Much news has been made concerning Maryland and the Big Ten over the last few weeks, but none of it has had to do with two teams competing against one another.
That will change Tuesday night as the Terps square off against the Northwestern Wildcats in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The 4-1 Terps will take to the road to take on undefeated 6-0 Northwestern in Evanston, Ill.
For Maryland, the game presents a set of challenges. It will be the Terps first true road game of the year, and the Wildcats will be the stiffest competition Maryland has faced since a season-opening loss to Kentucky.
Vegas set the Terps as five point underdogs, and with a young team Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon stressed the difficulty of the game.
"It's a tough challenge for our team where we are right now,” Turgeon said to the press.
After an impressive comeback attempt fell short against Kentucky in the season-opener, Maryland has faced weaker non-conference competition at home in the last four games. Though the Terps won convincingly in three games, the Lafayette Leopards gave Maryland trouble.
Turgeon said that the game against Lafayette, which Maryland won 83-74, will help the Terps defend Northwestern’s shooters.
“They have shooters all over the floor,” Turgeon said of Northwestern. “You saw us against Lafayette against great shooters as the game went on. They got hot against us, and we had trouble guarding it.”
Maryland should be better prepared for this game. The Terps will probably roll out a starting lineup with Pe’Shon Howard, Nick Faust, Dez Wells, James Padgett and Alex Len and Turgeon has stressed closing out on Northwestern's gaurds.
While Maryland must focus on defending the Northwestern shooters, the Terps present offensive problems of their own. Big man Alex Len proved against Kentucky that he can dominate against any competition. If Len is on his game in Evanston the Terps could certainly pull off the upset.
Dez Wells and Nick Faust can also create problems on the wing, though both players are still figuring out there roles on the team and playing with one another.
Northwestern comes into the game fresh off its South Padre Island Invitational Tournament title. The Wildcats (6-0) followed up a blowout win over TCU with a thrilling 72-69 OT victory over 2011-12 MVC runner-up Illinois State on Saturday.
Northwestern is led by senior guard/forward Drew Crawford (13.7 PPG), who's taken over as the leader of the Wildcats after the departure of the school's all-time leading scorer John Shurna.
Senior guard Reggie Hearn poses as a threat from the three-point arc, averaging 2.7 per game. The Wildcats don't have much depth in the frontcourt, with their leading rebounder Jared Swoopshire only pulling down 6.5 RPG.
Considering the Terps frontcourt size with Len, Padgett, and freshmen reserves Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell, Maryland may have an advantage down low.
But Maryland has had limited recent success playing Big Ten teams, where Northwestern probably wishes it could play more ACC teams.
The Wildcats have been unstoppable the last four years in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge with victories over Georgia Tech (2010, 2011), North Carolina State (2009) and Florida State (2008).
With a senior-led squad, the Wildcats are searching for the first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history.
On the other side, a young Maryland team could use a win in Evanston to springboard the team to a competitive ACC schedule and a return to college basketball's elite.