There were no live cuts to College Park during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show. There was no watch party in the basement of the Xfinity Center sponsored by Buffalo Wild Wings for the Terrapins and their families to watch the drama unfold. They knew as well as any college basketball fan that the NCAA tournament was out of the picture months before Selection Sunday. Nonetheless, it was in Maryland’s best interest to keep an eye on the Selection Committee and the 2017-2018 bracket.
There are changes that Maryland can make, both on and off the court, that could dramatically improve their stock come Selection Sunday 2019, if they heed the two major lessons of Selection Sunday 2018.
1) Record in games vs. Quality Opponents must improve.
Before looking to next year the Terrapins have to look back on the season and acknowledge the opportunities they did not take advantage of. Despite their relatively weak schedule, the Terps still played twelve games against teams that would eventually make the NCAA Tournament. Their record in those games? 3-9. And that includes a game against UMBC…
One cannot expect the Terrapins to win every game against top level opponents, but in order to make up for injuries and a weak schedule the Terps would have had to win more high level games than they did. Maryland has struggled to record marquee victories since in the Mark Turgeon era, but this year Maryland was unable to secure even second level victories. Losses to St. Bonneventures, Syracuse, Purdue, Michigan, and Michigan St. all stick out as wasted opportunities. In each of those five games the Terps either blew a double digit lead, failed to convert late in a close game, or simply lost to an inferior team.
Arizona State and Oklahoma both started off the season with a series of high-profile wins, but struggled down the stretch. Both ended up in the field of 68, and are proof that many losses do not outweigh a few high quality wins. Maryland needs to follow suit and capitalize on the opportunities presented to them.
2) Non-Conference Schedule and Wins matter to the selection committee.
When the NCAA selection committee announced the new quadrant system, chair Bruce Rasmussen told the media that the chair would essentially be assessing who a team played, and who they beat. It didn’t matter when a team played quality opponents, just that they played and beat them.
Few bracketologists had many qualms with this year’s bracket. There are few, if any, seed scandals, and only a couple of inclusions drew the ire of the public. But there is a common thread between those questionable bubble teams, and the opposite theme among those that were excluded. Those who were included played strong schedules or had a handful of high profile victories, and those who did not were left out. Syracuse was 43rd in the country in Strength of Schedule according to Ken Pomeroy, while Saint Mary’s was 178th; Syracuse got an invite to the dance, Saint Mary’s did not.
Maryland has been 237th in the nation in non-conference SoS since Turgeon has arrived, never rising higher than 103rd. When Maryland was in the ACC, or when the Big Ten is stronger, a weak non-conference SoS is not such a big deal. But when the Big Ten is a four bid league, the margin for error is incredibly small. The Terps need to schedule stronger opponents in the non-conference portion of the schedule. As mentioned earlier, the selection committee does not dock teams for losses against quality opponents, and they weigh wins vs quality opponents aggressively.
One way for Maryland to do this is by entering into A level early season tournaments. The Emerald Coast Classic does not have the type of competition found at the PK80, Battle for Atlantis, Hall of Fame Classic, Maui Invitational, NIT Season Tip-Off, or the Jimmy V Classic. With Maryland’s Athletic Director position currently in flux, don’t expect a major change in scheduling for 2018-2019, but moving forward, this should be a priority for the Men’s Basketball program.
Maryland needs to listen to the Selection Committee and act accordingly. They must play more games against quality opponents, and beat at least some of the stronger teams they play. Wins against the Bucknell, UMBC, and Butler of 2018 will never be enough to make the tournament.