Feb 8, 2014; College Park, MD, USA; Florida State Seminoles guard Devon Bookert (1) is defended by Maryland Terrapins guard Seth Allen (4) at Comcast Center. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
It’s not often that a you have a matchup as hard to predict as the Maryland Terrapins and Florida State Seminoles, who meet for the third time this season on Thursday in the ACC tournament. Naturally, the #8 vs #9 game in the tournament is supposed to be the most competitive one of the tournament as it pits the two teams wedged in the middle of the pack against one another, but this one is as close as its ever been. And in many ways, it’s eerily reminiscent of Maryland’s time in the ACC.
In many ways, Maryland always plays in this game to start the ACC tournament. I know some folks like to think of Maryland as an ACC powerhouse, but over the past ten seasons, only twice have the Terps finished outside of the sixth through eighth spot in the standings. While they may never be outside of the top ten, the Terps (even under Gary) have struggled to rise out of the muddled middle of the ACC. Typically, this “good but not great” play has garnered them one key advantage: they play a weaker seed for the first game of the tournament.
It’s about a fifty-fifty split over the past ten years of the Terrapins managing to get out of the first round of the ACC tournament; in sooth it’s actually six times of the last ten seasons. This year, though, the Terrapins are going up against one of their tougher opponents in recent memory. If Maryland has been mediocre all year, then Maryland has followed them in locked step. The Seminoles absolutely embarrassed Maryland on their home floor 85-61, then turned around and got rocked by slightly less on the Terps home court 83-71.
But these two teams are still playing some good basketball right now (and I’d urge you to ignore Florida State’s final game of the regular season in which they lost to Syracuse 74-58 at home). Four of the Seminoles final six losses came by less than ten points, the lone exceptions being the Syracuse game I previously mentioned, and against the Terps. They’ve been playing teams relatively close, and taking care of business against the teams they should beat.
I think that last part is an important distinction to make, because it’s what separates the Seminoles from their muddled middle counterparts (except for Maryland, actually). They beat Virginia Tech by twenty, Georgia Tech by ten, and even had nice wins against Pittsburgh and North Carolina. Those aren’t games that a bad team is going to win.
Still, the Terps are kinda balling right now. If Florida State’s recent games are impressive, then as I said before, Maryland is dead even with them. Five of their last six losses have come by less than ten points (the lone exception being a 12 point loss to North Carolina), and in every single one of them Maryland has been very close. Any Maryland fan can attest with how frustrating the games have been, watching as the team stumbles to the finish line due to mismanagement or unlucky bounces. But any opposing coach can tell you how competitive this Maryland team has actually been.
Vegas has the line at +1.5 for Maryland, so it’s essentially a push. But hey, someone’s got to win.
Seth Allen and Ian Miller, Round Two
The first time these two teams met, Seth Allen only a few games removed from his debut since breaking his foot in the offseason. Allen had tired legs for half the season, and as a result was a terrible defender on the court. Ian Miller had his way with Allen in the first matchup, too, scoring twenty points and hitting frustrating threes. But the second matchup where Miller was out due to injury Allen torched the Seminoles, scoring 32 points and showing how important he is to Maryland’s success.
Well now they’re both healthy, both hungry, and this should make for an amazing matchup. Miller isn’t an amazing defender, but he’s still better than Devin Bookert, who got destroyed by Allen in the second game. Allen isn’t going to have as many easy buckets, although I’m not sure it would have mattered who was guarding Allen in the second game, given how hot he was.
But Allen is going to have to work harder on the defensive end now as well, and that’s going to take away from his game a bit. Allen’s legs just tend to look a little more fresh when he isn’t tasked with playing a ton of defense, but Miller forces you to pay attention to him. Still, I think Allen is the better player, and in the end this may be the reason the Terps win.
The Hangover Effect
The other biggest factor in this game? Emotional hangovers. This is where the Terrapins may hold a distinct advantage. The Terps just won an emotional game against Virginia, but even that showed moxie given how their season has progressed. Losing in front of the POTUS, last-second losses to Duke, collapses against North Carolina and Virginia, an overtime loss to Clemson that they had won. All those weigh on a team, big time.
The Terps are a hardened group. Nothing is going to surprise Maryland at this point, and when these analysts talk about experience playing a factor, the games Maryland played this season have given them a wealth of information to draw upon. They’ve shown they can come back, they can play with the best, and finally, that they can close. Florida State would have to put up one heck of a match to route Maryland, and they’re going to have to put up a monstrous fight to deny a Terps team that hasn’t ceded ground to anyone easily since the New Year.
Meanwhile, Florida State has to be pretty hungover right now. They needed that win against Syracuse, at home no less. That would have given them near certainty about making the Big Dance; their early season resume assured them of that. But they didn’t just lose, they got blown out. Blown out so badly that the folks who vote teams into the tournament probably have some major doubts about this Seminoles team.
Planting seeds of doubt is inception-like stuff, really, but Florida State has them now. After winning three games against Boston College, Georgia Tech and Pitt they were feeling good. Now? They’re probably not that sure if they’re an elite team anymore. That’s where Maryland can pounce on them, and where I think they do.
For the Terps, it doesn’t really matter because they weren’t about to make the NCAA tournament anyway. But for Florida State? Lose this one and you’re not going to the Big Dance. One team has all the pressure, the other has none.
Those games never end well.