolina and a growing hatred of Duke (which inadvertently would later lead to my friends jokingly giving me the nickname Dukie and acting like I was a huge Duke fan in any conversation about them). Enter the Maryland Terrapins.
February 9, 2000. Maryland entered Cameron Indoor Stadium and beat Duke, ending their 46 game winning streak at home and cementing my interest in the team. Maryland would never take the place of my favorite team, Purdue, but they quickly rose to my favorite team in the ACC and second favorite team in general. I enjoyed nothing more than watching the likes of Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter work their magic and during his collegiate career Steve Blake somehow became my favorite player. Maybe it was because of plays like this:
My following of Maryland had it's up and downs. On the positive side of things, I was able to watch the team win a National Title (having to beat Duke and Indiana to do so), I witnessed them make a young Duke fan cry over losing to them and there was this beauty of a shot by Drew Nicholas, but there was also the Final Four loss to Duke, the up and down seasons later on during Gary Williams tenure (including a team that was snubbed from the NCAA Tournament and promptly followed up by losing their first NIT game) and a team that faded the last several seasons.
For all of the hate associated with adding Maryland, it seemed like so many of the naysayers forgot about the relatively recent success of the Terrapins. From 1994 to 2004 they made the Tournament every season, making the Final Four twice and winning it all in 2002. The team may have struggled recently, but Maryland still hasn't had a losing season since 1993, a particularly impressive streak. Even more, the team has recently seen a bit of a revival under new hire Mark Turgeon, winning 25 games last season and looking to field a team ready to bounce back to the NCAA Tournament this season.
Besides Maryland's basketball program steadily improving, Turgeon has revamped the recruiting classes, with the Terrapins currently holding the 9th best class according to Rivals. As of now Maryland's current recruiting class includes four Rivals Top 100 players, all four star prospects, with two of them being top 50 prospects. With the team's play improving, a new found energy amongst the program and improved recruiting classes brought into the mix, Maryland looks to be on it's way back to the national relevance it held during the prime of Gary Williams career here. And while most people tend to forget about how good some of those Terrapin teams were, following the team since I was in grade school has me excited for just how good this program might become.
Now that Maryland is joining the Big Ten, why is it such a bad move on the basketball side of things? I know a lot of conference realignment discussion is rooted around football (the football program isn't even that bad compared to Big Ten standards), but this Maryland team has had a strong tradition of excellent teams since the 90s and is returning to relevance. They have a very good coach, a talented roster and several strong recruiting classes to boot. Oh, and that's before you compare the program to the other teams in the Big Ten. Is Maryland any worse than an Illinois or Iowa team? No, not really. Are they as good as Michigan State? No, not right now. Regardless, you still have a team that will immediately find themselves in the mid to upper echelon of the Big Ten and ready to compete, so why the hate?
I for one am excited to see the addition of Maryland's basketball program. As much criticism as the move has received, this is a good move for the conference. It may be written off as a way to increase revenue for the conference, but this Maryland program is one that people shouldn't sleep on. Expect Maryland to enter the fray next year and immediately compete with the best of the Big Ten. This Terrapin program is going to be exciting and if you love all things Big Ten, I'd highly recommend getting on the bandwagon sooner than later.