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Maryland Running Out Of Time To Raise NCAA Tournament Profile

The Terps missed a golden opportunity on Sunday against Michigan State

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

I wrote a few weeks ago that this stretch of games could be the one that defines Maryland’s season. How is it going so far?

The Terps are 1-4 over their last five with three losses coming by less than seven points. The latest was a 74-68 loss to no. 6 Michigan State on Sunday. The Terps gave up 50 second-half points and blew a thirteen-point lead. Maryland now sits at 15-8 overall and 4-6 in conference. It could get worse too as the Terrapins visit no. 3 Purdue on Wednesday.

So, what now? What can the Terrapins do to get back on track? First, let’s take stock of where they are. According to BracketMatrix, Maryland is in the “Next Four Out” section and on only 15 of the 91 brackets compiled by the site. The Terps sit at no. 41 in KenPom, no. 37 on Sagarin and no. 59 on RealTimeRPI. Maryland only has two top 100 RPI victories (Butler and Minnesota) in seven tries, and its non-conference RPI ranking is no. 203. As the predictions show, this is clearly not an NCAA Tournament team and there is an even bigger problem that is outside Maryland’s control.

There’s not much Maryland can do to make it better.

The reason the last five games were so vital to Maryland’s season is that it was the only opportunity to collect quality wins. Four of the six opponents in Maryland’s stretch had RPI’s in the top 40. In Maryland’s final eight games, the Terps get two shots at opponents with a top 40 RPI (at Purdue and vs. Michigan). If you take a look at a resume of a bubble team like last year’s Providence team, that team collected six top 50 RPI victories and had a non-conference SOS 40 spots higher than Maryland. The weakness of the Big Ten is really hurting teams near the bubble.

Another troubling factor is Maryland’s ineptitude on the road. It has been brutal this season away from College Park. The Terps have one road win all season - an overtime victory over Illinois. Losses to Syracuse, Michigan, and Indiana have been especially gut wrenching and an impediment to Maryland getting in the Big Dance.

So what are the paths to get Maryland in? Here’s my best attempt to think through some hypotheticals.

Path A: Maryland goes on a prolonged winning streak over its final eight conference games. There will still be questions about their resume, but a 22-9 (11-7) Maryland team with a victory over Purdue and/or Michigan is right there in the discussion. Given Maryland’s inconsistency and struggles on the road, this does not seem likely.

Path B: Maryland ends up at 21-10 (10-8) with a victory over Michigan and grabs the six seed in the Big Ten Tournament (Michigan and Nebraska are the 4 and 5). Check out this fun conference predictor to work through various scenarios. The Terps rip through the Big Ten Tournament with additional victories against Ohio State and Michigan State and fall to Purdue in a close championship game loss. This would put Maryland at 24-11 with five top 50 RPI victories. This would probably be enough to get Maryland in. This scenario almost seems more far-fetched than path A.

And that’s about it with realistic scenarios.

The most likely scenario? Maryland drops games to Purdue, Michigan, Nebraska and a random road game to end up at 19-12 (8-10) in the conference. In the Big Ten Tournament, they win their first game, but lose to a top three seed on Friday and take their 20-13 record to the NIT to build on next year. With solid returners and a top 20 recruiting class, it could be a great year in 2018-’19. Mark Turgeon will need it to be.

There were chances for Maryland to be in a different place at this point of the season. However, as the last five games have revealed, Maryland’s season continues to be one of “what could have been?” and “not quite”. It will take a major flipping of the script for this narrative to change.