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.
Is Maryland’s 12-1 record simply the result of a soft non-conference schedule? And if the Terps don’t get ranked soon, could it cost them a shot at this year’s NCAA tournament?
Don Markus: Obviously, the Terps have a pretty gaudy record as one of only 19 teams in the country that are either undefeated or have one loss. They have feasted on enough cupcakes to go into sugar shock. But that’s not to say Maryland isn’t a solid team capable of being among the top three or four in the ACC – and possibly higher.
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But I agree with what second-year coach Mark Turgeon said when asked if the Terps should be ranked, and would they be in the top 10 had they beaten Kentucky to start the season. Turgeon said after Maryland overcame a sluggish start to beat IUPUI 81-63 on New Year’s Day that the Terps shouldn’t be ranked and are not – at least not yet – a top 10 team.
Turgeon has said a number of times this season that the schedule was made to help build confidence, and that had he known Dez Wells was going to transfer to Maryland from Xavier after his freshman year and Logan Aronhalt would come to College Park from Albany to finish his college career, that the Terps would have likely played a tougher slate.
My only issue with the schedule was that Maryland should have been playing more local teams – with the hope of drawing more local fans. The Terps played three teams from the Mid-Eastern Athetic Conference, and the only one with any semblence of local ties was UMES. The tougher teams on the schedule – Northwestern in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, George Mason in the BB&T Classic and Stony Brook – were all Ws.
I don’t think Maryland has done much to be ranked nationally, though the Terps are starting to get some votes. They will have a chance if they start off what seems to be a favorable early portion of the ACC with few, if any, stumbles. After they play Virginia Tech Saturday and Florida State Wednesday at Comcast Center, the Terps go to Miami a week from Sunday. All three games are winnable.
Getting ranked, though, could prove problematic unless Maryland keeps winning. North Carolina State might still be ranked by the time the Wolfpack visits in a couple of weeks, and will be coming off a meeting with Duke in Raleigh. North Carolina, which hosts the Terps on Jan. 19, is having trouble beating the likes of East Carolina and UNLV at home.
The interesting thing is that had the Terps upset then No. 3 Kentucky in the season opener – Maryland wound up losing by three after a terrific second-half comeback to the defending national champions – they would have jumped into the Top 25. Despite the freefall of the Wildcats out of the rankings, the Terps would likely be in the Top 15 by now whether they were deserving or not.
I think it’s better for Turgeon to keep his players motivated – a little chip on the shoulder is never a bad thing, as Gary Williams’ teams proved over and over again – but it might wind up costing Maryland over the course of the season if the Terps keep winning and only a couple of ACC teams do likewise. Once the sugar shock from their non-conference dessert buffet wears off, reality could hit Maryland hard come tournament time.
It’s been nearly seven weeks since Maryland signed on with the Big Ten. Will we ever get all the financial details of the agreement?
Jeff Barker: To a large extent, the school and the conference want to keep the details private. I sense that the Big Ten would like each negotiation with a prospective member to occur on its own merits, and that it doesn’t want one school trying to gain leverage in any future talks by asking the conference to match the terms previously given to another school.
But, in talking to multiple sources, I’ve learned a bit more about Maryland’s negotiations. The more I learn, the better the deal sounds financially for the school.
Maryland’s approach in the Big Ten talks was that – while it was clearly interested in the opportunity to join – the school wasn’t desperate to leave the Atlantic Coast Conference. Maryland’s position was that it would have been fine sticking with the ACC. Less prosperous, perhaps, but still fine. The ACC wasn’t crumbling.
That’s important in a negotiation. Because Maryland was willing to walk away, the school wasn’t in a position in which it could be dictated to by the Big Ten.
So what was the school able to extract?
I reported last month that Maryland raised the issue of travel expenses with the Big Ten. The school had done an initial assessment of its future travel requirements and was anticipating increased costs based on sending teams to Big Ten venues.
I believe Maryland also raised the issue of the exit fee -- $52,266,342 -- that the ACC is eager to collect from the school.
What we don’t know is how much Maryland got from the Big Ten in consideration for these significant future expenses.
We know Maryland will get a big boost in annual shared conference revenue from the Big Ten relative to what it currently gets from the ACC. That’s a given.
What I’d like to figure out is precisely what Maryland got on top of that – any extras that transformed this from a good deal into a great deal for the school.
Mark Turgeon and Bino Ranson scouted St. Frances vs. Mount St. Joseph on Wednesday. How did Terps targets Dwayne Morgan and Phil Booth fare with coaches from Maryland, Indiana, UConn, UNLV, Temple and other schools looking on?
Matt Bracken: A packed house at St. Frances this week was treated to an entertaining Baltimore Catholic League game between the No. 1 Panthers and the No. 2 Gaels. Turgeon and Ranson had a front-row view of a 58-57 win for St. Frances that featured plenty of Division I talent. With St. Frances' Tevon Saddler (UNC-Greensboro) and Maurice White (Loyola) and Mount St. Joseph's Kam Williams (Ohio State) already committed, the talent evaluators in the gym were focused on Booth and Morgan.
As a sophomore at City last year, Morgan was often relegated to a supporting role in a guard-dominated offense, with much of his offensive production coming on putbacks. St. Frances has a pair of excellent senior guards in Saddler (19 points) and White (16 points), but Morgan's role has expanded significantly with the Panthers. On Wednesday, Morgan demonstrated an ability to put the ball on the floor and do most of his damage from the perimeter. Most 6-foot-7 players in high school would be encouraged to play with their backs to the basket, but St. Frances coach Nick Myles has allowed Morgan to play his projected college position -- small forward.
Morgan, who scored 13 points against Mount St. Joseph, has 3-point range and hit several mid-range jumpers during Wednesday's game. His wing skills are undeniably impressive. At this point, his five-star ranking is more about upside than actual production. But it makes sense that a first-year Panther -- even one as skilled as Morgan -- would defer to Saddler and White. Morgan plays an integral role in St. Frances' system, and you'd expect a dramatic jump statistically when this is his team next winter.
Booth, meanwhile, struggled with his shot against St. Frances. The Gaels had a 22-4 run in the third quarter fueled by the shooting of Williams and the facilitation of Booth. I saw Mount St. Joseph's home win over St. Frances last year, and thought Booth was a combo guard that was more of a 2 than a 1. After Wednesday, I think it might be the opposite. The 6-foot-2 junior said after the game that he worked hard during the offseason on his point-guard skills, which appeared evident to everyone in attendance. I thought he looked the part of a high-major floor general Wednesday, and I know from last year that he can be a primary scorer if called upon.
From a recruiting perspective, Maryland is in Morgan's top six along with Indiana, Missouri, Seton Hall, South Florida and UNLV. He doesn't have a timeline for a decision, but I get the sense that the Terps are in a decent spot (along with a couple other schools on the list). With the caveat that I'm far from a scout, I think he makes sense for Maryland as an heir apparent to Nick Faust or Jake Layman at the 3. Booth's potential place on Maryland's roster might be a little less clear, thanks to the Terps loading up on guards (Seth Allen, Roddy Peters, Melo Trimble) who can play the 1 or the 2. The Gaels junior said he hasn't narrowed his list of schools, which includes Georgetown, Indiana, Maryland, SMU, Temple, Villanova, Virginia Tech and several others.
No matter what happens with Morgan and Booth, it continues to be clear that Maryland is making local recruiting a priority. In a steamy gym in East Baltimore on a frigid January night, Turgeon and Ranson were front and center for the JV and varsity games between the BCL's biggest rivals. And the hundreds of fans in the stands and around the court couldn't help but notice Maryland's representation.