Well, here’s one way to impress the new neighborhood.
Guess who the popular pick is to win the Big Ten men’s basketball championship?
Guess who the popular pick is to win the Big Ten women’s basketball championship?
And who’s beginning only its second year as a member of the league?
Perhaps you notice a trend. So much for gently easing into the room. The Terrapins are threatening to pull a crabgrass act this season, having been planted into the Big Ten soil, and now taking over the place.
The Maryland men return three starters – including preseason Big Ten player of the year Melo Trimble and three-year starter Jake Layman – from a 28-7 team that finished second in the conference and went to the NCAA Tournament round of 32. Plus, they add ballyhooed 6-foot-11 McDonald’s All-American recruit Diamond Stone and Duke transfer guard Rasheed Sulaimon.
The women return three starters – including all-Big Ten selections Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Brionna Jones – from the 34-3 league champions who blew through their first conference season without a league loss, and advanced to the Final Four.
In other words, an all-gender Terrapin sweep in the Big Ten would not be a shocker.
First, men’s coach Mark Turgeon:
“It’s great for our school. Making a change was tough for our fans, so for us to have the success we had last year, in a lot of sports, was really good for our fans.”
Next, women’s coach Brenda Frese.
“I think it’s humbling and a tremendous honor. Mark and I understand it’s the preseason. But it also continues to show the respect people have for Maryland on a national level. And when you talk about the talent you’re able to get across the board, I think those are big reasons Mark and I came to Maryland.”
For the hoop-happy Big Ten, adding such basketball beef has to help the profile. Matter of fact, if you include the current membership, the last Big Ten schools to win the national championship for men and women were – Maryland, and Maryland.
“Can’t count it, though,’” Turgeon said. No, those net-cuttings were done as ACC members, by the women in 2006, and men in 2002. But contending for a title is a fine way to smooth orientation in a new conference, even as that process goes on into the second year.
“Everybody’s still getting used to it. We had a coaches’ meeting last night and I kind of still felt like a stranger in the room,” Turgeon said at Big Ten media day, noting that colleagues such as Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Ohio State’s Thad Matta, et. al. have been banging heads for years. “They all feel a little more comfortable with each other. Not that I’m a young guy anymore, but when you walk in the room and you’re new, you just sit back and listen and don’t give your opinion as much.”
Anything surprising about the first journey through the Big Ten?
Frese mentioned the national exposure women’s basketball gets, through entities such as the Big Ten Network.
“I felt that impact from the very first game, when the game ended and I received text messages on a national level like I usually did for the NCAA Tournament. And then the fan bases, going into these arenas and you’re not playing in front of empty seats or colored seats, you’re playing in front of real fans for women’s basketball.”
Ditto, said Turgeon, who said he was most surprised “that almost every single gym you play in is full. Over Christmas, when the students are gone, to have a full house is pretty amazing. I knew we had good fan support, but I wasn’t expecting it’d be like that. It was greater than any league that I’ve been in. I knew the coaching was great and I knew the players were great.”
Turgeon also said he found the league not of one uniform style, as is conventional wisdom. “Maybe that was a surprise.” Turgeon added. “Everybody said the Big Ten is this big, strong, physical league. The best teams are that way, but I don’t think across the board it’s that way.”
So Maryland is feeling more at home with each win. Frese mentioned that developing a true rival for the Maryland fans would be nice. “I think that's the biggest thing that probably needs to get established.” Turgeon added, “Do (Terrapin fans) miss yelling at Duke's players and coach? I’m sure they do.”
But both coaches predicted that sooner or later, Maryland will get into a heated competition with one Big Ten cousin or another, and a rivalry will be born.
For the moment, if the preseason polls are correct, all the Big Ten aristocrats are trying to keep up with the new kids on the block.
“It’s an exciting time to be a Terp,” Frese said.
“In my eyes, the women deserve where they are because of what they did last year,” Layman said. “For us, we haven’t really proven anything yet. We had a great season in the conference last year but beyond that, we didn’t really do much. So this year, we’re definitely still out to prove a point. We’re still hungry.”