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Thoughts on postseason tournaments, 'unlucky' Terps and the Maryland women's chances

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Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and producer-editor Jonas Shaffer weigh in on three topics from the past week in Maryland sports.


What are the prospects for the Maryland women to return to the Final Four?

Jeff Barker:  That is the measuring stick, isn’t it? Despite all of the program’s success in recent years, everybody in College Park seems keenly aware that senior star and career scoring leader Alyssa Thomas has not yet made it to a Final Four. 

The Terps got a pretty favorable draw. Maryland managed to avoid a Sweet Sixteen meeting with either Connecticut or Notre Dame.

The Huskies and Irish are undefeated this season. UConn knocked the Terps out of last season’s tournament, and Notre Dame eliminated them the previous year.

Maryland lost to both teams during the recently completed regular season, although the Terps came within four points of Notre Dame.

I sensed relief on Selection Monday when Maryland learned it wouldn’t face UConn unless both teams make the championship game. It’s not that the Terps wouldn’t try to rise to the challenge that the Huskies present. It’s just that they’d prefer to face their biggest tests late in the tournament.

If they defeat Army in Sunday’s opener in College Park, the fourth-seeded Terps would play Texas, assuming form holds. The fifth-seeded Longhorns are an excellent rebounding team, but so is Maryland.

The Terps’ bracket would then likely pit them against top seed Tennessee in the third round in Louisville, Ky. The Volunteers are good. But they’re not Connecticut.


Should the Maryland men have opted to play in the College Basketball Invitational tournament after being left out of the NIT?

Don Markus:  Given how the Terps finished the regular season, with another close defeat in the ACC tournament to Florida State, Mark Turgeon’s team – and the coach himself – might have not had too much left to play in what most consider a third-level tournament.

Based on Turgeon’s reaction right after the game in Greensboro, I’m not sure the Terps had much left to even make a run in the NIT as they did a year ago.

On top of the emotional exhaustion from all the close losses – as well as beating then No. 5 Virginia in the last ACC game at Comcast – there was also the fact that Maryland might not have been 100 percent healthy going into another tournament.

It’s not clear whether Evan Smotrycz’s back injury, which kept the junior forward out of the game against the Seminoles, would have cleared up in time for him to play in the postseason or whether he would have been risking future recurring problems by playing in a tournament that meant so little.

While Charles Mitchell returned after disclocating a couple of fingers in FSU game, he was having problems catching the ball.

There was also some conjecture by FSU coach Leonard Hamilton of Seth Allen not being 100 percent in the second half because of an injury, and Allen acknowledged that he had bruised his knee in the first half.

Had it been the NCAA tournament, I think all of them would have played – or at least tried to play.

Also don’t discount what a long season it had been for the Terps, who have been going nearly non-stop since last summer’s tour of the Bahamas. The emotional strain of the close games – and what some even outside the program viewed as the ACC’s intent to make Maryland’s last season as difficult as possible – wore on Turgeon and his players.

Though the extra practices and potential for extra games would certainly have been something that would have helped build toward next season, the possibility of an early exit in the NIT can further damage a program’s reputation just as much as not playing at all.

I’m not sure there’s any benefit to playing in a tournament such as the CBI for a program such as Maryland.

There are other programs from major conferences, but not those with the basketball pedigree that the Terps have. Indiana, which was also snubbed by the NIT, decided to put the balls away in Bloomington until next season.

The CBI is good for programs like Siena, where former Loyola coach and Terps assistant Jimmy Patsos is trying to rebuild what was once a pretty good mid-major. The CollegeInsider.com Tournament is good for Towson because its a reward for those who helped Pat Skerry recover from the 1-31 season a couple of years ago.

But not for the Terps.

It was time to stop the bleeding, and there was plenty of it in their last ACC season.

Now that Maryland's season is officially over, what's the best way for fans to regard it?

Jonas Shaffer:  With bemusement. Contempt. Apathy. Any one of those, and any number of others, is fine.

But how about unlucky?

Like, really, really unlucky?

Good teams make their own luck, sure, and it's certainly hard to quantify the severity of what qualifies as misfortune — the end-of-game flubs, Seth Allen's foot injury, the unlikely scoring bonanzas. But one of the sports world's top number crunchers certainly tries.

In college basketball statistician's Ken Pomeroy world of data, there are arcane metrics like adjusted offensive efficiency and Pythagorean winning percentage. Then there's luck, which sounds comparatively simple. It is not.

Luck, as Pomeroy defines it in his ratings glossary, is a "measure of the deviation between a team’s actual winning percentage and what one would expect from its game-by-game efficiencies. ... Essentially, a team involved in a lot of close games should not win (or lose) all of them. Those that do will be viewed as lucky (or unlucky)."

There are 351 teams in Division I basketball. Maryland's the 328th least lucky, according to Pomeroy. That partly explains why Maryland, rated No. 36 in his overall rankings, did not make the postseason. Behind the Terps: Big Dance party-goers Saint Joseph's (No. 48 overall, 24th most lucky) and North Carolina State (No. 52 overall, 42nd most lucky).

You can read into that, or not. Your choice. Maryland was, on paper, a good team, in spite of unlucky bounces or bad coaching or ill-timed injuries or whatever you might want to blame. And yet, for any mix of those very reasons, the Terps were nowhere near good enough.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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