No. 4 Virginia, No. 24 Maryland ready for battle
(AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff)
A Top 25 clash between Virginia and Maryland? There's something familiar about that scenario. Of course, not necessarily to any of the players who will take the Xfinity Center court Wednesday night for the 7:30 p.m. ACC/Big Ten Challenge game in College Park.
The No. 24 Terrapins, back in the AP poll for the first time since the final week of 2016-17, left Virginia's Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014, and their last meeting was in The Challenge in 2014-15, Maryland playing for the Big Ten for the first time.
The current players for No. 4 Virginia (6-0) may not remember playing the Terrapins, but Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett sure does. "Most of our guys were here with them in the Big Ten, so I don't know if they understand it to the extent of those us of that have been around (do)," he said of the old ACC rivalry. "But there will not be a lot of love lost in that crowd. They let you know what they think of you the moment you step on the floor."
Maryland's fans are traditionally vociferous, but Bennett is also wary of Mark Turgeon's Terrapins (6-0), off to a fast start and averaging 84.8 points per game. Maryland is coming off an impressive 104-67 win over Marshall last Friday that knocked the Thundering Herd from the ranks of the unbeaten.
"That certainly caught our attention, how explosive they were," said Bennett whose teams specialize in diffusing explosive offenses. "They can score inside. They've got power inside and size. Their guards can shoot. They can play fast and have good athleticism."
Bruno Fernando, Maryland's 6-10 sophomore center, is the centerpiece of that athleticism, almost averaging a double-double at 16.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 77 percent (41-of-53) from the field. Jalen Smith, a 6-10 freshman, has added his 13.2 points and 7.5 rebounds to form a 1-2 punch inside, while junior guard Anthony Cowan (16.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists) runs the show, and he's coming off a 26-point performance against Marshall.
"It's a great opportunity for us," said Turgeon. "I know it should be a great atmosphere."
The Terrapins, with five freshmen among their top eight players, will have to contend with a Virginia defense ranked second in the nation, allowing just 49.3 points per game and coming off a 53-46 win over Big Ten bully Wisconsin in the championship game of the Battle for Atlantis in the Bahamas.
"This might even be their best defensive team," said Turgeon of the Cavs. "They're older. Tony is a tremendous defensive coach. They've got a big kid in (Jack) Salt that can actually play straight up on big guys. He'll be able to guard Bruno straight up, and that really helps your defense."
Not as if the staunch Virginia defense needs much help. They'll be a real test for Turgeon's young team, one that has played mostly in spurts so far. Meanwhile it's the first true road game for Virginia, a test for Bennett's bunch to see if they are as good as this year's ranking and on their way back to where they were last year, earning the top seed in the NCAA Tournament before being unceremoniously bounced by another nearby Maryland team, 16th seed UMBC.
In addition to Salt, a burly 6-10 redshirt senior, Virginia has 6-7 sophomore De'Andre Hunter coming off an ACC Player of the Week award after he averaged 19.9 points and 7.7 rebounds to win Battle 4 Atlantis MVP honors. Hunter, who is playing himself into a high position in the 2019 NBA Draft, leads the team with 16.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Junior backcourt stalwarts Ty Jerome (14.0 ppg) and Kyle Guy (12.2) are also double-figure scorers, and will put pressure on Maryland's young perimeter players.
Virginia has won seven of the last eight meetings between the programs, and is 1-0 versus Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Cavaliers are 7-6 all-time at Xfinity Center, and have won four of their last five games in the building, which opened in 2002, following Maryland's national championship.
The Terrapins lead the all-time series with Virginia 107-75, a rivalry that predates the ACC, going all the way back to 1912.
Updated November 28, 2018