With the Terps beginning the final quarter of conference play against Clemson on Wednesday night and the ACC Tournament a little over two weeks away, we’ve reached the point in the season when buzzwords such as “RPI” and “body of work” dominate the conversation between even the most casual of college basketball fans.
For the first time since 2003, Maryland finds itself in the enviable position of being nowhere near the dreaded bubble with two weeks to play. True, the 2006-07 team earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament but needed a seven-game winning streak to overcome a 3-6 start in the ACC to earn the at-large bid. While that team may have been a lock by the end of the regular season, it certainly wasn’t with four games to play.
Despite the Terps’ encouraging state, questions remain and much has been opined about the Terps and the ACC in general in recent weeks. Some claims are valid while others are wide of the mark.
Here’s my personal attempt to sort through the truths, half truths, and fallacies circulating throughout various media over the last couple weeks:
1. The Terps need an 11-5 record (with a conference tournament win) or a 12-4 record in the ACC to be a lock for the NCAA tournament. — Fallacy
Admittedly, I haven’t heard this one TOO much, but I have heard how “down” the ACC is this season, and the two notions are closely related, so I’ll address it.
It’s astonishing how North Carolina’s horrendous season has turned people’s perception of the ACC upside down.
While the conference certainly isn’t the powerhouse it’s been in its finest years, it’s far from the struggling conference some are trying to make it out to be. Unfortunately, parity is often confused with being “bad” and that’s exactly what has happened with the Atlantic Coast Conference. Duke might be the only school with a reasonable chance of advancing to the Final Four, but the ACC is the third-rated RPI conference, behind only the Big 12 and Big East and nowhere near the substantially down Pac-10, which ranks eighth and behind the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West.
The ACC is the only power conference without a losing team (overall record) and only Boston College sports a non-winning record at 13-13. Critics will point to the conference losing the ACC-Big Ten Challenge for the first time in the series’ 11-year history, but the ACC also sports an 8-4 record against the powerful Big East. While clearly lacking the elite teams at the top that the Big East and Big 12 enjoy, the ACC also lacks a DePaul (8-18) or Nebraska (1-11 in the Big 12) at the bottom.
Is it down from where it normally is in most seasons? Slightly. Is it anywhere near the bad conference some have claimed it to be? Nowhere close.
When it all adds up, the conference currently has seven teams in the RPI’s top 45 (Duke, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Clemson, Florida State, and Virginia Tech) and will almost certainly send six or seven teams to the NCAA tournament.
So what does this mean for the Terps?
At 9-3 and alone in second place, Maryland is firmly entrenched as a lock where it stands today. Even a 1-3 finish would put the Terps at 10-6, still with a chance at a first-round bye in the conference tournament, and seemingly safe—though certainly not heading in the right direction in the eyes of the selection committee and fans alike. The notion that Maryland needs to have an 11-5 or 12-4 conference record and possibly even a win in the conference tournament to be a lock just isn’t true.
In the context of a good—but not outstanding—conference, Maryland is a very good team at 9-3. At the end of the day, barring an 0-4 finish and early exit in Greensboro, the Terps are completely safe in making travel plans for the third week in March.
Now the issue of where they’ll be seeded is completely up in the air at this point, but the next eight days will clarify the picture significantly.
2. Maryland should definitely be in the Top 25 right now. — Fallacy
It sounds silly to argue against the notion of the Terps being a top-25 team immediately after presenting their case as already being a tournament lock, but the Terps currently sit about where they belong in the “Others Receiving Votes” category as the pseudo 28th-ranked team in the country.
Though 9-3 in the ACC and 19-7 overall, Maryland is still 0-4 against top-25 RPI teams and lacks any “wow” wins to grab attention from voters. And to soil the luster of their conference mark, I’ll point out that seven of the Terps’ nine wins have come against teams currently sporting losing records in conference play. Ranked 34th in the projected RPI, the Terps are comfortably in the NCAA picture but not exactly screaming to be ranked.
That doesn’t mean Maryland would be undeserving if it were ranked, but it’s not the injustice passionate Terps fans are trying to make it out to be. The Terps are a “bubble” top-25 team (Did you like the use of a buzzword there?)
Maryland’s failure to crack the rankings can also be attributed to bad timing. The Terps were 29th and on the threshold of cracking the Top 25 before losing big at Duke on Feb. 13. Flip the date of the Duke game with another one on the schedule, and the Terps are probably somewhere in the low 20s.
If Maryland is truly worthy of being ranked, it has the perfect opportunity to prove it—and boost it’s potential seeding—over the next three games against Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Duke.
3. Sean Mosley’s recent play is hurting the Terps. — Half Truth
It’s no secret Mosley’s offense has fallen off the table at an alarming rate.
The sophomore from Baltimore had reached double-digit scoring in nine of the season’s first 10 games—including a 26-point performance in a loss against Villanova—and appeared to be taking major strides offensively (14.3 points per game). However, an ankle injury sustained on Christmas night forced Mosley to miss the Florida Atlantic game on Dec. 27, and he hasn’t been the same since.
In the 15 games since the injury (including 12 ACC games), Mosley has averaged just 7.5 points per game and it’s gotten even worse recently. In the last six games, he’s scored just 3.8 a contest while shooting 31 percent. His offensive woes coupled with three turnovers sent him to the bench in the final moments as Cliff Tucker saved the day against Georgia Tech:
While some are calling for Tucker to take more of Mosley’s minutes, don’t count on it happening. Even with his limitations on the offensive end, Mosley is an invaluable part of the Maryland defense and is second on the team in rebounding (5.5 per game) despite being listed at 6-foot-4. Mosley is also tied with Greivis Vasquez for the team lead in steals with 37.
Tucker may be the better offensive player, but the difference isn’t substantial enough to justify taking such a strong defensive player off the court. And let’s be clear—even with the heroic shot—Tucker has never been a model of consistency from the offensive end.
The Terps would benefit immensely from Mosley regaining his early-season stroke in time for March, increasing their chances of advancing to the Sweet 16 or even the Elite 8, but what he brings to the defensive end of the floor cannot be overlooked, especially for an undersized team. Mosley has still been doing plenty to help the Terps win games, even if those contributions don’t always show up on the stat sheet.
4. The Terps are a good 3-point shooting team. — Half Truth
This statement has been uttered repeatedly by TV crews relying primarily on stats, but anyone watching Maryland on a regular basis knows how differently the Terps shoot at Comcast Center compared to anywhere else.
Looking only at the 12 ACC games to date, Maryland has shot 46.3 percent (44-for-95) from 3-point range in six home games, a remarkable number contributing to four victories of 19-plus points (NC State, Miami, North Carolina, and Virginia). Without question, Maryland is an outstanding perimeter team in the friendly confines of College Park.
On the flip side, Maryland has shot just 33.8 percent from beyond the arc in six road contests. Clearly it’s no shock to see a team shoot worse on the road than it does at home, but the Terps’ shooting woes are magnified when you eliminate their first two road games (Wake Forest and Boston College) when they shot a combined 50 percent from long range (15-for-30). Since then, the Terps have made just 24 percent (12-for-50) of road 3-point attempts.
Maryland may not have to worry about playing in Cameron Indoor Stadium or Littlejohn Coliseum in the postseason, but it must find a way to produce more from the perimeter on a neutral court.
For those looking for a glimmer of hope for improvement, the Terps did make 5-of-13 (38.4 percent) 3-pointers in their most recent road game at NC State, a significant improvement over the previous three away from Comcast.
When matched up against bigger teams in the postseason, Maryland will need to hit more outside shots if it wants to advance deeper into March. That’s an absolute truth.