I got Billy Packer on the phone this week to ask him about George Mason, four years later, and whether he thought the Patriots deserved a spot in the NCAA tournament. But the longtime college basketball analyst changed the headline when we began talking about the Terps.
“The University of Maryland is, in my estimation, a program that should never be out of the top 25,” Packer said. “Their recruiting base, their tradition, their heritage, their position in the Atlantic Coast Conference. They should have players -- and they really don’t have players -- of the magnitude to be a top 25 team, year in and year out. That would be something Maryland has to do something about. They’ve got to get better players in order to be the kind of team they’re capable of being.”
The Terps have been out of the top 25 quite a bit lately. This would suggest that something is amiss, under Packer’s estimation.
So then I asked him whether Georgetown is also a program that should never be out of the top 25.
“I think Maryland is in a better position to be in the top 25 every year than is Georgetown,” Packer said. “There’s a difference in the university itself, there’s a difference in regard to the recruiting opportunities at Maryland. If a guy’s looking at a coaching job, would he rather have the Georgetown job or the Maryland job? I think he’d rather have the Maryland job....
“There’s so many things that are more advantageous to Maryland than to Georgetown, and quite honestly, it’s harder to be consistently successful in the Big East than it is in the ACC. If you’re a school of that size, there becomes a level of expectation. And at Maryland, I don’t think that level should be too [unreasonable]. They belong consistently as a top 20 or 25 team, and that’s what their fans should expect.”
(Why was I even talking to Billy Packer, you’re wondering? He’s helping lead a campaign to raise prostate cancer awareness, along with Bob Knight, Digger Phelps, Erin Andrews and Len Elmore. “We just want guys to be aware of it,” Packer told me. “Get out and see your doctor and do something about it before it’s too late.” See OnTheLine.com for more information.)
As for George Mason, Packer famously became a part of the storyline four years ago when he questioned whether the Patriots -- with a strong regular season, a CAA tournament semifinal loss and an impressive RPI -- really deserved an at-large bid. Then Mason went to the Final Four. So with the Patriots in a similar situation this season, I asked what he thought.
“You know, I didn’t see them play in the regular season that time, and I haven’t seen them play in the regular season this time,” Packer said. “I’m not an expert in their league, so I just fall back on the statistics. And on both the RPI and the Sagarin, it has their strength of schedule way down the list, and yet it has them ranked pretty high. Everything I’ve read about them, they should be a team in the tournament, and despite that loss in the semis, they should be a team that not too many people want to play in the tournament.”