Sorting Out Possible Reactions from the Maryland-Clemson Game

This is an interesting post for me, because there are a whole number of unknowns in this equation. First off, one thing that needs to be said: no one needs to "pick a side" in this, so to speak. I honestly don't think that either extreme is correct - Maryland isn't suddenly one of the worst in the conference, nor did this loss not mean anything. The real state of this team is somewhere in between.

Anyway, people are flying left and right after this game. Some are vehemently defending Maryland's status. Others are saying that this loss is unacceptable. Is either side really right?

This was a loss on the road in a hostile environment against a good ACC team that is likely headed to the NCAA tournament. With about two minutes to go, Maryland would've been down just 2 points after playing perhaps the worst game of their lives - certainly their ugliest - had it not been for a horrendous offensive foul called on Greivis Vasquez. The entire game was atrociously called - on both sides, though it just so happened that a lot of Maryland fouls were game-changing - and Maryland won't face another team that plays like Clemson until they play Clemson at home later in the year. Clemson, too, was a team utterly desperate and hyped up to get a win.

So, no, the sky is not falling.

At the same time, the ugly truth of the matter is that this team rests squarely on the bubble after the loss, and I do think you have to take something out of this loss.

Before anything else, please don't call Clemson a ranked team. Yes, they checked in at 21st in the Coaches' Poll, but that was before they lost on the road to BC and would've almost surely fallen far had the poll date been the 30th instead of Feb. 1st. Also, I'm fairly certain that Demontez Stitt's presence helped them climb up those polls, and he was absent last night. Even if they were ranked, it was undeservedly so, and that argument doesn't hold up.

How many Maryland fans would've bet the house on the Terps had someone told them that Clemson would be missing their starting PG and Trevor Booker would only make two shots on the night? Those two stats illustrate just how bad this offensive breakdown was. 26 turnovers is a little stunning and, frankly, unacceptable for a team with two senior PGs.

It's also scary to look at Maryland's record against good teams. They're 1-4 against the Top 50 RPI. Ditto for KenPom ratings. Yes, they're very close to being 3-2 (Clemson and Wake losses), but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and the committee won't care if they were almost good enough. It's tough to fault a team for road losses to top 50 RPI teams, but that doesn't make the record any easier to swallow.

They don't have anything resembling a signature win, either, and have exactly two more tries to get one: at Duke on Feb. 13, and Duke at the Comcastle on March 3rd (Pe'Shon Howard will be in the house for that one). ESPN recently had a piece on the importance of the signature win, and it's something Maryland should know well - it's what got them into the tournament last year.

And yet, it's still not certain that Maryland will be on the bubble - every team has a down game occasionally. Duke lost to N.C. State on the road - does that mean that Duke is no longer a tournament team? Of course not. Maryland has played better than this all year, and to assume that this is how good this team really is a little ridiculous. They were just off tonight, and that will happen occasionally. 

Here's the thing: Maryland doesn't have any incriminating losses. Nor do they have any particularly encouraging wins, outside of the home win against FSU. We really don't know just how good or bad this team is yet. That's partially what makes the upcoming FSU game so important.

And there's the perfect segue: the Terps will get back on the horse on Thursday for that upcoming FSU game in Tallahassee. Should they win, they'll probably climb off the bubble, having proved their worth and moved to 2-4 against the Top 50. Remember, too, that in my ACC Contention Roadmap only one win in this road trip was necessary. They can still get that, and, though I wouldn't go so far as to say it's a must-win, a loss could be the start of an ugly, trademark Maryland slump. It's a very important game, now much moreso than the Clemson game just before it. I have a feeling it will be a very long four days.

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