CHARLOTTE – As the Maryland men’s basketball team begins its swan-song season in the ACC, many people outside of College Park already are looking ahead to 2014, when the Terrapins depart the conference they helped found 60 years ago. But for the teenagers and 20-somethings who comprise Maryland’s roster, leaving the ACC for the Big Ten matters roughly as much as belly button lint.
“I don’t care what conference we’re in,” Terrapins forward Evan Smotrycz said Wednesday at ACC media day. “I came here to play for Coach [Mark] Turgeon, to play at Maryland. Really who we’re playing isn’t a factor. Both conferences have great teams.”
Teammate Nick Faust heard the same question repeated on loop. In a private moment, after the horde dispersed, a reporter flipped the question. Just how unimportant is the Big Ten move, Faust was asked.
“It doesn’t matter at all,” he said.
This season, the Terps will visit Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State this season without getting return games against those teams at Comcast Center, something that seemed to affect said rivals more than Maryland itself.
“It’s gonna be sad for them not to be in the ACC anymore,” Blue Devils guard Tyler Thornton said, via colleague Mark Giannotto. “We lost there [at Maryland] last year. It was a great game. That was one of the games I always looked forward to playing back home. I’m kind of upset that I’m not gonna play there this year.”
Maryland will receive a rude welcome when it visits North Carolina State on on Jan. 20, North Carolina on Feb. 4 and Duke 11 days after that. But wouldn’t the Terrapins expect this even had their school not announced its move to the Big Ten last November?
“Definitely use it as motivation,” Faust said. “You always use hatred to boost your team’s motivation whenever you can, to give us that drive. … Yeah, there’s definitely sense of urgency to try to leave with a bang. But like I said, we definitely want to get as many wins as possible. That’s the next step for the team, try to make it to the NCAA tournament.”
Smotrycz, a junior transfer from Michigan entering his first season of eligibility in College Park, will soon hold the unique distinction of playing one season in the ACC sandwiched by three in the Big Ten.
In his two seasons with the Wolverines, he visited Virginia and Clemson during ACC/Big Ten Challenge play, hardly the league’s most hostile hotbeds. But after spending home games on the bench and road games at home while sitting out last season, Smotrycz hardly cares who Maryland faces – just that he can suit up again.
“I’ll be excited just to play period. I’m looking forward to going places I haven’t played before, a lot of great venues in the ACC,” he said. “To me, it really doesn’t matter where we’re playing or who we’re playing. Both leagues have great teams. I’m just looking forward to playing.”
And so the rehearsed script played out in Charlotte, both Smotrycz and Faust talking about how both leagues contain top-tier teams, including eight that finished last season ranked in the top 25. Cameron Indoor Stadium and the Dean Dome are fun venues with rabid fan bases, but Indiana’s Assembly Hall and Michigan State’s Breslin Center are tough, too. Either way, when the ball is tipped, it’s still five-on-five just the same.
“I mean, we’re here this year,” Faust said. “Got to make the best of it, right?”