College Basketball: Does Maryland Deserve More Love?
In most cases, an 18-2 team in the Big Ten isn’t going to fly under the radar. Not only would that team usually be ranked very highly, they’d be viewed as a possible Final Four contender.
But advanced stats don’t love the Terps, and neither do the polls, with Maryland sitting outside of the top 20 in both major college rankings.
What’s going on here? Let’s take a look.
No Marquee Wins
Amazingly, Maryland has made it 20 games into the year without playing anyone who is currently ranked in the AP Top 25. That’s hard to do.
Per KenPom.com, the Terps’ strength of schedule ranks 75th in the nation while our models rate it a little better, slotting their strength of schedule 55th. Sports-Reference isn’t as kind, ranking Maryland’s slate 11th in the Big Ten.
The Terps schedule hasn’t been terrible, but they don’t have any great wins, either.
Maryland’s best win to date might be a one-point triumph over Georgetown back in their second game of the year. At the time, it looked like a nice win, but the Hoyas have disappointed and are 10-10.
One could argue a three-point home win over Indiana is the Terps' best victory, but good luck making sense of the Hoosiers this year.
The Terps' most impressive win is probably a 77-70 victory at Michigan. Winning on the road is always tough in college hoops, so picking up a road win in Ann Arbor against a decent Michigan (13-7) squad is no small feat.
It’s not really a great bullet point on the resume, either, though.
Normally, the Big Ten would offer the Terps several chances to take down a top-notch team, but that’s not the case this year with the conference experiencing a down season.
Wisconsin and Purdue are the league’s two best teams, but as the scheduling gods would have it, Maryland only plays each of those teams once. Indiana, Northwestern and Michigan State may be the conference’s next best teams -- not counting Maryland -- but the Terps also get the Hoosiers, Spartans and Wildcats just once apiece.
Minnesota, who is 33rd in our rankings, is the only good Big Ten team the Terrapins play twice.
When the Big Ten schedule was unveiled, Maryland fans probably exhaled at what they saw. However, their fortunate conference slate may end up leaving them with an NCAA Tournament resume barren of quality wins if they don’t beat Wisconsin or Purdue.
The Panthers and Huskers are two teams that sit outside the top 65 of our rankings. At 9-10, the Huskers are under .500, and Pitt just lost by 3,000 points to Louisville (OK, it was only 55), extending the Panthers' losing streak to five.
Neither of those are terrible losses to awful teams, but when you add them onto a handful of narrow wins over some pretty bad teams -- Maryland has single-digit wins over American (5-14, 283rd in our rankings), Towson (12-9, 134th) and Richmond (11-8, 122nd) -- it doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
What Advanced Numbers Say
Our team rankings, which are sorted purely by our nERD metric, list Maryland 45th while KenPom has them 46th.
Despite advanced metrics not thinking the Terps are a really good team, their 18 wins are in the bank. As a result, we project them to end the year with a 22-8 record, and we give them an 82.59% chance of making the NCAA Tournament, expecting them to land a 7 seed.
All in all, for a team that may end the year with just a couple -- or no -- wins over top-flight teams, that may be about as well as Maryland can do.
The strength of the Terps is their defense. KenPom rates them as the 22nd-best defense in the country, which helps offset their 88th-ranked offense. According to Sports-Reference, their offensive rating of 107.93 is 10th in the Big Ten while they’re 89.11 defensive rating sits fourth. Overall, their 18.82 net rating checks in eighth in the Big Ten.
At the end of the day, the Terps can only play who’s on their schedule. They’ve beaten the teams they should beat, for the most part, and they have a good chance of making the big dance.
Their resume is a little lacking, though.
If Maryland can knock off Purdue or Wisconsin -- the game against the Boilers is at home -- it would likely go a long way toward solidifying their tourney berth. And a run in the Big Ten Tournament would probably give them a shot at picking up more noteworthy wins.
On the flip side, if the Terps stumble down the stretch, losing a game or two they shouldn’t in addition to coming up empty-handed against the Boilers and Badgers, they may be on thin ice with the selection committee.