Though Maryland logged its best win of the season Saturday night against Duke, a look at the numbers reveals the Terps still face an uphill climb to receive an NCAA Tournament berth.
With the win over Duke, Maryland finds itself 18-7 overall with a 6-6 record in the ACC. That’s good for the No. 63 RPI in the land, a rank that could leave the Terps on the bad side of the bubble.
Last season, West Virginia claimed an NCAA Tournament berth with an RPI ranking of 64, the highest of any at-large team. The season before USC had the highest RPI of any at-large team to make the tournament at 67.
While Maryland’s current RPI puts them in better shape than West Virginia last season and USC in 2011, the Terps RPI could drop as the team wins more games. A down ACC and a poor non-conference schedule could spell doom for the Terps.
There was a time when a winning record in the ACC virtually assured an NCAA at-large berth, but that has changed as the ACC expanded. In each of the last three seasons, and four of the last five, an ACC team with a winning conference record missed the NCAA Tournament. This season ACC schedules grew from 16 games to 18 games, though it remains to be seen if that will help the conference change the recent trend of teams with winning ACC records being shut out of the tournament.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon has repeatedly said that next season he will schedule stiffer competition, but for this season, a non-conference schedule ranked No. 293 could hurt the Terps tourney chances.
Tuesday night Maryland travels north to face Boston College. BC has an RPI of 144, and because of the poor rank, even if Maryland beats the Eagles, the Terps RPI might move down.
Beyond BC, Maryland still has games scheduled against No. 133 Clemson, No. 150 Wake Forest and No. 126 Georgia Tech. These games will do little good for Maryland if they win, but would be devastating if the Terps lose.
Maryland does, however, still have two chances for wins inside the RPI Top 100.
Maryland's best chance comes at home against North Carolina on March 6. The Tar Heels rank in the RPI Top 30, but in the teams' first meeting Carolina beat Maryland 62-52. The Terps then travel to No. 76 Virginia to close the regular season on March 10.
Beating Carolina will certainly help the Terps return to the NCAA Tournament, and a victory over UVa. would look good on Maryland's resume as well. But a loss to any of the weaker opponents remaining on their schedule will devastate Maryland’s at-large chances.
With roughly a month of college hoops left before the NCAA Tournament, predicting the field is very tough, but to call Maryland’s margin of error incredibly slim seems accurate based on the numbers.