College Park — The Maryland men’s basketball team won by 17 points Tuesday night, and it had to be among the most discouraging 17-point wins in Division I basketball this season.
Of course, that’s because the Terps’ opponent in their 76-59 victory doesn’t play at that level. Catholic is a solid Division III program, but still a Division III program. The Cardinals gave Maryland some things to stew over before its next game, a Dec. 21 matchup with Fairleigh Dickinson in College Park.
Here are three quick thoughts about the win over Catholic.
1. Maryland’s win was like a cheat day gone bad. The Terps haven’t had to soldier through a great nonconference schedule this season — in the Big Ten, only Illinois, Iowa, Penn State and Rutgers have a worse strength of schedule, according to KenPom.com — and Catholic was no great test, either.
But coach Mark Turgeon wasn’t unwise to schedule a Division III team. As Maryland enters conference play and NCAA tournament résumés start to come together, the Ratings Percentage Index takes on added importance. One thing about the RPI, though: It doesn’t account for results against non-Division I opponents.
Tuesday’s game, then, made some sense, even if it was fair to look with envy at Michigan’s game at Texas, tipping off just after the Terps’ win went final. Turgeon needed a game to fill a hole in the schedule. It had to be a game that’d cooperate with his team’s academic demands; with final exams starting Wednesday, the team took Sunday off and practiced for just an hour Monday, Turgeon said.
Best-case scenario, the Terps would beat up on an overmatched team and not have to worry about damaging their postseason profile or overburdening their players. It would be a cheat day, Maryland getting away with stuff it normally wouldn’t against a Division I opponent.
Then the game started, and Turgeon didn’t feel so good.
“Guys got to be ready to play,” he said.
2. Guard depth rears its ugly head. Maryland is fortunate to have a walk-on as talented as Reese Mona. The freshman guard earned second-team All-Washington Catholic Athletic Conference honors last season at St. John’s (D.C.) and, according to Turgeon, could’ve played at an Ivy League school.
The Terps also have to hope to avoid the misfortune that led Mona to the court in the first half Tuesday. With junior guard Dion Wiley out and freshman guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) stuck on the bench with six minutes left after his second foul, Turgeon looked down his bench during the final media timeout. Mona was the next man up.
“We were running out of bodies,” Turgeon said.
The Terps closed the first half with a 10-4 run, but Mona’s presence was incidental to the surge. He went 1-for-2 from the foul line, committed two fouls and a turnover and didn’t see the floor again until Turgeon emptied the bench.
3. Terps’ health improving, but Turgeon’s patience isn’t. Like Maryland’s turnover problem, Justin Jackson’s shoulder needs help. The sophomore forward hasn’t practiced “for a while” because of soreness, Turgeon said, and he’s been sidelined since Thursday’s win over Ohio.
But Turgeon added that Jackson could’ve played Tuesday if called upon. Same goes for freshman center Bruno Fernando, who suffered a high-ankle sprain against Ohio. The Terps return to practice Friday, and the two big men are expected to rejoin the team then.
As for Wiley, well, the junior guard’s health was just one more thing Turgeon would’ve preferred not to be bothered by. Problems big and small have pockmarked Wiley’s career. Two years ago, he missed the entire season with a torn right meniscus. Last season, a lingering back injury and a brief illness cost him games. On Tuesday, it was “a cold or something,” Turgeon said, that kept him from dressing.
“It’s always something,” he said with some frustration.