Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.
Now that Maryland has reached the semifinals of the NIT, what are its chances of winning it all?
Don Markus: I know from a standpoint of trying to avenge a couple of disappointing losses, the Terps were probably looking forward to the chance of playing fellow ACC member Virginia for a third time. But as much as Maryland knowing intimately how to attack the Cavaliers, Virginia probably had the advantage since it won both regular -season games.
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That said, Maryland’s matchup with Iowa in Tuesday’s semifinal at Madison Square Garden could be like the quarterfinal game against Alabama – except the fact that there are probably a lot more Maryland fans planning to attend the game than those who follow and root for the Hawkeyes. Just as the Terps went into Tuscaloosa looking to contain Trevor Releford, they will try to do the same with Roy Marble Jr.
In terms of preparing for the rest of the Iowa team, the Hawkeyes are actually very similar to the Terps. They are well-coached by Fran McCaffery and were much better at home this season than on the road. Noted college basketball analyst Ken Pomeroy ranks the Hawkeyes 21st overall, a byproduct of being pretty competitive in what has been considered the best conference by far this season.
Truth told, the Hawkeyes really don’t have anyone to contend with Alex Len. If the 7-1 sophomore center shows up, as he did against Alabama with 15 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots, and can stay out of foul trouble, the Terps should be able to win if they can keep their turnovers down. Winning it all is another story.
If form holds, the Terps would face Baylor in the championship game. The Bears, who play Brigham Young in the semifinals, have been something of a disappointment this season and like the Terps, had a couple of big upset wins but also a couple of inexplicable losses. Baylor is led by point guard Pierre Jackson, who had 20 points, 13 assists, seven rebounds and no turnovers in an 11-point win over Providence in the quarterfinals.
Pomeroy has Baylor 34th overall, 13 spots ahead of Maryland. The Bears lost three of their last four in the Big 12 before the NIT. BYU also came into the NIT in a bit of a slump. If the Terps were at full strength with Seth Allen healthy to play some minutes off the bench at point guard, I would think Maryland has a better chance to hoist the trophy come Thursday night. If Dez Wells goes off as he did in the ACC tournament, the Terps can finish the season with a title.
What happened with Dwayne Morgan’s recruitment?
Matt Bracken: I sense widespread Dwayne Morgan fatigue from Maryland fans. The recruitment of the five-star small forward from St. Frances was relentlessly dissected on Terps blogs and message boards before and after his announcement for UNLV on Wednesday. But one last semi-informed take on Morgan’s decision to pick the Rebels can’t hurt.
Here’s what I’ve gathered over the past several days: Maryland stopped recruiting Morgan during the latter stages of the process, leaving UNLV and Georgetown as his primary suitors, despite interest from other programs. There are two commonly stated theories regarding Maryland’s decision-making process:
- The Maryland coaches knew Morgan was ticketed for Vegas, and thus decided to bow out instead of chasing a lost cause. For what it’s worth, I was hearing (off the record) for weeks/months that UNLV would most likely be the spot, and I’m certainly not the only media type who heard that. You can bet Maryland’s staff was operating with similar information.
- The Maryland coaches weren’t completely sold on Morgan’s game. Whenever you ask a coach or analyst about his game, they talk about upside, not production. He’s a five-star prospect and Scout.com’s No. 15 prospect nationally for a reason, but I understand questions about why he hasn’t produced more at the high school level (while acknowledging that St. Frances was led by two excellent senior guards in Tevon Saddler, The Sun’s All-Metro Player of the Year, and Maurice White, a first-team All-Metro player).
I can't say for sure if either of those scenarios is true. But if there’s a five-star prospect in Baltimore, Maryland has to extend a scholarship offer. There’s pressure on the program to go after highly touted locals, even if the coaches disagree with national evaluators. Morgan, meanwhile, probably would’ve faced unrealistic expectations had he decided to stay close to home for college. “It’s a lot of pressure put on a hometown kid to go to a hometown school,” Morgan said during his news conference Wednesday. UNLV fans will expect a lot from him, but it’ll be different 2,500 miles away from home vs. 40. And for what it's worth, I've heard that Morgan and his mother bonded more with UNLV's staff.
Regardless of the reasons, there really shouldn’t be hard feelings on either party’s side. Morgan is a likeable, talented player who will get the chance to reach his potential away from this area’s very bright spotlight. And Maryland still gets to enjoy three seasons of Jake Layman – who would’ve been a major roadblock for Morgan at the 3 – while continuing to pursue 2014 forward recruits like Obi Enechionyia, Abdul-Malik Abu and others.
Who will be in Maryland’s division when the Terps begin playing football in the Big Ten in 2014?
Jeff Barker: Division alignments matter a lot. There are the logistical considerations – you want your travel to be as convenient as inexpensive as possible.
But it’s more than that. It’s about familiarity and rivalries.
In the ACC, Maryland fans grew accustomed to playing the Atlantic Division teams every year – Florida State, N.C. State, Clemson, Wake Forest and Boston College.
Maryland also played Virginia every season – that was the divisional “crossover” game meant to accommodate a regional rivalry. Next season – the last in the ACC – Syracuse will join the division and play the Terps at Byrd Stadium on Nov. 9.
So who will be Maryland’s Big Ten dance partners?
While no new divisional structure has been announced, it makes geographic sense for Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State to be grouped together. Will Maryland be ready for Penn State? Penn State dominated Maryland until the schools' last meeting in 1993.
Assuming Maryland, Penn State and Rutgers end up together, who would join them? While it has not been finalized, ESPN says Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and either Purdue or Indiana would join that group.