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The ACC is As Open As It'll Ever Be, and Maryland Just Might Be Able to Contend

Okay, we called it earlier, but this league is hella wide open. Duke, supposed to be the best team in the conference by far, just fell to North Carolina State and seem entirely incapable of winning on the road - 0-3 in other teams' arenas. They sit at 3-2, far from in control of the conference a third of the way through. North Carolina, traditionally the only team able to challenge the Dukies, is in the hole right now, hovering at 1-3.

Shockingly, it's Virginia that sits atop the conference, still 3-0. I'm far from jumping on the Tony Bennett bandwagon - what he's done has been admirable, but he's not used to ACC play yet and his team simply isn't that talented. UVA will probably end up on the bubble - a momentous achievement - but two of their wins have been at home and the other was against an inconsistent N.C. State. His look is new for the moment, but he hasn't hit K or Gary yet, and they should be able to figure out how to turn that style on its head.

Maryland is looking good at 2nd in the conference, literally a point away from being 3-0. And looking at the schedule, I can't find a team that Maryland legitimately can't beat at least once. Duke will probably romp at Cameron, but a home game against K's bunch seems winnable, if unlikely. Every other game? It can be done.

Of course, they can also lose to every team left on the schedule, too. That's part of the beauty (or, depending on your outlook, ugliness) of the ACC. However, this is one of the first years in recent memory when Maryland can look at the ACC, several games in, and say they could legitimately win it.

Now, that probably won't happen, because Duke will right the ship and UNC will get better with time and health (they've been missing Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis). That said, if Maryland wants to return to the top 3 of the ACC, there's no better time to do it than right now. Beating N.C. State is step #1, and then Miami after that. If they can win those two games, the road to an ACCT bye - the top 4 teams get byes - seems viable. If not, then they probably aren't good enough to get a bye anyway.

Up until now, most people have thrown around the various numbers of possible wins for Maryland - 6, 9, 10, etc. But now that we're in the heart of conference play, the paths to actually get to those numbers are becoming clearer and clearer. Like I said earlier, Maryland has to win the next two games - but after that, what exactly would Maryland need to do to be in contention?

Check out the schedule (post two must-wins):

1-31 - @ Clemson (15-4, 3-2, 30 RPI)
2-4 - @ Florida St. (14-4, 2-2, 51 RPI)
2-7 - vs. UNC (12-7, 1-3, 69 RPI)
2-10 - vs. UVA (12-4, 3-0, 98 RPI)
2-13 - @ Duke (15-3, 3-2, 5 RPI)
2-17 - @ N.C. State (13-6, 2-3, 81 RPI)
2-20 - vs. Georgia Tech Yellow (14-4, 3-2, 27 RPI)
2-24 - vs. Clemson (15-4, 3-2, 30 RPI)
2-27 - @ Virginia Tech (14-3, 1-2, 83 RPI)
3-3 - vs. Duke (15-3, 3-2, 5 RPI)
3-6 - @ UVA (12-4, 3-0, 98 RPI)

Win one of the next two road games, against FSU and Clemson - tough, but can be done. Beat UNC at home - that's looking easier by the day, but it will still require effort. Win half of the remaining 4 road games (against N.C. State, UVA, VT, and Duke). Win half of the remaining 4 home games (Duke, UVA, GT, and Clemson). And that's 10 wins.

Of course, no one would be surprised if they ended up dropping a lot of those games, either. None are easy, but my point is that the road to 10 wins isn't impossible, and even 11 is an outside possibility assuming they continue their current level of play, which is the huge disclaimer to this entire post.

Would 10 wins be enough to win the ACC? Doubtful. Duke would have to lose another 4, and I'm not sure that'll happen. But would 11? As improbable as that is, it might get them there.

Oh, and another giant disclaimer: This post is supposed to be for fun prognostication because nothing else is going on around College Park. Obviously, we still don't know how good this team is. Given their past 4 games, though, it's not irrational to think that double-digit wins is a possibility.