The Maryland men’s basketball team will take on Michigan State on Saturday night in East Lansing in a nationally televised game. Earlier in the day, ESPN’s “College GameDay” will be held at the Breslin Center, featuring Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, LaPhonso Ellis and Seth Greenberg.
Bilas has been high on the Terps, who sit atop the Big Ten standings. In the latest volume of “The Bilas Index,” the analyst’s comprehensive evaluation of the top 68 teams in college basketball, he listed Maryland in “Tier 1: National title favorites.” In his breakdown of the Terps, Bilas wrote, “The metrics tell you what Maryland has done but not what Maryland is capable of, and the Terps are capable of far better.”
Bilas spoke with The Baltimore Sun about the coaching job Mark Turgeon has done, Maryland’s chances of making a deep run in the NCAA tournament, and the state of college basketball. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Every college hoops season, the talk around College Park is about Mark Turgeon and whether he can lead the Terps deep into the NCAA tournament. How would you assess his nine seasons in College Park and specifically, with this year’s team so far?
Well, this year’s team is obviously very good and they are capable of winning the whole thing. It’s a very talented team. They play hard and they’re very well coached. It’s got interior strength and a very good guard. So, they’ve got a very good opportunity.
In the latest volume of “The Bilas Index,” you wrote that Maryland is “capable of far better.” What do the Terps have to do over the next couple of games and weeks to reach their full potential?
I think they need to shoot it better. That’s really been the one area where they haven’t performed up to the level of their capabilities. I think they’re more capable shooters than their percentages indicate. It’s like oftentimes you have really good hitters that aren’t hitting as well in a given period. But given that they haven’t shot the ball to their capabilities, they’re still 20-4. So they’re clearly finding other ways to win.
It seems like Turgeon is really set on going six deep [in the team’s rotation] and they’re relying heavily on Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith. Do you think this is sustainable going forward?
Yeah, it’s sustainable. ... I don’t have any concern about that at all, no.
Along with Jalen Smith, another player who entered the season with NBA buzz was Aaron Wiggins. What have you seen from their games and how do you think their skills will translate to the next level?
Both of them are capable of playing at the next level. They’re very talented. Jalen can play inside and out, he can knock down the 3. So he can play pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop. He’s a very good rebounder, a good offensive rebounder and he can run. So he can block shots. He’s got a ton of talent.
Wiggins is very talented, as well. He’s a little bit further away. He’s primarily a 3-point shooter. But he is a good rebounder for a guard. He could shoot a much better percentage. I think he’s a much better shooter than he’s showing right now, but that’s part of his maturity as a player.
We’ve seen through the college basketball season, there’s no clear-cut No. 1, no dominant team. Do you think that’ll carry over into the NCAA tournament with seeing more upsets than usual?
Well, there is a clear-cut No. 1 and that’s Baylor. They’ve held it for quite some time. But No. 1 and best team are two different things. I don’t know what the tournament is going to hold. We don’t have any super-dominant teams as we’ve had in certain years in the past. Each year takes on a narrative and this year’s narrative seems to be, “Anybody can win,” which I don’t believe. Anybody can certainly lose, but not anybody can win. You have basically the same teams, even though you have a couple of different teams with Dayton, San Diego State, up near the top. But other than that, you have the same teams, same conferences that are dominating.
It’s just a function of we have a year in which some of the blue bloods, like North Carolina and UCLA and Indiana, are not as strong. Texas, not as strong. But overall, I don’t see much difference in the records that have been put forth by the top teams in the polls.
There’s no dominant team or Zion Williamson in college basketball player this year. Do you think college basketball is better, worse, or does it not matter?
You have certain years in which the players are better than other years, just like the No. 1 pick in the draft is not of the same quality every year. First-team All-American and Player of the Year, they’re not the same every year. One year, first-team All-America is a Hall of Fame, NBA All-Stars. Another year, it’s just really good players. It varies from year to year.
You mentioned Zion Williamson, but we’ve had Trae Young before, Kevin Durant. We’ve had years in which there have been dominant players and dominant teams. We don’t seem to have that this year, but we’ve got excellent players and very good teams. Some of the best players are playing for teams that are under the radar.
Dayton has lost two games this year, and unless you’ve paid close attention, you don’t know how good Obi Toppin is. If Obi Toppin played at Duke, he’d be hyped like Zion. He’s not as good as Zion, but he’s not that far off. He’s very, very talented.
How do you think college basketball will adjust to the likelihood of changing eligibility rules that will allow high school players to skip college for the NBA?
If you take out so many of the best players, it won’t be as good. There’s just no arguing that it would be. You can’t take Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant, Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, you name it, you can’t take them all out of the game and say the game’s going to be better. It’s not. And people seem to forget how screwed up college basketball was before the one-and-done rule came in.
This is just administrators that, frankly, haven’t been doing their jobs trying to blame all their problems on one-and-done. One-and-done is not and has not been a problem for college basketball. It’s been a benefit. The problem has been how poorly run college sports is, and that’s why they’re sitting in front of senators and congresspeople begging for help, because they clearly don’t know what they’re doing.