When the Maryland men’s basketball team made the NCAA tournament earlier this year, it marked the Terps' first appearance since 2010 and their first in Mark Turgeon’s four seasons. Considered among the favorites to win a national championship this season, Maryland will have to get over the hump of not reaching the Sweet 16 since 2003.
So how does a program that seemed to be trending downward as recently as 2013-14 – or have you all forgotten the 17-15 season that ended without any sort of postseason invitation – get included by the Sporting News in its ranking of the top 15 programs since 2000-01? It has mostly to do with the weighted points system the publication used to determine a program’s accomplishments.
A majority of Maryland's points came in the first two years of the century - four for the school’s first Final Four appearance in 2000-01 and eight more for winning its first national championship the following season. As expected, the remainder of the points came mostly during the last half of Gary Williams’ 22-season tenure, including one point for Juan Dixon being named a first-team All-American as a senior by – who else – the Sporting News.
As much as the numbers are skewed toward College Park, a reasonable case can also be made for the Longhorns as well as the country’s two preeminent mid-majors.
In the 15-year span under former coach Rick Barnes, Texas made the NCAA tournament in all but one season (2012-13), reaching the Final Four once (2002-03), the Elite Eight two other times (2005-06 and 2007-08) and the Sweet Sixteen in two other years (2001-02 and 2003-04). Barnes had his share of All-Americans, and had two players selected by the Sporting News as its national player of the year – T.J. Ford in 2002-03 and Kevin Durant, the first freshmen honored, in 2006-07.
Gonzaga has made the NCAA tournament each year since 2000-01 and its current streak of 17 straight appearances is tied for sixth all time. Though coach Mark Few finally got over his own hurdle earlier this year by making the Elite Eight for the first time – losing to eventual national-champion Duke – the Bulldogs had gone to three Sweet 16s, had won all but three first-round games and had averaged more than 27 wins a year.
Butler might not have had the same consistency as Texas or Gonzaga. But the team has nine NCAA tournament appearances since 2000-01, including memorable back-to-back championship game losses in 2010 and 2011 to Duke and Connecticut, respectively, as well as two other Sweet 16 trips in 2002-03 and 2006-07. (Though Sporting News didn’t post the final scores of the schools that came close, it’s hard not to wonder whether Gordon Hayward’s halfcourt banked rim-rattler against Duke might have knocked Maryland out had it gone in.)
Given what’s going on in College Park these days, Maryland should be well up the list if Sporting News does another ranking after 20 seasons. Still, even the most hardcore Terps fan would probably admit that they were a little surprised seeing their favorite school mentioned among college basketball's elite since 2000-01, considering the long drought without a Sweet 16 appearance and the dry spell Maryland endured during the latter stages of Williams’ career and the early portion of Turgeon’s tenure.