Night Line, Saturday Edition: Don’t Look Now, But Terps Quietly Taking Care Of BusinessPosted by BHayes on January 5th, 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.
It’s January 5 and there is an ACC team boasting a 13-1 record, a deep, talented roster, and a likely top five pick in next June’s draft (should he elect to leave early). No, we aren’t talking about Mason Plumlee and Duke’s sizzling start. Nor are we discussing their Tobacco Road compatriots UNC and NC State – two teams that, despite uneven beginnings, have still found their share of national attention. Instead, we shift our eyes further north, to College Park, Maryland, where at the beginning of 2013 Mark Turgeon has the Terps buzzing along – and ever so quietly.
Maryland kept things rolling today with a 94-71 victory over Virginia Tech, posting its 13th consecutive victory in the process. College basketball fans likely haven’t heard a whole lot about the Maryland surge, as their opening loss to then-#3 Kentucky seemed to have removed the little buzz that surrounded the program in the preseason. But whether it’s being discussed nationally or not, make no mistake about it – behind Duke, Maryland is as likely an ACC runner-up as any team. The 13-game winning streak has not come at the expense of any sort of murderer’s row, but it includes a solid 20-point thrashing of Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan arena (I know, Trey Burke and company might tell you this is no great feat). But still, Maryland has been efficient in ripping through the fluff of their schedule, defeating opponents by an average of 19 points per game during the streak. Let’s also not forget they only fell to Kentucky in that opener by three, and I’m not so sure Kentucky would be a favorite if the two teams played again tomorrow on a neutral court.
Mark Turgeon’s bunch has proven to be one of the deepest teams in the country. Ten Terrapins average at least 10 minutes a game, and all have taken turns as major contributors – only starting point guard Pe’Shon Howard has failed to post a double-digit scoring performance this year. Heck, it was Maryland’s 10th leading scorer (yes, 10th) Jake Layman who came off the bench today to knock down four threes on his way to a 20-point effort. The quality depth on the Maryland roster will be a factor all season, but equally important will be the continued development of sophomore center Alex Len. NBA draftniks have had the Ukranian import on their radar for a couple of years now; only this season has the promise translated into consistent production on the floor, though. In just 24 minutes per game (see: quality depth), Len is averaging 13.3 PPG, to go along with 8.0 RPG and 2.3 blocks a contest. He brings a presence at both ends, and in Maryland’s one true prime-time game, Len dominated the young Kentucky front line in accumulating 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. To say Mason Plumlee has the inside track for ACC POY would be an understatement at this point, but Len might be his main challenger as we work through the ACC season. And boy, will those two Duke-Maryland contests provide a match-up on the block to keep an eye on…
Duke is an overwhelming favorite to win the ACC, we know this much. But little is clear behind the Devils. As mentioned earlier, both NC State and UNC have had up and down non-conference campaigns, but both units (especially the Wolfpack) are brimming with talent. Miami is another potential sleeper, and despite their unimpressive 8-5 start, Florida State has historically proven to be a threat come February and March. So why aren’t we hearing more about the Terps? Why can’t they be that second team in the ACC? Right now it’s hard to find any reason as to why not, and that 13-game win streak, paired with a talent-laden roster headlined by Len, have Terrapin fans believing. Now it’s just time for the rest of the country to take notice.