The Maryland men's basketball team is about to embark on what it hopes will be a six-game voyage through the NCAA Tournament. Of course, it could be as short as one. The Terps could meet with a wide range of outcomes this March, and I don't think anyone would be stunned by anything between a first-round loss to South Dakota State and a national championship win at the Final Four. Such has been Maryland's bipolarity this season.
I am on record with my expectation that Maryland loses in the round of 32 to Cal. But that doesn't have to happen. A lot of other, more enjoyable things could happen instead.
In that spirit, here are three reasons Maryland could be good, or couldn't.
Good news first:
Why Maryland could make a Final Four run
1. Melo could be Melo.
It's hard to imagine any Maryland victory scenario that doesn't involve Melo Trimble operating at the height of his powers. The Terps' star point guard hasn't been himself for weeks now, but he's shown sporadic signs of a breakout over the past several games. Trimble is fully aware there's a lot riding on him, and if he's cooking, there's not a clearly better point guard anywhere in this tournament. This is the single biggest thing that could go right for Maryland.
2. South Dakota State and Cal are both beatable.
Despite the narrative that surrounds five-versus-12 tournament games, it's highly unlikely Maryland loses in the first round against the Jackrabbits. The Terps are a lot better on both offense and defense than their Summit League adversaries, and they'll only lose if they fall way short of their own potential. With the notable exception of Minnesota, SDSU would be the worst team Maryland has lost to all season – and by a comfortable margin.
The second round will be harder, as long as Cal doesn't get upset against No. 13 Hawaii. (It won't.) The Bears are a lot like the Terps – a talented but wildly underachieving bunch of stars that hasn't come together to equal the sum of its parts. The Bears are better than Maryland on defense, and I expect they'll beat the Terps. But Maryland at peak capacity is a little better than Cal at peak capacity, and the Terps can win this game as long as they don't stand in their own way.
3. Maryland is the most talented team in the South Region.
Including Kansas. The Terps have a starting lineup with three five-star recruits and two four-star recruits. They have more four-star talent on their bench. If they're going good, Trimble and Diamond Stone will not face players equal to them at any point. Rasheed Sulaimon and Jake Layman can limit even the most talented scorers in the country, as they did against Michigan Bryn Forbes and Denzel Valentine in a Big Ten semifinal last weekend.
Why Maryland won't make a Final Four run
(Photos: USA Today Sports)
Kansas and Villanova are both simply better than Maryland. Given Maryland's apparent inability to beat good teams (with the exception of a couple of home wins against Purdue and a since-faded Iowa), it's very tough to envision Maryland actually winning a Sweet 16 or Elite Eight game this season. The tragic thing about this Maryland team is that there's no real reason it shouldn't be as good or better than both the Jayhawks and Wildcats. But it isn't, and for that reason, it'll be a major upset and surprise if Maryland is able to come out of this region. Then again, that's why they play the games.