Maryland has been a steady member of the upper echelon of college basketball for 15 years. Saturday’s matchup against 17th-ranked Villanova was simply its sixth against a team ranked inside the Top 20 over that time.
The Terrapins rank 31st in RPI, 28th in Ken Pomeroy’s overall rankings and have beaten No. 3 Duke and No. 1 North Carolina along the way. They also lead the Big Ten in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency (9th), scoring margin (4th) and turnover margin (2nd).
But Saturday’s win over No. 5 Duke was a reality check: For the first time this season, Maryland was in a big-time game that wasn’t down to the final possession. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to get to the championship series,” coach Mark Turgeon said afterward. “You don’t get there by winning a couple of close ones.”
The process starts again Saturday against Villanova, which could end up as the top seed in the NCAA Tournament, and continues next week when the Terrapins host No. 12 Michigan State and No. 14 Ohio State. But even the rest of the season could still change a lot, given how cyclical NCAA Tournament success has become over the past few years and the increasing difficulty of scheduling games on the road.
More than likely, however, everything Maryland has been doing lately is trending upward. Saturday’s win over the Blue Devils was Maryland’s second over a ranked opponent this season and the third in the past five. And on Wednesday, the Terrapins will travel to Evanston, Ill., to face Northwestern, a team that has been able to hang with opponents all season, the first team in the country to do so.
On a conference level, Maryland’s victories over Gonzaga and Xavier haven’t been nearly as impressive as Saturday’s win over Duke, but the Zags (No. 6 RPI) and the Musketeers (No. 19 RPI) each have one NCAA Tournament bid on the line this weekend and sit behind the Terrapins.
Still, nothing is guaranteed, and the Terrapins will need to make a lot of improbable comebacks over the next few weeks if they want to become a team everyone should expect to make a deep run in March.
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