Baltimore Sun reporters Don Markus and Jeff Barker and producer-editor Jonas Shaffer weigh in on three of the biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.
Given the way the Terps have played this season, would you be more surprised if they won the Paradise Jam or if they didn’t?
Don Markus: Considering the way the draw was set up, with Maryland in one bracket and the three other major schools — Providence (Big East), Vanderbilt (SEC) and La Salle (Atlantic 10) — in the other, the Terps should have had no problems reaching the final.
But that was before Maryland lost to Oregon State on Sunday, after looking below average for the first 25 minutes against Abilene Christian in the home opener last week and having its issues in a season-opening, one-point defeat to Connecticut.
While I would be very surprised if Maryland lost Friday’s opener against Marist — a team that has dropped its first four games by an average of 27.2 points and was blown out by 45 against Providence — a second-round matchup against either Loyola Marymount or Northern Iowa could be problematic if Mark Turgeon’s team doesn’t start playing better defense.
Loyola Marymount doesn’t score the way it did two decades ago when Paul Westhead was the coach and the late Hank Gathers was its star, but the Lions have four players in double figures, decent size and a nice blend of youth and experience. They are 4-0 under 72-year-old coach Max Good, who back in the early '90s sent Johnny Rhodes from Maine Central Institute to College Park.
Northern Iowa will forever be remembered by college basketball fans as the team that knocked off No. 1 seed Kansas in the second round of the 2010 NCAA tournament on Ali Farokhmanesh’s 3-point shot with 30 seconds to go. The Panthers would have been the team Maryland faced had Michigan State’s Korie Lucious not handed the Terps their own buzzer beater. Northern Iowa is 1-2 this season after losing last Saturday at George Mason.
Nobody is confusing either Loyola Marymount or Northern Iowa for its famous predecessor, but the hype surrounding this year’s Terps going into the season two weeks ago for their trip to Brooklyn to play Connecticut at the Barclays Center has faded, too. There is legitimate concern surrounding Marylan after its eflating efeat to Oregon State. (I refuse to use a 'D' for that sentence until the Terps start playing some.)
The hard part is that if the Terps win the Paradise Jam, it will barely register on college basketball’s radar because of the lackluster competition. If Maryland stumbles again, there will be major concerns about whether Turgeon’s first two recruiting classes are living up to their high ranking. It’s almost a no-win situation for Turgeon and his Terps.
Not that Turgeon pays attention to this kind of stuff. Truth is, Maryland’s NCAA tournament chances will again come down to how it plays in the ACC. The Terps have more than a month to figure out whether freshman Roddy Peters will be their permanent point guard, whether sophomore center Shaquille Cleare is a major college contributor, and whether Dez Wells and Jake Layman can make Maryland competitive once the conference season starts.
I guess I will now answer the question first posed. I won’t be surprised if the Terps win the Paradise Jam, just as they beat the local competition in the Bahamas this summer. But having watched Maryland fall behind by 11 points to Abilene Christian, and having let a two-man Oregon State team score at will at Comcast Center Sunday, it would also not surprise me if they didn’t win the tournament.
How’s that for waffling?
What are Maryland’s best — and most realistic — bowl-game prospects?
Jeff Barker: In an ideal scenario, Maryland and its fans would all head to a distant, warm-weather setting. The players would get some time to lounge in a hotel pool. The boosters would sip mojitos and dream about the Big Ten Conference.
But that’s probably not happening this season. Given all of the injuries — don’t you miss seeing playmaking receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long? — becoming bowl-eligible was, by itself, an accomplishment.
Remember that this is a team that won two games in 2011 and four last season. Realistically, the hopes for an upper-echelon bowl game (Orange, Chick-fil-A, Russell Athletic) disappeared sometime during the three-game losing streak that ended last Saturday at Virginia Tech.
If you do the math, the most likely outcome for the Terps is a spot in the Military Bowl in Annapolis. That’s especially true if Maryland splits its last two games and finishes with a 3-5 conference record.
Remember that only conference play counts in determining bowl scenarios. The ACC has a bowl pecking order that begins with the Orange Bowl and ends with the Military Bowl.
Bowls aren’t required to pick in the exact order of finish. For example, the bowl with the fifth pick doesn’t have to select the team with the fifth-best conference record. But bowls don’t have much leeway to cherry-pick. They must choose a team within one win of the school that would naturally fall to them.
Would the Military Bowl feel exotic? No, but it would like to have the Terps. And it’s practical if Maryland wants its fans to be able to attend the game. The Terps will have more bowl options, of course, if they win their last two games. I know that some fans have been eyeing the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn. That’s the sixth bowl in the pecking order. The Military Bowl is the eighth.
The bowl system is not exactly a meritocracy. The best teams don’t always get selected first. Bowls want schools with proven records of sending lots of fans on the road. Maryland has been out of the bowl picture of late.
Maryland is not guaranteed a bowl game, by the way. The ACC is going to have more bowl-eligible teams than slots. But there's always the possibility that some conference teams claim at-large spots in bowl games with openings.
How did the recruitment of safety Josh Woods (McDonogh) come about?
Jonas Shaffer: A month ago, it's probably fair to say, few outside Gossett Team House knew who Josh Woods was. He was a late bloomer. His name was not yet made. Randy Edsall might not have even known where to send an official offer.
But assistant coach Keith Dudzinski saw Woods play in McDonogh's 23-12 win over Archbishop Spalding earlier this month. And this is, in part, what he saw:
Woods had an offer soon after. Virginia offered, too, but the 6-foot-3, 180-pounder was bound for College Park.
According to Eagles coach Dom Damico, Woods had 35 catches for 800 yards and 10 touchdowns, plus four interceptions this fall. He projects on the defensive side of the ball, even though the ESPN Insider evaluation of Woods says that while "he may be a candidate on defense, he does not appear as naturally gifted as he does on offense. Would have to be a safety. He has ball skills and is a natural playmaker when the ball is in the air. ... Overall is a versatile athlete that gives coaches options."
Woods is considered a three-star prospect. You can see more of his senior-year highlights here.