How Maryland can reach the NCAA tournament without beating Duke
If Maryland beats Duke tonight, Maryland's road to the NCAA tournament would become more manageable because the Terrapins would possess their first attention-grabbing victory of the season. That's obvious. What I am trying to figure out is Maryland's path to the NCAA tournament if it does not beat Duke tonight.
If the Terrapins lose to the Blue Devils, two things will be critically important: Beat the remaining two top 50 teams -- Boston College and North Carolina (both road games) -- on the schedule. (Florida State has hovered around the top 50 recently.) And avoid losses to sub-100 RPI teams: Wake Forest and Virginia. (Avoiding a loss to Longwood and its No. 317 RPI goes without saying.)
After that, clearly the more victories the better. If Maryland finishes 10-6 or 11-5 in league play, more power to the Terps. But I still think there is a scenario in which they could finish 9-7 (without beating Duke, the one very good team in the league) and have a reasonable chance at one of the final at-large berths. Here is my best shot at it:
Wake Forest, W
At Boston College, W
At Virginia Tech, L
North Carolina State, W
Florida State, L
At North Carolina, W
At Miami, L
Those results would give Maryland a 20-11 overall record and a 9-7 mark in the ACC. It would give the Terrapins a 3-7 record against top 50 RPI teams (assuming Penn State, Boston College and North Carolina don't collapse). And it would give the Terps a less-than-impressive 6-11 record against top 100 competition. They would be swept in the regular season by VT, but they would split the regular season series with BC. They would not get a bye in the ACC tournament and, therefore, need two wins. Give them those two ACC tournament wins - only one against a top 100 team - and then a loss against a quality opponent and they finish 22-12 overall, perhaps with a 7-12 mark against top 100 teams.
In order to make the NCAA tournament as an at-large candidate, the bar to reach every season varies and depends on your competition and the strength of other bubble teams. But you can use previous seasons as a rough guide. Take 2010 Florida, which finished with a 21-12 overall record, a 9-7 SEC record, a 3-9 mark against top 50 teams, a 7-11 record against top 100 teams. Those numbers are very similar to what Maryland's would be if they finish as I outline above. Well, Florida received a No. 10 seed in a 65-team field. So I think Maryland would very much be in the conversation and have a reasonable chance at one of the 37 at-large berths in an expanded 68-team field.
But maybe Maryland knocks off Duke tonight and the road becomes a little less treacherous. That's always possible in this rivalry.
| February 2, 2011; 8:29 AM ET
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