Maryland-Georgia Tech: Terps enter heart of ACC schedule with no margin for error

Nick Wass/AP - Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon points during the second half of a home loss to Boston University on Dec. 21.

Beginning with the moment Coach Mark Turgeon scrawled “1-0” on the locker room whiteboard just before Christmas break, Maryland’s basketball players have insisted on treating the upcoming stretch like a new season, erasing from their minds the disappointment that preceded it.

But with Georgia Tech (9-4, 0-0 ACC) coming to College Park on Saturday afternoon, officially signaling the end of nonconference play with 17 ACC games remaining, a reassessment of expectations can take place. The NCAA tournament selection committee still will include November and December in its final judgment of the Terrapins (9-5, 1-0), and those two months again could keep them from their ultimate goal.

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“It’s been overwhelming enough as it is, the start of the season and the schedule we’ve played and all that,” Turgeon said. “But our guys know. We’re not where we wanted to be. That’s obvious. But I like where we are — and where we’re heading, I should say.”

Maryland’s résumé is unimpressive at best and damaging at worst. Because the Rating Percentage Index (RPI) formula weighs its penalization of losses — 1.4 losses for every home defeat, 0.6 for road games and 1.0 for neutral sites — depending on how Oregon State and Boston University finish in the Pac-12 and Patriot League, respectively, those home calamities could be daggers come March. According to Jerry Palm of CBS Sports, Maryland’s RPI ranks 88th nationally out of 349.

Were the Terps 11-3 at this stage, with their only losses to a top-five team in Ohio State and at-large contenders George Washington and Connecticut — both on neutral floors by a combined three points — they would be in fine shape if they had only a few hiccups during the nonconference slate.

But Maryland’s three best wins are against Northern Iowa on a neutral floor, a Providence team currently down three big pieces that could slide even further during Big East play and MEAC favorite North Carolina Central. Beating Florida Atlantic (RPI 303), Morgan State (262), Marist (269) and Tulsa (162) isn’t going to help, so simply put, the Terps have allowed themselves little margin for error.

“We can’t go 9-9” in the ACC, Turgeon said. “I think that’s pretty obvious. That’s probably not going to get you in. We’ve got work to do.”

This time last season, the Terps were riding a 13-game winning streak after they abused Virginia Tech in their conference opener before sputtering and dooming their NCAA tournament chances by February. This year, they get two strong road games off the jump, visiting Pittsburgh and Florida State.

“There’s obviously a lot of good teams, a lot of chances to get some big wins and build our resume a little bit,” forward Evan Smotrycz said. “We have a couple bad losses but plenty of chances to bring our RPI up.”

In fact, matters could have been worse. The Terps wisely scheduled Abilene Christian, a cupcake team that, by virtue of transitioning to Division I, does not count against their end-of-season RPI. Had the Wildcats counted, Maryland’s RPI would sink from 88 to 114.

Point guard Seth Allen’s preseason injury might help create a favorable juxtaposition, but it only goes so far. With or without the sophomore, allowing 90 points to Oregon State (RPI 138) and 83 to Boston University (RPI 121), both at Comcast Center, are smudges Maryland will need some high-powered cleaning solution to scrub away.

With a swan-song ACC schedule featuring road-only games against Duke and North Carolina, not to mention just one game against No. 2 Syracuse, the door is only cracked so much. But just like the Terps can ill-afford another harmful loss, they can’t quite bring themselves to think about it either.

“It’s coming,” Allen said. “It’s coming. And we’re getting better at the right time. It’s a good time.”

 
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