There are two schools of thought on Maryland’s nonconference basketball schedule.
One is that the Terrapins played Michigan State, Gonzaga, Georgetown and Michigan —- four teams most would now consider good-to-near-certain bets to make the NCAA tournament. And in 10 games total (soon to be 14), that’s perfectly acceptable.
The other is the reality Maryland still hasn’t played a true road game, won’t until Jan. 14, and other than Vermont (and arguably, a week from tomorrow, Charlotte) will not bring anyone of repute into Comcast Center the ACC didn’t tell it to play.
It was easy to be critical of the schedule when it first came out. Michigan wasn’t supposed to be any good, and Michigan State was so daunting the Terps would quickly be relegated to the losers’ bracket of the Old Spice Classic and lose any chance to play high-quality teams.
So two developments —- the John Beilein resurrection job everyone knew was coming at some point (though maybe not this year) in Ann Arbor and Maryland’s Thanksgiving night surprise against one of the Big Ten favorites —- tilted things a bit.
Line it up, and splitting those four games listed above and sweeping George Washington (which isn’t as horrible as it showed at the BB&T Classic), likely America East contender Vermont and likely Patriot League contender American makes for a decent nonconference schedule —- especially for a team that frankly wasn’t expected to be in the hunt for 20 wins this season.
But that’s just a gut feeling, not substantiated by numbers. So that meant it was time to take a peek at collegerpi.com and find out just how well the Terps have prepared themselves so far vis-a-vis the rest of the ACC.
The following chart includes each ACC school’s nonconference record and strength of schedule, courtesy of collegerpi.com.
Among the six power conferences, Maryland’s nonconference schedule ranks fifth, behind Pittsburgh, Miami, Indiana and Duke.
That’s pretty good. Granted, Maryland’s schedule strength will decrease once it is through with Bryant and Elon over the next couple days, but it’s a heck of a lot better than expected a couple months ago.
As a point of comparison, Maryland’s nonconference strength of schedule was 66th last year, 40th in 2006-07 and 64th in 2005-06. No, it’s not a John Chaney-style schedule, but coach Gary Williams would have been vilified for setting up such a gauntlet this year, anyway. For now, the No. 25 nonconference schedule is more than commendable.
Look, there’s still reason to question the upside of this bunch. The Terps beat Michigan State when the Spartans were without Goran Suton, and their first true road game will be precisely when they enter the second half of the regular season.
But so long as (a) There isn’t a surprise stumble in the next four games or (b) all the supposedly good teams on Maryland’s schedule fall apart in the next month or so, nonconference performance —- and the opponents the Terps faced to build that performance —- will not be a concern in the long term.
—- Patrick Stevens