Stayin’ Alive: Examining Maryland’s Tournament Hopes

Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Maryland Terrapins have nine games left on the schedule before the ACC tournament, so there’s no more appropriate time than now to start discussing their March Madness resume. At 13-9 on the year, the case for the Terrapins making the tournament if the season ended today can’t be done; not enough to merit an entrance, but not bad enough to outright eliminate them. The good news is that the season doesn’t end today, which means Maryland still has ample opportunity to boost their resume.

Maryland has a couple things going for them right now. They’ve got a little momentum right now after winning two straight against teams that they should beat (in what should have been games by double digits had they not collapsed), and their best players are starting to hit their stride. Dez Wells is averaging 17.2 PPG and shooting over 50% his last five games, Jake Layman is hitting hit shots and starting to score again, Evan Smotrycz has hit 50% or better in four straight games, and Seth Allen is averaging almost 5 assists (to two turnovers) his last five games. Needless to say, the team is hitting their offensive stride at the right time, which is what you need.

And some folks are definitely starting to notice. USAToday.com has the Terps being considered, ESPN.com’s Basketball Power Index has the Terps as one of the top 64 teams, so it’s not like they aren’t at least getting looks. But let’s look a little more in depth at the Terps case for you:

Strength of Schedule: 66th nationally

Best Wins:

  • Providence (16-6, 37th in RPI), 56-52 on neutral site
  • Miami (11-10, 97th in RPI), 74-71 at home
  • Notre Dame (12-10, 113th in RPI), 74-66 at home
  • Tulsa (10-11, 127th in RPI), 85-74 at home
  • North Carolina Central (15-5, 130th in RPI), 70-56 at home

Best Losses:

  • #20 Pittsburgh (18-4, 25th in RPI), 83-79 at home
  • George Washington (17-4, 30th in RPI), 77-75 on neutral site
  • #18 Connecticut (17-4, 32nd in RPI), 78-77 on neutral site

Key Games Remaning

Feb. 4th @ North Carolina (14-7, 39th in RPI)

Feb. 8th vs Florida State (13-8, 38th in RPI)

Feb. 10th @ Virginia (17-5, 15th in RPI)

Feb. 15th @ Duke (17-5, 9th in RPI)

Feb. 24th vs Syracuse (21-0, 3rd in RPI)

March 9th vs Virginia (17-5, 15th in RPI)

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Looking at the facts above, it’s pretty obvious that Maryland has one giant issue with their resume: they haven’t beaten many teams of merit. Their best victory is easily against Providence to win the Paradise Jam, and Maryland ought to keep hoping that the Friars keep playing winning basketball. Their next best win is against a Miami team that’s only going to continue to get worse in the rankings. Needless to say, not good.

That said, it’s worth mentioning that a win or a loss against a top RPI team still helps your overall value as a tournament team. So Maryland’s blowout losses against Pittsburgh and Ohio State? They’re just looked at as losses to RPI. And good losses at that. They’ve also got some very close losses against George Washington, Pittsburgh, and Connecticut, and those games are definitely going to be given a hard look by the committee.

How the Terps make the tournament:

Maryland has nine games remaining, and if you look at it objectively, six of those games will be the ones that are really going to matter: at North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia (twice), Duke, and Syracuse. The Terps don’t have to win all six by any stretch, but they do have to remain competitive and more importantly, get three wins out of that bunch.

For starters, they have to take care of business against Wake Forest, at Clemson, and against Virginia Tech. Assuming those three games are victories (admittedly a fool’s errand with this team), that puts the Terps at 16-9 and 8-4 in the ACC. With that said, we have to eliminate the games Maryland is highly, highly, unlikely to win:

1.) At Duke: The Terps aren’t beating Duke in their final ACC game at Cameron Indoor. The probability of this happening, combined with matchup problems all over (perimeter shooters, inside scorer, no one can guard Jabari Parker, great PG play), suggest this one is an absolute loss.

2.) At Virginia: The Cavaliers are probably going to roll Maryland at home, suffice it to say. They have one home loss over the past two seasons, and haven’t lost there yet this season. Maryland hasn’t won there since 2011, and I don’t see that happening now. Oh, and Virginia will probably be riding a 7-game win streak going into that game (assuming they beat Georgia Tech and Boston College the two games prior). Loss.

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Those two games stand out as 99% guaranteed losses for me. Both are road games, and Maryland just doesn’t do well on the road regardless of competition (save for Virginia Tech, which is barely a team). That puts Maryland in our hypothetical standings at 16-11, with an 8-6 record in the ACC. Next up, the teams they should beat:

1.) Virginia at home: That same Virginia team that rolled Maryland in their house will play the Terps during their last regular season ACC game at Comcast. You have to figure Maryland is going to be extremely hyped for this game, and given how often home teams win games and the atmosphere Comcast will assuredly have when they remember that the Terps probably would have made the tournament last year had they beaten Virginia on the last game of the season, it’s going to be hype.

2.) Florida State at home: Ignore the Travesty in Tallahassee from earlier in the season. The Terps at home are a solid team, and Florida State is 2-5 in road games this year. They’re also trending downward, having lost four of their last five games (Virginia, Duke, North Carolina State, Clemson). They’ll come into the game after having likely beaten Virginia Tech, but that means nothing. Maryland should win this game, but it’ll require a good shooting effort.

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Those two games I don’t see Maryland losing, and it puts our hypothetical record at 18-11 and 10-6 in the ACC. It’s worth mentioning now that 10 wins in the ACC usually places you in the top five of the standings during conference play. Keep in mind, as we go over these next two games, that almost every Bracketologist out there thinks the ACC sends six teams. Onto our final two games:

1.) At North Carolina: This one I’m not sure I can predict. Under Mark Turgeon, the Terps have lost all six matchups (home, road, and neutral site) against North Carolina, and they haven’t beaten them at home since 2008. But I am a firm believer in familiarity with opponents playing a big factor, and Maryland has played North Carolina more than anyone outside of Duke in the past two years.

Plus, Maryland matches up well with this team. Their best player, Marcus Paige, is a point guard, and the Terps are actually effective at shutting down point guards for the most part. James Michael McAdoo is probably going to abuse Maryland with his athleticism, and if Leslie McDonald gets hot the Terps are going to get blown out, but this game should be close. North Carolina is bad defensively, inconsistent, and it’s a down year. I put this game at 50/50

2.) Syracuse at home: The only reason this one is even here is because I do think Syracuse is beatable on an off night, and Maryland has a propensity for winning games just like these. Sure, most of them are against Duke, but this is the exact setting that Comcast (and prior to that, Cole) thrives in.

No, Maryland probably won’t win this one, but I do think they have a chance. Syracuse has had some questionable performances (barely beating Miami, Boston College and Wake Forest playing the close), they’re in the top ten in fouls and turnovers per game, and they aren’t as good on the road. Plus, the things they’re good at (creating turnovers and offensive rebounding), Maryland is good at, too. That’s as much as you can ask for.

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If Maryland wins one of those games, they’re at 19-12 and 11-7 in the ACC. That’ll be good for a top five standing in the ACC and actually probably keeps them close to a tournament appearance. If they don’t win any, then 10-8 in the ACC with not so many great wins is going to force them to have an amazing conference tournament run.

What matters is that Maryland really has to go 3-3 during that stretch. They’re almost guaranteed two losses, it’s likely that they lose two more, but they need to win three. That’s in addition to holding court against the scrubs of the ACC plus Clemson. It would allow them to only have to win one conference tournament game to get in, which is the goal here. The Terps do not want to rely on a matchup against Syracuse, Duke, or Pittsburgh in the ACC tournament to get in.

In short, the Terps definitely don’t have to be perfect to be in the conversation for a tournament berth. Showing up 50% of the time should actually do it, given that the ACC may well send six teams to the tournament. If they finish in the top five or six of the ACC and reach twenty wins, I doubt the selection committee leaves them out. But they’ve got to get it half right from here on out.

Topics: Bracketology, Maryland Basketball, Maryland Terrapins, NCAA Tournament, Terps

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