College Park, MD As Maryland piled on to their growing lead in the 2nd half of an 81-59 win over the Miami Hurricanes Tuesday night at Comcast Center, it was hard to come up with many more adjectives to describe how well the Terps were playing.
“They’re playing really well” I thought. I then moved to “this has been just an outstanding stretch for them.” I added “they’ve just been so impressive in ACC play” and later thought about how remarkably “balanced” and “consistent” they’ve been.
Absolutely every description on that list is totally accurate. With their blowout victory over the ‘Canes, the Terps now improve to 14-5 overall and 4-1 in conference play. They’re now alone in first place for at least the time being.
And all of that doesn’t even begin to strike at just how well this team has played in calendar 2010.
They’re now 6-1 since the turn of the year, with the only loss an 85-83 overtime heart breaker at Wake Forest-arguably their best played game of the season. In the 6 wins, only Florida State has manged to keep the final score within single digits-and even that was a 9 point game that Maryland mostly controlled throughout. What’s more, the Terps have had at least 3 scorers in double digit figures in all 7 games, 4 scorers in double digit points in their last 5.
It isn’t just scoring balance where the Terps have improved. They’ve lost the rebounding battle just once (BC) in their last 7 games; including a 35-29 edge over Miami. They haven’t had a single game during the stretch where they’ve had more turnovers than assists, and have lost the the assist:turnover battle just once (Wake) over the 7 contests. On top of that, they’ve averaged nearly 25 FT attempts per contest during the run.
Of course, it can’t be overlooked that 3 of the 4 ACC teams they’ve defeated (Boston College, NC State, Miami) are not exactly expected to be powerhouses in the league, and there was a contest with lowly Longwood mixed in there. But better teams have slipped up against the same competition (Duke lost to NC State, Wake Forest fell to Miami, even Clemson lost to lowly Boston College Tuesday night), while the Terps have remained steady.
With all of that being said, nothing has been clinched for this team yet. They have to take their success on the road, where they have dates at Clemson and Florida State over the next 9 days. Senior guard Eric Hayes said after the Miami win “we know that it can turn fast for us, (go) downhill.” He’s right. Getting overconfident could lead to a sloppy performance at Littlejohn Coliseum or Leon County Civic Center. A team that is currently playing for the hopes of a first round bye in the ACC Tournament could suddenly be back on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. As Greivis Vasquez added, “we can’t get excited. It’s too early.”
Maybe so, but it’s hard to not get excited. This team is playing the best consistent all-around basketball they’ve played in years, and are going into the meat of conference season with red hot senior leadership (including a 9th straight double digit performance from Landon Milbourne) and down competition throughout the conference. At 4-1, the Terps need to go just 6-5 the rest of the way to clinch a 10 win season in conference-the barrier that has commonly been the threshold by which ACC clubs can assure themselves a trip to March Madness. They need to go just 5-6 the rest of the way to clinch a winning record in the ACC.
If they keep winning, they’ll be playing for seeding in both postseason tournaments, and maybe another regular season title banner to hang from the Comcast Center rafters. Heck, they might be playing for more than that. It’s hard to imagine that a team that lost to William & Mary on their home floor less than a month ago could be thinking about a push towards the Sweet 16 or beyond, but from where we’re sitting right now, it’s hard to imagine they couldn’t be.
With every season comes a new test for Gary Williams, and this season will be no different. As his Terrapins continue to play well, he’ll be forced to make sure they stay grounded and not allow themselves to get caught up in just how well they’ve been playing. He’ll need to remind them to let the rest of campus do that. Or the rest of the Baltimore/Washington metropolitan area. Or the rest of the ACC. Or the rest of the country. But he can’t let the 12 guys on the roster get caught up.
That’s for the rest of us to do.