Maryland’s 2017-18 schedule unlike any that they’ve had in recent years
With the Big Ten releasing the full conference schedule for the 2017-18 season on Wednesday, Maryland basketball fans got their first look at the team’s full slate. Things are a bit different this season, as the league’s expansion into new markets has led to the conference tournament being played at Madison Square Garden. The move requires the Big Ten to shift things ahead by a week, and with regards to the regular season conference slate this means two games in early December. Maryland’s two opponents: Purdue at home on December 1, followed by a game at Illinois two days later.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
The game against Purdue falls on a Friday night, which could present a conflict of sorts with that day traditionally being one that major conferences leave to the high school ranks. But with it being in early December, that may not be as big of an issue as some are making it to be. With regards to the opposition, Purdue should be a title contender despite the loss of exemplary big man Caleb Swanigan. Most everyone else from last year’s Big Ten regular season champion team returns to West Lafayette, and they’ll be joined by a quality recruiting class headlined by guard Nojel Eastern.
What could also help Matt Painter’s Boilermakers hit the ground running is the fact that they’ll be representing the United States in this month’s World University Games. A team that doesn’t lack for veterans, with center Isaac Haas, forward Vince Edwards and guards P.J. Thompson and Carsen Edwards among the returnees, will have time to mesh with their new teammates in an environment that will be more competitive than most summer tours that we’ve seen college basketball teams take in the past.
While there should be a solid idea of what kind of team Purdue will be when the season begins, the same cannot be said for Illinois. John Groce’s disappointing tenure came to an end, unsurprisingly, in the spring with Brad Underwood being reeled in from Oklahoma State. Underwood was highly successful in three seasons at Stephen F. Austin, and despite lacking a significant contributor taller than 6-foot-8 he managed to lead Oklahoma State to the NCAA tournament last season (you may remember their tournament game against Michigan). Underwood being underpaid by OK State would be Illinois’ gain, but he’s got a lot of holes to fill in Champaign.
Malcolm Hill, one of the best scorers in program history, is out of eligibility and the Fighting Illini aren’t particularly deep in the post either. But Illinois has some talented young guards in freshmen Trent Frazier, Mark Smith and Da’Monte Williams, and given Underwood’s preferred style of play they’re going to get after teams defensively.
Having two conference games in early December will be an adjustment for the Big Ten’s coaches and players. For those familiar with the MAAC (can’t blame a Maryland native who may not watch as much since Loyola left for the Patriot League a couple years ago), that schedule has a similar setup. So while a 2-0 start would obviously be good, there isn’t a whole lot that can be taken from those early games. The team we see, be it Maryland or any other Big Ten squad, could have an entirely different look when conference play resumes in early January.
Getting off to a good start in conference play will be preferable for Maryland, but a split of those games (or going 0-2) wouldn’t automatically spell doom either.