Though the Maryland Terrapins are winners of 12 straight games, much remains unknown about the 2012-2013 team.
Maryland second-year coach Mark Turgeon’s team has clearly improved from a 17-15 campaign a season ago, but this season’s early success came against lesser competition. Outside of a road win at Northwestern and a victory over George Mason on a neutral court, the Terps wins came against cupcake competition on their home court.
The Terps lost their best chance for a statement win. In the season opener Maryland squared off against Kentucky, losing 72-69 despite a thrilling second-half comeback. At the time, a close loss to defending champion Kentucky seemed like a good step for the Terps program, but since that game the Wildcats have stumbled to four losses and fallen out of the Top 25 rankings.
A trip to the NCAA Tournament will determine if Maryland’s season can be dubbed a success, and to get to the Big Dance the Terps will need some big wins. The Terps’ 12-1 record sure looks pretty, but digging into the numbers reveals some warts.
Of Maryland’s 12 wins, seven have been from outside the RPI Top 200. While beating teams like Maryland Eastern Shore, Delaware State and South Carolina State is certainly better than losing, those wins do little for Maryland in the eyes of the tournament selection committee. The Terps currently rank No. 70 in the RPI charts, a number that should improve for the team to make the tournament.
With conference play beginning tomorrow at home against Virginia Tech, the Terps can prove they're worthy of an impressive record.
Over the next month Maryland will face off against five teams in the RPI Top 100, including a game on the road against No. 1 ranked Duke. Beyond Duke, the Terps must take to the road to play North Carolina and Miami while playing Florida State and N.C. State at home. All of those teams except Miami made the tournament last season, and this season Miami holds the No. 10 RPI ranking and is a team many consider will make the tournament.
Turgeon may have erred with his team’s scheduling this season. An improved roster, bolstered by the late NCAA decision to allow sophomore transfer Dez Wells to play this season, gave the Terps a better roster than the coach expected while making the schedule last season.
In Wells and fellow sophomore big man Alex Len, Maryland potentially showcases two all-conference type players. Even with a weak schedule thus far, ACC competition will give the Terps a chance to prove they belong back in the Big Dance.
For Maryland surviving the non-conference schedule without a bad loss may be more important than piling up big wins. An ACC schedule affords the opportunity for marquee victories.
With no bad losses on their resume, Maryland completed its first chore. With ACC play beginning tomorrow, Maryland will soon prove if they are up to the bigger task. The tournament awaits.