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.
Maryland finally got an ACC road victory and has won two in a row. Are the Terps on the right track?
They’re getting better. But will their improvement be rapid and substantial enough for them to make the NCAA tournament field? You could argue that point either way.
I suspect Maryland’s NCAA possibilities will be determined by a string of close games. There just isn’t that much separation among ACC teams. Could Maryland beat Virginia in the next outing? Sure. Could the Terps defeat Duke after that? Yes, when they’re at Comcast Center and provided that Rasheed Sulaimon (or Seth Curry) isn’t converting six 3-pointers, as he did at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Unlike the last several years, Maryland can hold its own with the Blue Devils in the paint, although Mason Plumlee is clearly having a big season. Duke’s defense can pose problems for a Maryland team with no true point guard.
I think the Terps are good enough to defeat the ACC’s best, but also callow enough to lose to a bottom-feeder.
Here’s what they’re going to have to do better — shoot free throws. If you’re playing in taut, low-scoring games, free throws are gold. Maryland shot 10-for-23 (43.5 percent) from the line against Virginia Tech in its 60-55 win Thursday night.
The only Terp who was perfect from the line was center Alex Len, who stepped up and hit two with Maryland leading by a single point and 58 seconds left.
You think the coaches will have the Terps taking a few extra foul shots in practice during the week?
Will Maryland's next two games against Virginia and Duke determine its fate for an NCAA tournament bid?
It’s still a little too early for a must-win label to be attached to any one game, but the Terps have put themselves in a situation where they can’t lose certain matchups, such as the one Thursday night against Virginia Tech and the one coming up Sunday against the Cavaliers at Comcast Center.
Even during the telecast of the 55-50 win over the Hokies, analyst Mike Gminski made the point that it was a game the Terps could ill-afford to lose in order to keep whatever NCAA resume they have put together devoid of what the committee sees as another “bad loss” at this stage of the season.
While the team’s first ACC road win this season – and second overall this season – should help Maryland going forward when it plays other teams in the league’s lower tier on the road this season, the Terps still have to start building their case to be included in the 68 NCAA tournament teams come March.
That’s why next week’s games are crucial.
Like Maryland, Virginia is still a NCAA tournament wannabe. Despite a 6-3 ACC record that includes wins over North Carolina and North Carolina State, the Cavaliers have some bad early-season losses to stain their resume.
That means the Terps (5-5) have to hold serve not to fall any further behind the Cavaliers in the standings, and might have to beat them in the regular season final in Charlottesville to remain in the NCAA tournament conversation.
As for Duke, that’s where Maryland can make its biggest statement to date – and probably its biggest until the ACC tournament next month in Greensboro, N.C.
While the Blue Devils are playing a lot better now than they were going into the first meeting Jan. 26 at Cameron Indoor Stadium – and we all how that turned out – they are still nowhere as good on the road as they are at home.
The Terps will also have the benefit of having what Turgeon calls a “bye” – a break from the rotation mid-week – so that Maryland, as Duke was for the first meeting, is well-rested going into next Saturday’s game. It doesn’t hurt that the Blue Devils will be coming off a game Wednesday against North Carolina.
If the Terps win Sunday at home, the Duke game might not be a season-breaker. Though Maryland finally got over a big psychological hump against the Hokies at Cassell Coliseum, the Terps showed that none of the remaining road games will be easy, so they need to continue to win at home.
How will the Maryland football program change its recruiting philosophy as it enters the Big Ten?
In talking with
for our pre-Signing Day coverage, conversation frequently turned to the Terps’ Big Ten future. Maryland has typically finished in the middle of the pack in the ACC’s recruiting rankings, so I wondered how the Terps would fare in their new conference, and if the staff’s recruiting territory would expand.
If Maryland’s 2013 football class is any indication, the Terps will be just fine on the recruiting trail as they transition to the Big Ten. Going by Rivals.com’s rankings, this Maryland recruiting class (No. 31 nationally) would rank fourth in the Big Ten behind Ohio State (2), Michigan (5) and Nebraska (17). For comparison’s sake, in the ACC the Terps are fifth behind Florida State (9), Clemson (14), Virginia Tech (22) and Virginia (27). So this year, you could basically plug Maryland into any conference not named the SEC and it would be just outside the top tier. Credit this staff for putting together a highly regarded group in the aftermath of two straight losing seasons.
The analysts I spoke to thought Maryland would be well positioned in its transition to the Big Ten based primarily on its geography. This coaching staff has clearly earned the trust of coaches from this area’s top high school programs. Whatever they are selling in D.C. is working, and though Maryland missed on some notable in-state targets, they hit on several others. If the Terps continue to do that, they should be fine. Aside from Ohio and Pennsylvania, Maryland-D.C. might be the most fertile Big Ten recruiting ground.
John Dunn, Maryland’s recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach, said Wednesday that the Terps’ primary recruiting territories won’t change as they enter the Big Ten. Maryland, D.C. and will still be the top priorities, and the Terps will also continue to venture into Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Georgia and Florida.
“Do we need to get out to Ohio, Chicago, those types of areas more? We’ll look at that and do that,” Dunn said. “As far as our footprint and where we recruit every year, that part won’t change.”
Obviously Maryland hasn’t done much in the Midwest lately – the only players in recent years I could think of were Andrew Crummey (Ohio), Travis Baltz (Ohio) and Adrian Cannon (Michigan) – but touting the university’s proximity to the District and two major media markets should work just as well as a selling point to kids from the Great Lakes region as it has in the South and Northeast.
The flip side of Maryland’s new recruiting opportunity is that Midwest schools could feel more emboldened to recruit this area – although Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska and Iowa have all landed players from Maryland in recent years. Either way, Dunn isn’t worried.
“We don’t have anything to do with the other people coming in,” he said. “We’ve got to recruit the guys, we always recruit them, let them see the things and the opportunities that Maryland presents to them. Obviously it opens up different markets in the Midwest, so we’ll explore that a little bit. I can’t control what the other people can do."