Soon-to-be Big Ten foes, clash Wednesday night at Xfinity Center

Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Back on June 8, Maryland publicly announced a home-and-home series against UCLA, but the game has actually been on the calendar since April as Maryland head coach Kevin Willard, and UCLA head coach Mick Cronin has been friends for years. 

Willard and Cronin were both assistant coaches at Louisville together from 2001-2003, before Cronin left for the Murray State head coaching position, but the two have remained close friends ever since. 

“When I got the job, Mick called, and I thought he was going to congratulate me, but he needed the pit stop before he (UCLA) played Kentucky (in New York City on Saturday) and I’m a good friend,” Willard said. “We had no idea that UCLA would be joining the Big Ten when we scheduled this.”

Maryland and UCLA are two of the great college basketball programs but have not faced each other since 2007 with UCLA holding a 6-2 lead in the series. 

At the end of the month, June 30, UCLA and USC announced they would be joining the Big Ten for the 2024-2025 season, sending shockwaves through the college athletics world. 

Willard believes he was with Cronin at a recruiting evaluation event when the news broke. 

“I was somewhere around Mick because I remember I saw him, and we both started laughing because we did this great scheduling announcement as part of our non-conference,” Willard said. 

Freshman forward Noah Batchelor was in College Park when he first learned the news. 

“We had a summer workout, and I saw they were joining right after the workout,” Batchelor said. “We were all like ‘what’, we were surprised.” 

Junior guard Jahari Long saw the news on social media and was shocked.

“I think I saw it on Instagram or Twitter and then it kind of shocked me because they are all the way on the west coast,” Long said. 

When UCLA and USC join the Big Ten, the Big Ten will be the first collegiate conference to span coast-to-coast. This game is one of the marquee non-conference games on the Terps’ schedule, and the game is set for a white-out.

No. 20 Maryland men’s basketball (8-2, B1G 1-1) will look to snap its two-game skid, Wednesday night against a red-hot UCLA (8-2) team who has won five straight and is ranked No. 16 in the country. 

Though the two schools are 2,658 miles apart, they have a rich history, playing each other eight times, including previous home and home series in the 1970s and 1980s. The players will need to get used to a nearly six-hour plane ride as Maryland will make its first trip to Pauley Pavillion since 1981 next December. 

“When I saw them join I thought it was kind of crazy because they are like on completely different sides [the country],” Batchelor said. “All I see is another two opponents that are really good.”

Wednesday night’s game will close out a brutal stretch for the Terps with three of their past four games against ranked opponents before an eight-day break. 

UCLA returns five of their main players from last season and their deep NCAA tournament run in March 2021, including seniors Jamie Jasquez Jr. and Tyler Campbell. Willard called Campbell one of the best point guards Maryland will see all season. 

“They’re experienced,” Willard said. “They’re starting to play extremely physically and play really good defense…they have guys on the other end to really get you. So for baskets, we’re going to have to constantly switch up our coverages.”  

Still, Wednesday night’s game will give fans a sneak preview of one of the Big Ten’s newest and biggest college basketball rivalries.

“I think it’s great that we get the opportunity to play them since they are one of the top teams in the country,” Long said. “We are going to give them a taste of what the Big Ten is like.”