Night Line: More ACC Road Woes For Maryland: Are the Terps Down and Out?Posted by BHayes on February 28th, 2013
Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
The chaotic final weeks before the NCAA Tournament have everyone clamoring for clarity, and as simple and as fun as it would be to announce that yes, you did hear a giant “POP” coming from Atlanta this evening, the reality is that Maryland’s at-large hopes haven’t completely vanished. Yet. With games growing few and their ACC record worsening, a 78-68 loss to Georgia Tech tonight has slid the Terps one step closer to the bubble chopping block. Three regular season games remain for Mark Turgeon’s bunch, with two road dates involved (at Wake Forest and Virginia) and a home finale against North Carolina. If Maryland wants to hear its name called on Selection Sunday, they would be well served to snag all three — no easy feat, but when you consider that accomplishing it would triple Maryland’s ACC road win total, a hard road starts to feel nearly impossible.
February 7, Blacksburg, Virginia – Maryland won a game on a basketball court not inside the Comcast Center, an accomplishment that had not occurred since November, and has not happened since. A difficult fact to process considering the Terps were likely on the right side of the bubble after the seismic Duke victory on February 16, but it’s hard to make a case for your NCAA Tournament inclusion when you can’t win more than a single road game.
Give Georgia Tech credit tonight, as the Jackets made a lot of plays they don’t normally make. Brian Gregory said it was the best 40 minutes his team has played all season, and Turgeon was effusive with praise for the home team. “Tech was good tonight, they were really good” he admitted, but he couldn’t quite seem to put his finger on what ailed his team — both tonight and on the road all season. Sure, there were criticisms – poor point guard play, a lack of toughness in the paint, too much 1-on-1 offensively – but you could tell that even Turgeon felt at a loss for answers. “I did think we tried hard,” he concluded, but with a resignation in his voice that suggested a full awareness that effort alone will not get his team to the Dance.
As Turgeon touched upon, it’s difficult to really isolate one area of the game as a consistent issue for the Terps. Georgia Tech shot 51% from the floor tonight (Gregory called his team’s 78 points “a minor miracle”), but field goal defense has rarely been an issue this season for the seventh-ranked team nationally in defensive effective FG%. Really, the easiest knock against the Terps may also be an acknowledgment of a defined strength. Alex Len’s massive upside notwithstanding, Maryland lacks a true go-to guy. Part of this is that the minutes are generously spread around within the 10-man rotation, but does Maryland really have a leader? Len has been good and at times great, but the sophomore is neither a go-to scorer nor a veteran leader. Dez Wells would feel like another candidate for a leadership role, but let’s not forget that the Xavier transfer has spent only a few months in red and black. The Terps are terribly young, with eight underclassmen in the rotation, and the only thing worse than a young team is a young team without a leader.
The year 2010 is akin to an eternity ago when talking its last NCAA appearance with a fan base as rabid as Maryland’s, but regardless of the way this year ends, Terp fans should be able to take some solace in the fact that Turgeon has things headed north. But while it is a program moving forward, it’s also a team heading determinedly the other way, and it now may very well be three wins or bust for the 2013 Maryland Terrapins.