1. It's time to face the music - Maryland is a classic bubble team and their NCAA tourney chances took a huge hit last night.
The Terps had Duke in foul trouble, made 20/27 free throws (including an amazing 12/16 for Jordan Williams) and they lost. By 18. The Terps got within 5 in the second half, but were unable to continuously get the ball inside to Jordan Williams. Without being able to get the ball to Jordan, I actually thought our guards did a great job getting to the rim, especially when Duke was in their 2-3 zone. Unfortunately, when you get close to the rim, you have to be able to make the shot, especially when that shot is a layup. Mosley, Stoglin and Howard combined to go 2/12 from the floor. Most of those shots were good looks and several were missed layups. When you're playing Duke, you need to convert those shots or you're not going to win.
With the loss, Maryland is likely out of opportunities to show they're capable of beating a quality opponent this season. Beating UNC on the road could be another opportunity, but it won't be easy and depends on what the Tar Heels do down the stretch. There is always the chance that Maryland could face Duke a third time in the ACC tournament as well, but you don't want to be relying on things like that when February rolls around.
After going 0-6 in games against good opponents, I'm not sure Maryland is capable of beating a good team at this point. The reason why? That brings us to our second point, which Ben G. raises and wrote...
2. Since the beginning of the season, we've talked about who's going to emerge as a reliable #2 scoring option for the Terps. Tonight, we got our answer. And the answer is no one.
It may sound harsh but it's absolutely true. Let's quickly run through the candidates. Cliff Tucker? Here are his point totals the last six games: 3, 13, 15, 13, 6, and 7. The seven point performance was tonight's Duke game and more damning than his point total was the fact that he missed a wide open three and two free throws during a crucial stretch where Maryland had finally started to make a run. We know the story with Cliff: He can score, but he can also disappear. He is who he is. At the very least, he's not a reliable scoring option.
Adrian Bowie has stepped up his game lately but he too doesn't portray a picture of consistency. Mosley? He might have been the prime candidate for scoring option numero dos at the beginning of the year, but at this point, that notion is frankly laughable. Dino? He's been very productive, made steady improvements, and may even be the second or third best player on this team at this point. But a consistent 12-15 points per game is not in his DNA.
Matter of fact, I'm not sure it's in any of the guys' DNA (with the exception of Jordan, obviously.) Blame it on Gary's recruiting, blame it on the way the staff developments players, or blame it on the players themselves. Regardless, the body of work the Terps have produced the last three months is clear: there is no reliable number two scoring option on this team, and there won't be the remainder of the season. (again, h/t to Ben G. for writing this one).
3. Did Jordan Williams finally find his free throw touch?
Last night, Jordan Williams scored 12 of his 20 points from the line, missing just four free throws. In Maryland's previous game against Georgia Tech, he was 5/8 from the charity stripe. Combine those two together and you'll see Jordan has shot 17/24 from the line in the past two games, which is just over 70% and much improved over his season average of 54%.
Everyone has talked all season long about how Jordan's free throw stroke looks good but he just wasn't converting on his shots. Hopefully this means he's starting to put it all together. If Jordan can consistently shoot 70% from the line and convert and 1 opportunities, it will be extremely beneficial to Maryland, especially since the Terps have struggled in scoring three pointers from beyond the arc. Regardless of what Jordan does from the line, as we noted above, others have to step up and score as well if Maryland wants to be successful.
4. If Maryland does want to make the NCAA Tournament, they might have to win out and even then might have to win a few games in the ACC Tournament. 10-6 isn't going to cut it.
The ACC is down this year. It might be the worst I've ever seen the league in terms of talent from top to bottom. A 10-6 record in the ACC, even if that includes a win against UNC in Chapel Hill, isn't going to get Maryland an at large bid. I'm honestly wondering if 11-5 is good enough. It probably would be, but I'd still be pretty nervous on Selection Sunday. Going 10-6 would mean Maryland could only drop two more ACC games and they still have to travel to Virginia Tech, UNC and Boston College. They also have to play Florida State (which is at home). Out of those four games, Maryland has to go 2-2 and win all of their other games to get to 10-6. In reality, they need to go 3-1 against those teams and I'm not sure they can achieve that.
As crazy as it sounds, I think it might take an improbable run in the ACC tournament for Maryland to get into the NCAAs this year. With our inconsistent guard play and lack of a dependable #2 scoring option behind Jordan, I just find it unlikely that Maryland goes 3-1 against UNC, Va. Tech and BC on the road and FSU at home. I hope I'm wrong, I really am, but it might be time to accept that the best chance for this team to get into the dance might be hoping they can catch lightening in a bottle, ala 2004, and make a run to the ACC tournament title. Good teams often woefully under perform in the ACC tournament (see Maryland, 2002, 2010), so Maryland could have a shot if they can catch some teams off guard or go against a less athletic team inside.
The bubble is really weak this year, so maybe 10-6 gets us in, but in reality I think 11-5 is your baseline and even then a win or two in the ACC Tourney is probably needed just to be safe.