Never until this season has Maryland Terrapins won 20 of its first 22 games.
Hell, Maryland had never won 17 of its first 19 games, or 18 of its first 20, or 19 of its first 21. This is, by far, the best start in program history. But nobody outside of College Park seems to be taking the Terps seriously, or at least they aren’t being taken seriously enough. It’s strange. Almost every other team that got off to a strong start this season (UNC, UCLA Bruins , Villanova Wildcats , Gonzaga Bulldogs , Baylor Bears , West Virginia Mountaineers , Kansas Jayhawks , Arizona Wildcats , Florida State Seminoles , Notre Dame Fighting Irish ) earned column space, TV time, features, all of it. But not Maryland, which is a proud program. This isn’t a team suddenly good out of nowhere. It made last year’s Sweet 16.
Do you remember that?
Do you realize this year’s team has a Final Four ceiling?
The Terrapins aren’t being discussed as a Final Four threat, but they certainly should be in that conversation by this point. If four-loss Kentucky Wildcats , four-loss North Carolina Tar Heels , five-loss Duke Blue Devils and four-loss West Virginia can be pegged as Final Four hopefuls, then two-loss Maryland can now join them at that table. Mark Turgeon’s team, ranked 17th in the country and by far the most overlooked, under-discussed and easily dismissed ranked squad in college basketball, picked up another road win on Tuesday night. The Turtles got out of Columbus with a 77-71 conquest of Ohio State Buckeyes .
The Terps are now an impressive 8-0 in road and neutral-court games this season. That’s better than everyone except undefeated Gonzaga (10-0), and in road games, Maryland is 6-0, which matches Gonzaga for the best road record in college hoops this season.
Despite being automatic away from home, Maryland’s schedule is what pushes the problem in terms of program perception this season. Maryland hasn’t been featured in highly anticipated matchups; it hasn’t been involved in a centerpiece game, if you will, on any day in college basketball so far this season. The team’s non-conference schedule ranks 210th, while overall SOS is 55th. Not great, but far from the worst. Those numbers are better than what West Virginia, Purdue Boilermakers and UCLA can claim.
The Terrapins have taken out four teams in the top-40 of KenPom, but it’s those KenPom metrics — and general computer rankings — that are adding to the perception battle. Maryland’s RPI is a healthy 18th, but it’s 35th in Sagarin, amazingly 49th in LRMC and 39th at KenPom. Somehow, 13-9 Wake Forest Demon Deacons and 13-9 Tennessee Volunteers are ahead of the Terps at KenPom, which is a projection-based metric, meaning Wake and Tennessee are supposedly better teams and would be favored against teams ranked beneath them in the rankings on a neutral court.
There’s just no way that’s the case now, though. Maryland would undoubtedly be giving points if it played the Demon Deacons or Volunteers tomorrow night on a neutral. The Terrapins have managed to fool Pomeroy’s system. Even if you don’t believe Maryland’s one of the 20 best teams in the country — a logical stance — it’s certainly proven at this point to be better than 39th.
Vegas continues to sell on Maryland as well. The Terrapins have won as an underdog more times this season than they’ve won as the favorite, with 14 wins against the spread this season.
Further proof of Maryland’s legitimacy is how the team’s played against league competition. Prior to the Ohio State win, Maryland ranked third in the Big Ten in efficiency margin, meaning the Terrapins on average were third-best in the conference in points-per-possession differential, and this despite having played more road than home games in the Big Ten so far.
Another big turn of events for the Terps, and the biggest reason why this team could be more than a flash in the regular-season pan, is the emergence of freshman Justin Jackson . He’s come to life in the past two games, going for 22 points and 12 boards in the Ohio State win, which followed up a 28-point, 10-rebound showing against Minnesota Golden Gophers over the weekend. Both came in road games. Amid this, Jackson’s a 3-point threat; he’s made 47 percent of his attempts this season and is 9 for 12 in the past two games.
If Jackson is going to turn into a reliable double-double player, Maryland’s ceiling gets vaulted. I haven’t even mentioned Melo Trimble yet. He’s one of the 10 most valuable players in college basketball, a guy averaging 17.0 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists this season, but he hasn’t had to completely carry the load, thanks to a trio of freshmen that have performed beyond expectations. Jackson’s gotten help from fellow newbies Kevin Huerter (who opposing coaches have raved about to me) and Anthony Cowan .
For a team with so many young guys to be this good, and to not falter on the road, it only reinforces how genuinely capable Maryland is this season. The Terrapins have also established an ability, and it’s not just this season, to win close games. Since Trimble arrived, the Terps are 29-6 in games decided by six points or fewer, an astounding success rate of 83 percent.
So the team wins close, wins away from home, has a veteran point guard that gets to the free throw line and consistently makes tough shots, has other NBA prospects on the roster, and also made the second weekend of the NCAAs last season. The home losses to mediocre Pitt and mediocre Nebraska Cornhuskers are acting as anchors on Maryland’s ankles right now, but on the whole, this team continues to win when it’s not projected to, and on the way to 20-2, quietly has built itself into a Final Four dark horse candidate — at the very least.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / A quiet Final Four contender, Maryland has everyone fooled — including Vegas