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In defense of the Maryland Terrapins

2/23/2010

We're getting to the point in the college basketball season when statistics mean more and more each week. This has to do with sample size -- most if not all teams have played 25-plus games, many of them against familiar conference foes, and you can garner much more meaningful data from all those possessions than you could in, say, early January. Which is why it might be time for college hoops' sundry bracketologists -- or, failing that, the NCAA tournament selection committee itself -- to take a harder look at Ken Pomeroy and John Gasaway's Maryland-related data and come to grips with the fact that Maryland is much, much better than most people think.

Why the divide? It depends on what you value. If you're an RPI guy, you might see Maryland as still having work to do. The Terps have hovered in the 30s and 40s for most of the season, and their 3-6 record against the RPI top 50 isn't the most impressive. (A likewise RPI-minded fellow could counter that the Terps have had zero losses to sub-100 RPI teams, and only one to a team in that 50-100 range [Cincinnati], but let's not get too bogged down here.)

If you value tempo-free statistics, though -- and plenty of enlightened basketball folk would tell you that tempo-free is a much better way of looking at what a team actually does when they're on the floor than the oft-maligned RPI -- Maryland looks less like a bubble team and more like, oh, I don't know, a four seed? The Terps are No. 12 in Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings. They have the No. 15 offense in the country. They hold opponents to a 42 percent effective field goal percentage, good for fifth in the country. And they outscore ACC opponents by a tenth of a point per trip, an impressive mark even if you want to call the ACC "down." As John Gasaway wrote today:

Pity the two-seed that gets "seven-seed" Maryland: Anyway that's where I'm seeing the Terrapins slotted in the mock brackets right now. Let's see, how do I put this? That's way too low. (Especially in view of the fact that I'm also seeing Wake Forest as a six.) The Terps have outscored the ACC by as much as Purdue has outscored the Big Ten or Syracuse has outscored the Big East. If he's smart the head coach of a two-seed that gets put in Maryland's bracket will utter some R-rated treasures when he sees this pairing.

If you're a big believer in the eye test, you could look at Maryland and see a pair of experienced guards in seniors Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes -- one of whom, Vasquez, can carry his team for long stretches. Don't we love experienced guards in the NCAA tournament? You'd also see an acclaimed coach in Gary Williams, a tough second-fiddle in Landon Milbourne, and a pair of active complements in sophomore guard Sean Mosley and freshman forward Jordan Williams.

You could also, I guess, see the team that was blown out at Duke and lost at home to William & Mary. But you'd be missing something. Namely, that Maryland has been pretty darn good this year. Not great, of course, but better than you think, even in losses. Assuming common sentiment doesn't change before the end of the ACC tournament -- hey, every blog post helps -- it'll be up to the Terps to prove it in March.