Maryland Basketball: Why the Terps Belong in the Top 25
On my ballot for Bleacher Report's Top 25 Straw Poll this week, I slotted Maryland at 20th, giving them six points in the voting system.
Maryland only received 11 total points, meaning I contributed more than half of their tally. I found this to be a little unsettling, but I figured Maryland would fare a bit better once the AP and Coaches' polls were released the next day.
In the AP poll, Maryland was theoretically ranked 36th, after receiving the 10th most votes for a team that missed the Top 25 cut. In the coaches poll, Maryland was completely absent.
After the two most popular college basketball polls gave minimal respect to what Mark Turgeon and his Maryland Terrapins have accomplished so far, I was forced to ask myself, "Am I the only person taking notice of how talented this team is?"
Now, the debate regarding poll voting frequently revolves around whether the voters should value talent or results more.
This week's poll is a prime example of that debate, as Indiana and Duke squabbled for the top spot for the second consecutive week.
Indiana is viewed as the more talented team, while Duke has a supremely impressive resume thus far, including victories over Louisville, Ohio State, Kentucky, Minnesota and VCU.
For the purposes of this argument, it doesn't matter whether you value on-paper talent or on-court results more, because Maryland belongs in the polls either way.
Of course, Maryland's current resume, which boasts a 6-1 record, needs to be explained.
The Terps' lone loss was suffered against No. 3 Kentucky on a neutral court in each team's season opener. While Kentucky isn't nearly deserving of that ranking today, by no means is that loss to the Wildcats a bad loss.
Kentucky, having lost twice in the past week to Notre Dame and Baylor, is still an extremely talented squad. It was rightfully ranked the third best team in the preseason, and that ranking should be applied to the game against Maryland.
While Maryland's non-conference schedule is noticeably weak, they have already played the more difficult half of that slate.
In mid-November, the Terps defeated a physical Morehead State team by 22. The following game, Maryland knocked off LIU-Brooklyn, a NCAA Tournament team from a season ago returning its entire starting lineup, by 22.
After some easy wins against Lafayette and Georgia Southern, Maryland then traveled to Evanston, Ill. to face off against a probable bubble team in Northwestern as a part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
Mark Turgeon's group dominated the second half en route to 20-point walloping of Northwestern.
Finally, Maryland faced its toughest non-conference opponent, local rival George Mason in Washington D.C. The Patriots are undoubtedly CAA contenders, and already boast wins over Virginia (who beat Wisconsin in Madison) and Mercer (who beat Florida State), and lost to undefeated New Mexico by just one point.
Once again, Maryland came away with a victory, improving to six wins, four of which are quality wins, compared to one neutral-court loss against a top-tier team.
Any logical person can tell you that only having one loss is better than having two losses. The AP Poll features three teams with two losses.
Obviously, the ranking of those two-loss teams is dependent on the quality of the opponents who defeated them.
First, let's take Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans, who sit comfortably inside the Top 20 in both polls.
MSU has losses against UConn (in Germany) and Miami. If it was eligible for postseason competition, UConn would likely be somewhere in the vicinity of a 10-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Miami will probably end up in a similar situation.
Michigan State does have a win over Kansas, but that shouldn't be enough to make up for two losses to solid, but not terrific, competition.
Next up is North Carolina, whose two losses weren't even close games.
First, they were obliterated by Butler in Maui. Despite only losing by 11, the Tar Heels were down by nearly 30 to a likely bubble team.
They faced off against No. 1 Indiana the next week, and failed to even keep it remotely close. Indiana took down UNC with ease, finishing the game up by 24.
Last, we have North Carolina State, who I did have ranked above Maryland on my B/R ballot.
The Wolfpack has respectable losses to Michigan and Oklahoma State, and as I said, probably still deserves a spot inside the top 20.
Does Maryland belong in the Top 25?
Maryland evidently deserves to be included over Michigan State and North Carolina, but also carries a more impressive resume than Top-25 teams Creighton, who lost to Boise State, and San Diego State, who is receiving far too much credit for defeating UCLA.
Now, we'll look at the talent and performance of Maryland's players and compare it to ranked teams.
Center Alex Len has looked like a Player of the Year candidate so far, averaging 15 points, 9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per contest so far. His interior play has been dominant, and he runs the floor more effectively than any other seven footer.
Xavier transfer Dez Wells is on a tear, averaging 24 points per game between the games against Northwestern and George Mason.
Pe'Shon Howard has been a magnificent floor general so far, averaging 6.7 assists per game while perfect from the free throw line.
Charles Mitchell and Seth Allen have been instant contributors and look like capable players for the long haul in the ACC.
Factor in slasher Nick Faust, sharpshooter Logan Aronhalt, rugged senior James Padgett and budding freshmen Shaquille Cleare and Jake Layman, and this team looks far more talented and impressive than the likes of Wichita State, Illinois, San Diego State, Creighton, North Carolina, Michigan State or even Missouri without Michael Dixon.
Maryland is first in the nation in rebounding with 47 boards per game, and ninth in assists with 18 per night. Its time for the voters to look past the fact that Maryland slumped through the past two seasons behind the selfish play of Terrell Stoglin and Jordan Williams, because this team is a legit tournament team.
Don't be surprised if Maryland improves to 12-1 by the start of ACC play, and by then, it would be a travesty if the Terps were not ranked.
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