Playing the percentages

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After a blowout loss, the thing you do after a night’s sleep is sift through the wreckage to see if there’s a nugget that was missed in the totality of the loss.

It works the other way, too. Once the shock of an upset victory passes, there’s a chance to more accurately look at things going forward and better place what just occurred into a better context.

So that is what today is about – figuring out just what Maryland has to do over the next three weeks to earn its golden ticket.

While a raw victory total isn’t the way to determine things, there’s enough already accomplished and a limited number of games remaining. That means a guesstimate of the Terrapins‘ chances to reach the NCAA tournament isn’t a completely random thing at this stage.

I’m leaving some wiggle room here, because crazy things can happen to bump teams out. But the SEC is filled with borderline (or worse) teams, the Big East has closed out a couple supposed sure-things rather early, the Big 12 isn’t especially deep and there aren’t as many non-power conference at-large possibilities.

In short, it’s not an exact science. But chances are, it’s what you’re looking for with Maryland sitting at 17-9 (6-6 in the ACC).

21+ wins: 99.999 percent chance

Aside from just all sorts of zaniness, a Maryland team with four more victories will be an NCAA tournament team. Since that would include at least one more quality victory (Duke or Wake Forest) and two more victories away from home, it could be enough to vault Maryland into the top half of the bracket. No, seriously, if yesterday was the spark to a season-ending hot streak, the Terps could be a No. 7 or No. 8 seed.

Regardless of the probability of that happening, if the Terps hit 21, they’ll be a winner.

20 wins: 75-85 percent chance

Again, this accounts for crazy things happening elsewhere, but three more wins would do Maryland a great service. Of course, it matters which three teams the Terps beat, and which teams the Terps lose to. Maryland needs two things at this stage: One more quality victory, and no silly, unexplainable setbacks.

Obviously, there are two more home games that would qualify as quality victories. Knocking off Duke or Wake Forest pretty much renders any sort of fluke factor against North Carolina useless (it’s a factor that’s already low because of the Michigan State win on Thanksgiving).

Losing at N.C. State? That’s explainable. Even though the Wolfpack looks NIT-bound, they have won five of six at RBC Center.

Losing at Virginia? That’s not as easy to explain away, even if the Cavaliers are playing teams fairly tight and possess a top-100 RPI despite their 9-14 record (mainly thanks to a No. 3 strength of schedule). It’s still a loss to a sub-.500 team, and Maryland already runs the risk of having one of those because of Georgetown’s continued tumble from top-10 team to 14-11.

That means split the final two home games, win at Virginia and pick up one more victory, perhaps in the 6-11 or 7-10 game at the ACC tournament. The Terps would look pretty viable under the circumstances.

19 wins: 25-35 percent chance

This means no better than 8-8 in the conference, and almost certainly assures the Terps of taking a bad loss at some point down the stretch with little guarantee of a good win. That loss could come at Virginia, or it could come on the first day of the ACC tournament.

Aside from giving coach Gary Williams another talking point about “winning 19 games,” two more victories probably are not enough. But if the victories come against Duke and Virginia, and things don’t look bad against Wake and N.C. State, maybe the Terps withstand a first-day ouster at the ACC tournament. Maybe.

18 wins: 1 percent chance

This would obviously be part of a late-season collapse, but just as bizarre developments could hurt, they could also help. Perhaps every other bubble team falls off a cliff in the next three weeks, and Maryland’s quality victories, strength of schedule and other doodads to its credit look better. Don’t bank on it, because it is a highly improbable scenario. But impossible? Wouldn’t go that far.

17 wins: 0 percent chance

No one likes a team on a five-game losing streak to finish the season, especially one that isn’t necessarily a tournament team when the skid begins. A 17-14 Maryland team would be stuck breathlessly awaiting its NIT destination at 9 p.m. on March 15, but a team that hasn’t lost three in a row all season isn’t likely to fully tank at this stage of the season. This scenario probably shouldn’t be a concern.

Patrick Stevens

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