By: Tim Van Blarcom, Feature Writer
This Saturday the Maryland Terrapins will play probably their last game against hated rival the Duke Blue Devils. Duke has long been critical of Maryland basketball fans for their behavior during and after home games between the two teams and, when Maryland announced its departure to the B1G conference, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was the most public on criticizing the move.
These circumstances make any future scheduled games between the two teams highly unlikely, and Saturday the final meeting of the two. The most probably exceptions are a chance meeting in the NCAA tournament, or a game in the B1G-ACC challenge.
If that wasn’t enough motivation for Maryland, their fleeting NCAA tournament chances could rely on a win against Duke on Saturday, among other things. Not to mention while missing the NCAA tournament for the 4th straight year is bad for Turgeon and Maryland, there’s also still a chance that Maryland suffers their first losing season in more than 20 years.
Like most teams on the bubble, the outcomes for Maryland’s season range from unexpectedly good to disastrous.
Six games remain for Maryland including at #8 Duke, vs #1 Syracuse, and vs #17 Virginia. While a win against any of these programs would be huge for Maryland, they realistically need to win 2 of the 3 games, while sweeping their other three remaining games, and advance a few rounds in the ACC tournament to sneak into the NCAA tournament.
Maryland has been in and out of tournament predictions all year. This team is the most talented Maryland team in the Turgeon era and many are trying to give Maryland the benefit of the doubt when it comes to predictions. On paper, however Maryland falls short of the tournament field and are in danger of missing any kind of post-season tournament.
Maryland currently ranks 74th in RPI (Ratings Percentage Index), one of the main statistics used by the NCAA selection committee to evaluate teams. Maryland has lost all seven games played against teams in the top 50 RPI, and are only 3-3 against teams ranking 51-100 in RPI.
Maryland has not been a complete disaster going 11-1 against teams ranking 100+ in RPI this season but those are games a team with Maryland’s caliber should win with ease.
There is still fleeting hope for Maryland fans as 5 of their 6 remaining games are against teams in the top 100 RPI and 3 of those (Duke, Syracuse, and Virginia) are in the top 25 RPI. Working in Maryland’s favor is that they play four of these games at home where they have are 12-5 this season. Maryland has regularly played the spoiler at Comcast Center in the last few seasons and will need to take advantage of their home court against Syracuse and Virginia.
The ACC tournament will also give Maryland a chance to improve their rankings and make the NCAA tournament. Currently at 6-6 in the ACC, Maryland is currently the 8th seed but with all ACC teams with six or more conference games to go, the standings will change drastically in the next few weeks.
Regardless the tournament will be another chance for Maryland to pick up some additional wins against high RPI teams.
Another reality Maryland must face is that they could be in danger of having their first losing season in more than 20 years when they went 12-16 in the 1992-93 season. Maryland needs to go at least 2-4 to avoid a losing season that would be a disaster for coach Turgeon and the program.
The reality of the situation is that Maryland will need to play at a much higher level than they have been to make the NCAA tournament. Turnovers, lack of offensive identity, and tentative defense have all been contributing issues to this up and down season. For Maryland to go on a run and succeed they’ll need help in a few key areas.
Keys for Maryland
1. Consistent play from the point guard position. Seth Allen looks to finally be healthy and he’s been a huge upgrade after watching Dez Wells try his hand at PG. Allen however, is more of a natural shooting guard and struggles at times on finding the open assist. Maryland had hoped freshmen Roddy Peters would develop quickly enough to contribute this season at the point but Peters has been inconsistent and rank 2nd on the team in turnovers.
2. A Maryland big man needs to emerge. The departure of Alex Len has left a much larger hole than expected. Charles Mitchell and Shaq Cleare were high ranked recruits but as sophomores they look tentative under the rim and lack the finishing move to score consistent points. Mitchell has been the most productive but has a tendency to get into foul trouble very quickly. Transfer Jonathan Graham is the veteran for this group but falls behind in talent.
Freshmen Damonte Dodd has also gotten minutes at center but has yet to do anything of note but shoot 2/12 at the free throw line. Turgeon has switched around the starter at center all year but either Mitchell or Cleare need to emerge as the go to big man for Maryland to succeed.
3. Dez Wells must get involved early. Wells is Maryland’s best player and has proven himself as a leading scorer and clutch performer in the second half of games. Wells seems to always be on the court, averaging 30 minutes a game, but can disappear at times when Maryland struggles on offense.
For Maryland to be competitive, Wells needs to assert himself on offense early to allow the Maryland to get going. When Wells can attack the basket inside and force the defense to pay more attention to him, Jake Layman and Evan Smotrycz get open looks on the corners where they can succeed.
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