In recent years, Maryland fans have had to analyze almost every aspect of the Terps’ tournament profile, wondering if we had enough on our resume to be included in the field of 65. One of the largest components in that formula was out of conference games. In the past, a big win over an out of conference foe has helped propel the Terps into the field. A big win over a non-conference team in November or December can be the piece that separates a team from NIT & NCAA. Last year, a big win over Michigan State in November helped in getting the Terps into the tournament in March, especially after dropping the last regular season game to UVA. A win over regular season UNC and two wins in the ACC tournament obviously helped, but take away that Michigan State win, and I would have been a lot more nervous on Selection Sunday.
This season, the Terps lack a marquee out of conference win. Their best out of conference win? Indiana came to mind first and I thought they were the Terps' best out of conference win since they had an RPI of 88. Then I looked again and realized it was Indiana State who had the 88 RPI and that Indiana’s was…225. Ouch. So the Terps toughest out of conference opponent that we’ve beaten is Fairfield, who currently sits at 128 according to www.collegerpri.com. The Terps’ out of conference losses have been to Villanova (RPI of 4), Wisconsin (RPI of 13), William and Mary (RPI of 51) and to Cincinnati (RPI of 49). None of those are by any means "bad" losses. But as Ben pointed out, the selection committee doesn’t care about games you could have won. It would have been nice to have a win over one of those teams, especially William and Mary, since that was a home game, but the greater question now is this; will it matter this year? Find out after the jump.
That’s probably a question that many thought would be more easily answered after the Terps’ game against Clemson. But now, after the Terps loss to the Tigers last night, an ACC road game they should have won, will that lack of a marquee victory hurt the Terps? I’m going to optimistically say no, in that it would be a deciding factor in whether or not this team gets into the NCAA tournament this year. But the game against FSU, while not a "must win", is a game Maryland needs if they want to contend for the ACC title and avoid being on the bubble again come March. Could the lack of a big out of conference win affect the Terps’ seeding? Almost definitely. The Terps will probably be seeded a spot or two lower than if they had beaten Cincinnati, Nova, W&M or Wisconsin. But for once, for the first time in a while, I don’t think the out of conference schedule is going to matter as much as it has in the past. Thus, lacking that marquee out of conference win isn’t going to hurt Maryland because I don’t think they’ll be a bubble team. Last season the Terps were solidly on the bubble heading into the ACC tournament. They might have even been one of the last four out. But even after the two wins in the ACC tourney, it wasn’t 100% that the Terps would be in.
So why do I feel this team isn’t going to be a bubble team and why the out of conference schedule won’t really come into play? Just look at home the Terps have handled lesser opponents. They’ve put their foot on the gas from start to finish, never letting up until Gary puts in the reserves. Last season’s team lost to UVA (4-12 in the ACC last year), lost to Miami (7-9 in the ACC last year), and beat Georgia Tech (2-14 in the ACC last year) twice, but by just a combined eight points. When this year’s team faces teams like that they’re winning by 20+. So while the best team the Terps have faced thus far in the ACC is probably either FSU or Wake, they’re 1-1 in those games and the Wake game loss came in OT. On the road. After just one day of rest. But again, the Terps just turned the ball over half a million time against Clemson. So the real question becomes this – was Sunday’s loss to the Tigers just a bad game for the Terps, the result of Clemson’s suffocating defense, or is it indicative of how the Terps perform against better competition? That loss makes the lack of an out of conference win start to become a factor for the Terps. We now have to sit back and look at the next two games to see how they’ll do.
One final thing that could become a concern and that people should keep in mind – If the Terps do stumble at all, their opportunity to capture a big win over a top 10 opponent isn’t going to be as easy as it normally is in the ACC. The only opportunities to beat a top ten team will likely come in the Terps’ two games with Duke, although Duke’s loss to Georgetown over the weekend might even prevent that from happening. In typical ACC years, you have at least two teams who are flirting with top ten rankings. But because of the parity of the league this year, Duke might be the only shot for the Terps to improve their resume. And if they’re in that position late in the season, that lack of a marquee win could come back to bite them. Lets hope that it’s not a factor though.