The further Maryland falls below the .500 mark in Big Ten play, the longer its chances become that anything less than winning the league’s postseason tournament at Madison Square Garden will get them into a fourth straight NCAA tournament.
More significantly perhaps is that it also lessens the chances that the Terps can even secure an invitation to the 32-team National Invitation Tournament, which could boast one of college basketball’s bluebloods as well as this season’s top player.
Mark Turgeon has tried to deflect some of the criticism being heaped on Maryland by saying that the Terps are not the only Power 5 team struggling. He’s right. They’re not even the most disappointing team in the Big Ten.
With a 17-11 overall record and 6-9 in the league going into Saturday’s home game against Rutgers, Maryland needs to win its last three regular-season games just to get to .500 in conference play.
With games against Northwestern (the most underachieving team in the Big Ten, and one of the most disappointing in the country) on the road Monday and Michigan on senior day next Saturday, it’s not going to be easy.
Yet there are several other teams with even higher RPIs than the Terps, a couple in the Big Ten, that are in a similar situation, which means that how Maryland finishes the regular season and how it plays in New York might affect whether Turgeon’s team gets a postseason bid.
With only four Big Ten teams seemingly locks for the NCAA tournament’s field of 68, Maryland could have competition from its own conference for a spot in the NIT, specifically from Nebraska (21-8, 11-4, with a 20-point win over then-No. 23 Michigan) and Penn State (15-12, 8-7, with a road victory over then-No. 13 Ohio State).
Here’s a look at some of the other Power 5 teams that are in as precarious a situation as the Terps:
Notre Dame (15-11, 5-8 Atlantic Coast Conference): The Fighting Irish started the season ranked No. 14 and got as high as fifth after winning their first six games before losing National Player of the Year candidate Bonzie Colson and point guard Matt Farrell with injuries.
Colson is still out with a broken foot suffered in late December and Farrell has returned after missing five games with an ankle injury., including three during Notre Dame’s seven-game losing streak.
Going into Saturday’s game at Boston College, the Irish might get a little sympathy from the NCAA tournament committee if they can finish the regular season strong, especially if they can beat No. 1 Virginia in Charlottesville on March 3.
Oklahoma (16-9, 6-7 Big 12): As much as the selection committee wants to include Player of the Year favorite Trae Young in its March Madness stage, neither the electrifying freshman point guard nor the Sooners are doing themselves any favors to make that happen.
Oklahoma, which faces Texas on Saturday, has lost four straight and five of six since beating then-No. 5 Kansas on Jan. 23. The No. 23 (and soon to be unranked) Sooners have six wins against Top 25 opponents and reached No. 4 in the country last month but that might not be enough it they continue to slide.
Young, who scored 43 points on 22 shots in a win over Oregon early in the season and recently needed just 20 shots to score 44 against Baylor, appears to be tiring out with all the double teams he has faced. Young has hit just 28 of 79 shots in the past four games, including one of 17 3-pointers in the past two.
Kentucky (17-9, 6-7 Southeastern Conference): Even with all the heat Turgeon seems to be taking this season in College Park, multiply that by at least 10,000 in Lexington.
The headline on a ESPN.com story posted Thursday said it all: “Is this John Calipari’s most disappointing team ever?” Kentucky, which hosts Alabama on Saturday, has lost four straight games for the first time since Calipari’s first season in 2009-10.
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman pointed out that the only other Kentucky team that failed to make the NCAA tournament under Calipari was in 2013, when the Wildcats lost to Robert Morris in the NIT and had the excuse of Nerlens Noel’s season-ending injury.
Just as Duke has struggled lately with its own collection of one-and-dones, with three losses in its past six games, the Wildcats have been the biggest disappointment in the country, with a 1-4 record against Top 25 teams.
Texas Christian (17-9, 5-8 Big 12): When the Terps lost to St. Bonaventure in the opening round of the Emerald Coast Classic on Thanksgiving weekend, it appeared as if Maryland also lost a chance at getting a quality win in the finals over TCU.
But after beating the Bonnies en route to a 12-0 start and a No. 10 national ranking, the Horned Frogs never got on track once conference play began in the Big 12. (Speaking of St. Bonaventure, ESPN had the Bonnies among the first four teams out on Thursday, before their upset Friday of No. 16 Rhode Island.)
Starting with blowing a 13-point halftime lead at home to then-No. 12 Oklahoma, with Young finishing off a 39-point performance with a pair of free throws in the closing seconds, TCU lost four of its first five in the league.
TCU, which hosts Oklahoma State on Saturday, is most likely in the same situation as the Terps, needing to finish the regular season strong and possibly having to win the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City to avoid a second straight NIT, where it would be defending champs.