Forget the December losses to Boston University and Oregon State, because for the purposes of this discussion those don’t matter. In 2012-13, Maryland had an atrocious strength of schedule, including a nonconference slate that ranked 345th and bogged down the bubble talk pretty early. Coach Mark Turgeon and his staff wanted to fix that and, regardless of how the Terps performed in November and December this season, they at least got that part right.
Maryland’s overall strength of schedule ranks 39th this season, up 70 places from last season, and its nonconference SOS has essentially jumped 200 places. If the Terps are held out of the NCAA tournament, which seems like a likely proposition right now, it will be because of how they performed against those nonconference teams, not because of how they scheduled them.
The Beavers have played well enough to leap into the RPI top 100, so that loss isn’t nearly as bad as it looked in November. The same goes for the Terriers, who are 101st according to RealTimeRPI, a tick better an expected. Providence has become a top 50 RPI win for the Terps, and six of their remaining nine games are against top 50 teams.
“I see an unbelievable opportunity for us to come upon four great wins,” point guard Seth Allen said Monday, ahead of Tuesday night’s game against North Carolina. “A North Carolina team that hasn’t been so good as they have been in the past, we should be able to get a win on the road. We’re going to take this opportunity to try to take it. We’re just going to try to take advantage and capitalize. If we take these four, we’ll be 9-4 in the ACC and that’d be a great start for us.”
A little presumptuous, perhaps, but at least the Terps did the necessary preseason work by scheduling strong.
“Next year, we’re going to hopefully have a mix,” Turgeon said on this week’s ACC coaches’ teleconference. “We feel like we were going to have a good team so we were going to play good teams. You always want to challenge your team. I think that’s really what’s important. But not only challenge them but be prepared, be fresh going into your league. This year I guess with the injury [to Allen] and schedule it was a little too tough for us without our starting point guard.”
>> Nick Faust had a brief stretch of sloppiness against Miami and Pittsburgh, committing three turnovers in each game, but he returned to his newfound restrained form at Virginia Tech, scoring 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting and committing zero turnovers. Faust earned the spot start in Blacksburg because guard Dez Wells arrived late to a team breakfast, but expect him to return to the bench, where he has thrived since moving there in mid-December.
“Nick’s playing perfectly fine,” Turgeon said. “Three assists, no turnovers the other day. Shot selection’s been very good, getting us on the break, getting us in our offense. That’s what’s big. Guys aren’t breaking off stuff to shoot shots. So now we know where the shots are coming from. Our defensive balance is better, our rebounding’s better.
“I think Nick’s playing well right now. Is he playing as well as he can play? Probably not, but mentally he’s playing better and for our team he’s playing better. I think the best is yet to come with Nick. He’s really starting to figure it out. He looks like a basketball player now. He really does. He’s going to take on a challenge defensively Saturday and he’ll have some big challenges as we go forward. I like the way he’s playing.”
>> Since an atrocious 1-of-7 outing against Notre Dame several weeks back, Evan Smotrycz has hit a stride. He’s averaging 11 points per game over the past four, right about what Maryland needs from him, and he’s shooting 66.7 percent on three-pointers during that span. In fact, he now leads the Terps in three-point rate, hovering right around the 40 percent mark for the season.
On defense, Smotrycz still has his moments where his lack of speed holds him back, but he’s made a noticeable improvement on ball-screen defense.
“I’m trying to improve every game offensively and defensively,” he said. “Coach really stresses, [assistant Scott] Spinelli especially in practice, me staying low on ball screens, sliding out. I think all of our bigs have been getting better at ball-screen defense and that’s been huge for us. Offensively I’m just trying to pick and choose my spots, and if I’m shooting, that it’s the best shot for the team.”
>> Today’s print advance looked at Turgeon becoming a bit of a “jerk” with his players, something he said is “part of coaching.” Allen seemed surprised that the Terps have responded as well as they have. Last season, he said, they might have folded under the criticism and sulked.
Smotrycz, on the other hand, shrugged it off. He couldn’t even remember when Turgeon was coaching like that.
“At this point in my career, I’ve heard just about everything a coach could say or been a part of any tactic they could use to get a team going,” Smotrycz said. “Sometimes a coach, they don’t have to be your friend. They want to win games and we want to win games, too. We know that all our coaches love us and everything they do is for our betterment. I think if guys can not take whatever everyone says to heart and just use it, we’ll continue to trend the way we’re going in conference play.”