It's tough not to get swept away in the storm of hope and joy that is Maryland basketball right now. More than a third of the way through the season, Maryland sits at 4-1 atop the ACC standings, dishing out three beatings over three of the apparent worst teams in the conference, handily topping another, better team, and losing a road game by 1 in OT. Like I said, it's tough to not get excited.
Unfortunately, there's a cloud hanging over my excitement at the moment, and that cloud is Maryland's opponents, both past and future. Boston College is reviving themselves, but they were dead in the water against Maryland. Ditto for Miami. N.C. State's big win against Duke looks like a fluke. Games like this will be few and far between the rest of the way.
For instance, Maryland's last five opponents had an average KenPom rank of 49. Their next two? 22. For those that prefer RPI to KenPom, the average of the last five was 66. The next two: 39.
And that begs the question: just how good are these Terps?
We'll know for sure in the next two matchups, both of which are on the road. They'll be the first real tests for the Terps since the Wake Forest game that Maryland was oh-so-close to winning. First up is Clemson, a game going down on Sunday against a desperate and slumping squad. Clemson has lost their last three games and nearly lost to N.C. State for four straight. Granted, two of those opponents - Georgia Tech and Duke - are games that they should have no shame in losing. The BC game? Not so much on that one.
In Clemson's defense, they've been without starting guard and #2 option offensively, Demontez Stitt. Stitt's been injured since the N.C. State game, and his ineffectiveness (he averages 11 a game) is a big reason why Clemson has struggled the way they have. Take Sean Mosley off this team and see how it does. Does it lose to BC? I'm not sure. But it's not nearly as good.
The most worrisome thing about that game is Trevor Booker, easily the best post player in the ACC and unlike anything Maryland has seen yet. He's big, strong, and athletic. Maryland used the double-down method on Tracy Smith and Dwayne Collins, and I expect the same to happen here. The question is, can Booker avoid it or beat it, and if he can't, can the guards convert? We'll have more on this tomorrow and Friday.
After that comes Florida State, a rematch of a game earlier this month in College Park. Maryland dealt well with Florida State's length and suffocating defense at the Comcastle, but it could be an entire different story in Tallahassee. For what its worth, this team hasn't exactly evolved much: they're still extremely long, extremely good at defensive, extremely thin at the guards, and extremely bad at not turning the ball over.
It is worth noting that FSU has had two impressive wins since falling to Maryland, grabbing close wins over VT and Georgia Tech at home. Also, it'll be interesting to see if things shake out differently should Solomon Alabi stay out of foul trouble. Regardless, I don't think this team is vastly different than the one Maryland beat by 9 at home, so the question is how much exactly home court gives them.
The KenPom Predictor has the next two games as extremely slight Maryland losses: 1 point in both. Two one-score losses would be heartbreaking. I'm not going to say that Maryland needs to win either of the next two games, because that's not the case, but if this whole contending in the ACC thing is for real, it would help out tremendously to grab one on the road.
Grab one win, I'm content. Grab two, and Maryland could legitimately contend for the ACC Championship. Lose both, and that's okay, but there will be a re-evaluation of where Maryland stands right now based on their performance in both games.