“This is a huge year for us to improve on what we did last year,” Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon said in October, when optimism was greater, the expectations higher and fewer fans were questioning the program’s future. “And we should. I think we’re ready to make that step. We’re excited about that. It’s a big year for us.”
Six games into their final ACC schedule, the Terrapins are 11-8 overall and 3-3 in conference play. On Monday night, the Terrapins watched an 11-point lead evaporate against T.J. Warren-less North Carolina State and wound up with another dose of frustration in a season already replete with the stuff.
They have been up (the Paradise Jam title comes to mind) and down (think home defeats to Oregon State and Boston University and the consecutive 20-point losses to Florida State and Pittsburgh) and everywhere in between. Now, with a rematch against the No. 20 Panthers looming this Saturday, Maryland’s NCAA tournament at-large hopes are entirely unrealistic at this juncture. A repeat bid to the NIT seems more likely, and the Terps have work to do just to reach that. They are 3-8 against the RPI top 100, with two home losses to teams ranked lower than No. 75.
With five nonconference losses, recent history is also not on Maryland’s side. Since the NCAA field expanded to 68 teams for the 2011 tournament, only six teams have received an at-large bid with five nonconference losses (out of 108 at-large bids handed out over that span). Of course, the Terps could still shock everyone by rolling through the remaining two-thirds of their conference schedule or, in an even bigger upset, win the ACC tournament and earn the automatic bid.
But only one team with a worse RPI ranking – Maryland sits at 72nd according to RealTimeRPI.com, from which all RPI calculations here were culled – has received an at-large berth: New Mexico (74th in 1999).
But what the heck, history is fun. Here are the six teams to earn at-large berths with five nonconference losses over the past three NCAA tournaments. Maryland’s current resume does not compare favorably to most of them.
2011 NCAA TOURNAMENT
Xavier: 8-5 nonconference record, No. 6 seed
The Musketeers had a good RPI ranking (22nd) and only one sub-100 RPI nonconference loss (at No. 111 Miami of Ohio). They also had four wins against the RPI top 50, including road wins at Richmond (41) and Georgia (47), and only one other truly horrendous loss, at No. 225 Charlotte, during Atlantic 10 play. Not much to see here. Xavier deserved to be in.
Tennessee: 10-5, No. 9 seed
The Volunteers went 8-7 against the RPI top 50 and had an RPI of 33, sweeping their home-and-home with Vanderbilt (27) and beating Pittsburgh (10) during nonconference play. Their only bad losses were at Charlotte (225), at Arkansas (128) and at home to Mississippi State (119). While the Terps have avoided slipping so far against sub-100 teams, losing to Oregon State (91) and Boston University (94) aren’t great looks. And the Terriers lost to American on Wednesday night. By 30 points.
Southern California: 8-5, No. 11 seed in play-in game
The Trojans squeaked into the play-in round with an RPI of 67 but had beaten both Texas (11) and Arizona (19) at home and Washington (32) and Tennessee (33) on the road. The Terps, on the other hand, have one true road victory this season – at measly Boston College (No. 113 in the RPI).
2012 NCAA TOURNAMENT
Notre Dame: 8-5, No. 7 seed
The Terps actually beat the Fighting Irish in the BB&T Classic that season to hand them an early nonconference loss. Notre Dame wound up just 6-4 against the RPI 101-200, but beat Louisville (14) on the road and Syracuse (1) and Marquette (8) at home and finished the regular season 16-1 in South Bend.
Xavier: 9-5, No. 10 seed
The Musketeers, with current Maryland guard Dez Wells as a freshman, did it again. All of their regular season losses, save an embarrassment at Hawaii (204), came against RPI top 100 teams and they managed good wins at Vanderbilt (17) and against Saint Louis (27) on a neutral floor. Maryland, for comparison, has only beaten Providence (47) and Northern Iowa (71) in the RPI top 75 this season. That won’t cut it.
South Florida: 7-6, No. 12 seed in play-in game
The only team with six nonconference losses to receive an at-large bid since the latest expansion, the Bulls might offer the best hope for Terps fans. Of course, comparing year to year is a dubious proposition given how relative NCAA tournament bids are, but here’s how South Florida made it:
The Bulls scheduled hard (2-10 vs. the top 50), beat Louisville (14) during Big East play on the road and finished with an RPI of 52, enough to earn a bid despite nonconference losses at Penn State (160), to Old Dominion (103) on a neutral floor and at Auburn (145).
Remember, the RPI formula has a weighted penalty for home losses and, out of the above-mentioned six teams, only Southern California in 2010-11 suffered more than one sub-75 nonconference loss at home.
2013 NCAA TOURNAMENT
Several teams earned at-large bids with four nonconference losses, but none had five or more.
The 2012-13 team that might best compare to Maryland’s current situation is Alabama, which the Terrapins beat on the road to reach the NIT semifinals last season. The Crimson Tide had five nonconference losses, three at home to mediocre teams in Dayton (RPI 114), Mercer (137) and Tulane (178). It also lost to Auburn (244) on the road during SEC play and was 0-6 against the RPI top 50 but 8-2 against teams ranked 51-100.