Are the Maryland Terrapins the Best Team in the ACC?

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IJanuary 25, 2010

ATLANTA - MARCH 14:  Greivis Vasquez #21 of the Maryland Terrapins dribbles against the Duke Blue Devils during the semifinals of the 2009 ACC Men's Basketball Tournament on March 14, 2009 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Don't look now, but there's a new team tied for the conference lead in the ACC. Oh, they also do not have any shade of blue in their uniforms either.

The Maryland Terrapins knocked off North Carolina State in convincing fashion Saturday night 88-64, cementing a 3-1 conference record and crushing the high spirits of the Wolfpack in the process.

If we've learned anything so far this season, it's that anything can happen. With North Carolina clearly experiencing growing pains and Duke struggling to win on the road, the ACC is wide open. There is no dominant team and this may finally be a year that a non-North Carolina school claims the conference tournament this March.

The last one to do just that may be the favorite to do it again, the Terrapins.

Of course, when you think about it, this team exemplifies the crazy conference they play in.

First off you have Greivis Vasquez, the point guard extraordinaire who came back to Maryland to prove to NBA scouts that he can score as well as distribute the ball. His place in Maryland history is certainly difficult to ascertain. When he's good he's great but when he's bad the Terrapins can lose to just about anyone.

His inconsistency has marked the past four years for the Terrapins and yet, through the first four conference games of the season, Vasquez has been putting on a clinic. The senior point guard has averaged 22 points and six assists in the ACC, including 17 of his 19 points in the second half against the Wolfpack.

Overall, Vasquez has led the team in scoring in 12 of the 18 games Maryland has played so far this season. Combine that with the second most assists in the ACC and the Terrapins overall have the best turnover margin in the conference.

His increase in consistency has the Terrapins as a much more dangerous team heading into the heart of the ACC schedule. Still, Maryland has already had a few bumps on the road. 

Three of Maryland's four losses came within two weeks of each other and although those games were against tough power conference teams, an unexpected home loss to the upstart William & Mary Tribe has kept some people from buying the Terrapins as a true contender in 2010.

Still, Maryland has something that most of the ACC teams cannot claim. 

For you see, when things really are wide open, the edge goes to experience. With so many young guards trying to sharpen their teeth in the conference, Vasquez has an opportunity to use his superior basketball knowledge to take over games and propel the Terrapins to a big season.

So far that mission has been accomplished.

It has also been done without a true post presence. Last year, it was the "Landon Milbourne Show" as the versatile wingman was forced to play in and outside of the paint to keep defenses honest. This season, Gary Williams has a freshman in Jordan Williams to provide some depth in the front court but he still relies heavily on his guards to carry the load and so far Vasquez and Eric Hayes have delivered.

Maryland's experience is one of their greatest advantages heading into the rest of the season, the schedule though is tough. To win the ACC, teams need to steal some road victories and even if the Terrapins hold serve at home, road wins will be difficult from here on out.

The rest of the year the Terrapins will be going into some rather hostile environments.  Maryland has games at Duke, at North Carolina State, at Virginia Tech, at Clemson, at Florida State and at Virginia.

For the record, those teams are a combined 56-8 at home this season.

Coming into the season, everyone argued whether Duke or North Carolina would once again carry the mantle of conference champions. While the Blue Devils may still be the favorite, Maryland has proven to everyone that they have the ability to play at a high level. Duke's front court players have been rather inconsistent and Maryland has certainly given the Blue Devils fits in the past.

Remember, the last time Maryland took the ACC crown it came at the expense of Duke in the championship game. It very well could be deja vu all over again. 

In many ways, Duke and Maryland appear to be mirror images of each other. Strong guards with athleticism, experience, leadership, and question marks in the front court. 

Is this the year they put things together and Coach Williams makes another tournament run or will another team play the role of spoiler? 

For now, Maryland will simply relish their time at the top of the standings and continue to prove to the basketball world that they can be more than consistently inconsistent.