Mid-Season Prediction

If, on October 15th, you had the opportunity to chart out an ideal course for the non-conference portion of the Terps season; you’d be hard pressed to map out a better trip for our Terps.

Two wins over marquee opponents (Michigan and Michigan St.), some gutsy performances (Vasquez’ three against Vermont), holding their own in rebounding dept (almost +2!), and best of all– the Terps have averaged just over 12 turnovers per game.

Sure, those two blowout losses to Gonzaga and Georgetown were unsettling to say the least; but we all knew going into the season that Maryland would be outmatched by certain teams.  Both the Zags and the Hoyas are highly regarded.  Ken Pomeroy even has Georgetown sitting at #1 in his power rankings (Gonzaga is #5).

In terms of the only rankings that matter, the RPI, the Terps are sitting pretty at #19.  Such a lofty ranking at this point in the season, means that the Terps are in great position to finish the season in the Top 30.  As of 12/26 Clemson, Duke,  FSU, Wake, Miami, and UNC were all in the top 30 along with Maryland.

Those rankings are bound to change as the ACC schools start beating each other; but the  fact that the ACC has had such a strong non-conference start to the season means that each loss can’t drop the Terps too far.  As long as the Terps can avoid losing to the conference bottom feeders (BC, VT, GT, UVA, NCST) and hold their own against the aforementioned upper tier; the Terps are a shoe-in for the big dance.

Let’s put some numbers behind it.  The Terps have 7 games against the bottom tier:  two vs. UVA, two vs. GT, and one each vs. BC, VT and NCST.  Of the single games, only NCST is away from Comcast.  If (and I know it is a big “if”) Maryland can win these seven; then they would only need to take two wins from the upper tier to get to 9-7.  With a “revenge” game looming at Clemson, a winnable road game at FSU, and four home games against the top tier (UNC, Duke, Wake, and Miami); the Terps will have the their chances to get those two upper tier wins.

I’m completely biased obviously, but Ken Pomeroy and his predictive algorithm are not.  He has already mapped out the rest of the season for us.  Check it out for yourself.

Ken’s model seems to think that we will hold serve against the bottom tier and get those two wins against the top tier (it predicts the home games against Miami and Wake are the W’s).  That puts the Terps at 21-9 (9-7) and in my opinon a virtual lock for the NCAAs.

As fans and alumni, we should be proud of how the Terps have played so far this year. Vasquez is a 1st team All-ACC performer and there are by my count three Terps who can create their own shot (Milbourne, Bowie, and Vaz).  Interior play will be a challenge all year, but Gary will make sure he is getting the most out of his front line.

I still have concerns (Dave Neal is the only Terp averaging better that 35% from three); but I know that the Terps will not be out-hustled down the stretch.  If they continue to play smart and unselfish basketball; we will be rewarded with what may turn out to be Gary Williams greatest coaching performance to date.

Profiling the Field – Maryland

Editor’s Note: The following article will appear in the March Issue of Roster Magazine. To our regular readers, please don’t accuse me of jinxing the Terps. I had a deadline!
Maryland

17-9 (7-4)

RPI 50

Seed #3-10

Seed Explanation

Yeah, that’s right. I went with an eight seed spread for the Terps Tournament destination. With a total of five games left in the regular season and a potential of three more games in the ACC Tournament (commence anti-jinxing superstition now); the potential for big swings in the seeding is tremendous.

Much to the chagrin of Terp Nation (and my own superstitious nature), I will work under the assumption that the Terps will get the three more wins that every basketball pundit in the known Universe thinks they need to get to the Big Dance. Given what is not actually a given, here’s the Terps Tourney outlook:

  • 3 more wins, 20-11 (10-6 ACC) – 10 seed
  • 4 more wins, 21-10 (11-5 ACC) – 7 seed
  • 5 more wins 22-9 (12-4 ACC) – 6 seed
  • 5 more wins + a loss in the ACC Semis, 23-10 overall – 5 seed
  • 5 more wins + a loss in the ACC Finals, 24-10 overall – 4 seed
  • 5 more wins + winning the ACC Tournament, 25-9 overall – 3 seed

It’s not often that Selection Committee rewards 9 or 10 loss teams with the lofty seedings listed above. The reason the Terps can be seeded so high is that if they win out; Maryland will have tallied 16 wins in their final 19 regular season games. If we extend that to the ACC Tournament, the Terps could potentially head into the dance with 19 wins in the last 22 games. That my friends would make the Terps one of the hottest teams in the country and the committee would reward that accordingly. Now, I will stop talking about “what ifs” and won-loss record projections because I will not be able to dodge the lightning bolt headed my way if I continue.

Key Wins

Home: Illinois, Wake Forest, NC State

Away: UNC, Ga Tech, Boston College

Bad Losses (cringing)

American U, Ohio U, VCU, Missouri

Or, as Terp fans will forever remember: the Lost December.

Prime Time Players

James Gist and Greivis Vasquez are fuel for the Terp engine. At 6’6″ Vasquez is a big guard who runs the point, but he can also get into the paint and has the strength to finish. Greivis provides the emotion that unifies the whole team. As most Terp fans will tell you, they have a love-hate relationship with Sr. Vasquez. Lately, it has been mostly love, but his hotheaded and out-of-control play led to many of those cringe-worthy December defeats. His emergence has keyed the Terps resurgence and he has asserted himself as one of the best players in the ACC. If his path to maturity continues along its current trajectory, Mr. Vasquez will be playing in the NBA in the not-too-distant future. Simply put, the Terps continued success rides on the heady and clutch play of their sophomore guard, Greivis Vasquez.

James Gist is Mr. Steady. At 6’9″. he provides the inside presence and can work for a good shot when the clock is running down. Gist is a sublime athlete with a deft touch. At times, he has been too passive and has let the game come to him, but Terp fans know that he will always be the first option in the half court. What’s more, few players in the nation can finish on the break like Jim Gist. Defensively, he has trouble with smaller players on the wing but his leaping ability often allows him to recover and block the opponents shot.

Prediction

I hate making predictions. I really do. I’m almost always wrong and when it comes to my favorite teams; I always overshoot it. All I’ll say is this: For the last 14 games, the Terps have played like one of the 20 best teams in the country. IF they can maintain this course, IF they continue to take care of the basketball, IF they continue to take high percentage shots; THEN the Terps should find themselves in the Sweet Sixteen. And IF the breaks fall their way, then an Elite Eight is not out of the question.

I’m Getting Nervous

Like most Terp fans these days, I regularly check Joe Lunardi’s “Bracketology” on ESPN as well as the “Bubble Watch” feature. According to both, the Terps seem to be in good shape, but I am becoming increasingly uneasy.

The Terps remaining schedule suddenly is filled with frisky teams. Wake upended Duke last night at home. They get the Terps a week from Thursday. Arriving sooner on the Terps’ docket is a rejuvenated Miami. The Hurricanes won back-to-back road games this week. Suddenly, the Terps are facing two difficult road games and as we all know, there is not much room for error.

Complicating matters is the Terps’ RPI. The Terps have been stuck at #50 for almost 10 days. Currently, there are two teams left on the schedule that have a higher RPI than Maryland (Miami and Clemson). If one throws in the road game at Wake (road wins are weighed heavily), the Terps do have their chances to move up the rankings.

My concern is that Maryland’s future opponents are playing better and have postseason dreams of their own. Can the Terps maintain their post-UNC run? Are the lackluster halves against Duke and Fla St. anomalies or have the Terps peaked?

When it comes to Maryland, I am a pessimist by nature. I won’t be resting easy until I see 10 ACC wins and that plateau seems more difficult. Nothing comes easy in the ACC and I suppose that this is what we should expect. If only we had those blemishes against Ohio, American, and VCU removed.

I’m not looking past Va Tech, but the upcoming road games against Miami and Wake will determine our bubble status. The Terps need to earn at least a split to stay off the bubble. Maryland has the talent but they can’t afford to let their foot off the gas. I know Gary Williams won’t let that happen, but I’m nervous.

Bring On BC

As the 2007-08 season plays out, the importance of each contest builds. The UNC win placed Maryland back in play for the NCAA Tournament. The Duke loss notwithstanding, Maryland has been able to carry that momentum into two big conference wins: UVA and Georgia Tech. Tomorrow, the Terps will get their chance to solidify themselves as the third best team in the ACC.

A win and the Terps have a 5-3 conference record. With a winnable home game this weekend vs. NC State (I’ll be in attendance), the Terps should be able to put a little space between themselves and the middle six teams in the conference.

I can’t stress how important this is. If we are able to finish a solid third in the ACC, the early season losses will be forgotten. It all starts with the trip up to Boston tomorrow night. The Terps must exact their revenge against the Eagles.

The Eagles are young and beatable, but were able to beat Maryland back in December when the Terps were at their worst. What’s more, the Greivis Vasquez ejection (that’s what the technical amounted to) changed the outcome. I expect tomorrow to be different. That’s because the Terps are different team. A better team.

The worst part of all this is that I will likely be on a plane to Omaha, NE (weather permitting) during the game. You can imagine the frustration. I will just have to put my trust in Jim Gist and the boys to do me proud. Maintaining momentum is huge. Let’s get off the bubble! I want to see the Terps with a 6-3 conference record as they head down to Cameron Indoor Stadium next week. It is within their grasp.

Finally, a few housekeeping items. First and foremost, I want to thank all of the loyal Turtle Soup readers who have helped make this site the #1 NCAA site on the MVN in January. Overall, Turtle Soup is the 21st most popular site on the MVN network of blogs. That is better than the majority of NFL and NBA team sites. This is a momumental achievement for a college site and we are not even in the thick of the season yet! I think it is a testament to the passion of Maryland fans throughout the world.

Yes, the world. My trusty Google Analytics tools tell me that Turtle Soup gets readers from across the globe (thank you, whoever you are in Recife, Brazil). Every continent is represented. As we head down the home stretch of the season, I’m looking forward to sharing the moments of what I hope is an exciting and memorable season with all of you.

Finally, when I am out of pocket (whether it be in Omaha tomorrow or Buenos Aires in early March), my good buddy and college pal, Gregg Kanner will make posts in my absence. Gregg has made a post or two in the last month, but as the season ramps up, I expect him to add additional color to all things Maryland. Hopefully, he will serve as a calming influence as compared to hot-blooded Terp fans like myself.

Regardless, enjoy the game tomorrow night. I’ll be checking for updates and will try to weigh in before I head down to College Park for the NC State game this coming weekend.

Go Terps. Kick BC’s ass tomorrow.

Sniffing at Competency

2008 began in the same way that 2007 ended: a blowout win against a cupcake opponent. If this fact was NOT news, we’d all been happier. The four game losing streak that preceded these two wins was unchartered territory for this program.

It sure feels like an eternity since I left for a little winter vacation in sunny Sanibel Island, Florida. In that time, our Terps endured the two most inexplicable losses of my lifetime: Ohio U and American. Am I exaggerating? Look at the history of the last 33 seasons and show me something that compares. At the beginning of the season, the odds of Maryland losing consecutive home games to those two opponents would have been the equivalent of betting on Joe Biden to win the 2008 Presidential election.

Perhaps equally surprising is what has happened in the last two games. Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, the Terps are displaying signs of righting the ship. Has our nightmare ended? Is “normalcy” returning? 25+ point wins are what Maryland teams do to the Savannah States of the world. Have the “bizarro Terps” been put to pasture?

By my measure, the real kernel of hope is what I know about Gary Williams and his teams.

Here’s what I mean. Couldn’t you see the loss to American coming? The quality of the Terp’s performance had steadily declined since the Illinois win. The American loss was the rock bottom moment. Strangely, this is often the place where Gary Williams shines.

Need I remind you of the Florida State loss in 2001? Leaving Cole Fieldhouse to boos and fans yelling “Good Luck in the NIT”; Gary transformed a season on the brink of disaster into, at the time, what was the greatest Maryland season in history.

Are two blowout wins against subpar opponents enough to convince you that this year’s squad has the same potential? Me either. But I am encouraged. What’s more, just like I could feel a loss to American coming; I felt like Maryland was going to perform well these last two games. Maybe it was Greivis’ comment “We stink!” after the American game, but I just felt like something was going to be different this week.

There is no ego left in any of the players. It is all about the team now. At 8-6, it may be too late, but if they can build on these two wins and but together a good start to the ACC (the schedule is favorable!), then it could be possible to salvage the season.

January 5th at Charlotte will be the barometer. Were the last two games the anomaly or the new norm?

More than anthing, I just want the program to be relevant again. When Dickie V finishes his recovery and acceptance speech at the Ironic Illness Awards in February, I want him to be talking about the incredible turnaround in College Park. A dream? Perhaps. But if anyone can make it a reality, it is Gary Williams.

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