The Washington Times - August 26, 2008, 03:55PM

Is Maryland’s basketball nonconference schedule difficult?

Depends on who you ask (and if you adjust it to account for the generally lower expectations those outside the program seem to have this year). Only two if the 12 (Michigan State and American) played in the NCAA tournament; two more (Charlotte and Morgan State) played in another postseason tournament.

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I’ll say this: There’s some good name value included for programs who were pretty good earlier this decade and have fallen a bit.

Bucknell, Vermont, Delaware State, George Washington … all programs that looked better two years ago than now. And that’s not to say those schools won’t be good this year; in fact, all should be a bit better this winter than last. The first three might even be in the mix for their conference titles.

But Bucknell isn’t the team that won NCAA tournament games in back-to-back years. Vermont isn’t the team that beat Syracuse in the postseason. George Washington is a far cry from the bunch that destroyed a bunch of creampuffs and was penalized by the NCAA selection committee for its blatant grazing.

Oh, and I forgot to mention Michigan, which has been mired in mediocrity (or worse) for more than a decade.

In the interest of fairness, here’s a little chart with records and RPIs of Maryland’s defined nonconference opponents.

Opponent07-08 record
RPI 
Michigan State27-916
Charlotte20-1468
American21-1291
Morgan State22-11134
Michigan10-22173
George Washington
9-17185
Vermont16-15191 
Bucknell12-19203
Delaware State14-16207
Elon14-19210
Youngstown State9-21227 
Bryant18-13N/A

OK, so of the Division I teams from last year (Bryant is movin’ on up this season), there are no truly horrendous teams. That’s a plus. But there’s only four of the 12 in the top half of the RPI.

Now, in fairness, Maryland will play another one (Gonzaga-30 or Oklahoma State-78) and have a decent chance of playing yet another (Tennessee-1, Georgetown-8, Siena-66, Wichita State-199) at the Old Spice Classic.

But unless the Terps score some wins in that tournament in Orlando, they’ll need to do extremely well in conference play to even entertain consideration for the NCAA tournament.

This is a schedule that probably won’t help them much in the eyes of the selection committee should they find a way into the discussion, but an ill-placed loss or two (read: to anyone Maryland doesn’t meet in Orlando) will prove particularly damaging.

Now, will Maryland’s overall strength of schedule be fine? Sure. Multiple games against Duke, North Carolina and Miami will make certain it looks imposing come the end of the season.

It’s just that you can’t count on the nonconference schedule providing much help to that number.

Patrick Stevens