Ranking Maryland’s Non-Conference Opponents; Terps Have A Much-Improved Slate
The 2018-19 season is a little more than a month away, with college basketball teams beginning practices this week. In the case of Maryland, Mark Turgeon’s team will look to rebound from a disappointing 2017-18 season in which the team won 19 games but wasn’t particularly close to earning an NCAA tournament bid. Going 8-10 in Big Ten play was certainly a factor in this, but Maryland’s non-conference schedule did the team no favors either.
The Terps didn’t have many opportunities to pick up quality non-conference wins, and outside of Butler they failed to pick up any noteworthy wins. Maryland lost to St. Bonaventure in a neutral site game and also lost at Syracuse, and when added to the fact that not one of the team’s eight conference wins came against a team that went on to play in the NCAA tournament, the end result was the team seeing its season end following a March 1 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament.
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This season’s schedule sets up to be more rigorous, which is good when it comes to both the opportunities to add quality wins to the resume and getting ready for conference play. Something else to keep in mind when evaluating Maryland’s non-conference schedule both before and during the season is the major change made by the NCAA this summer, scrapping the RPI in favor of what it calls the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET).
The RPI was so hated by many that its’ dissolution was widely celebrated, and according to the NCAA its new metric will rely upon factors such as game results, strength of schedule, where the games were played, margin of victory/defeat, net offensive and defensive efficiency ratings and the quality of a team’s wins and losses. It’s tough to truly know what the impact of the NET will be without having gone through an NCAA tournament selection process with it, but the general formula for putting together a solid non-conference schedule remains the same. Below is a ranking of Maryland’s non-conference games, with notes on the teams’ record last season, their final KenPom rankings over the last five seasons and how they look heading into 2018-19.
And there shouldn’t be a surprise as to which non-conference game represents Maryland’s biggest test/opportunity.
1) Virginia (November 28)
2017-18 record: 31-3
KenPom rankings since 2014: 4 (2014) – 6 – 4 – 12 – 2
The last time we saw the ACC champion Cavaliers, they were making the wrong kind of history. Virginia, the top overall seed in last season’s NCAA tournament, became the first 1-seed since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985 to lose to a 16-seed, with UMBC beating the Cavaliers by 20 in a game that was tied at the half. Isaiah Wilkins and Devon Hall have both graduated, but Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and DeAndre Hunter (who missed that game due to injury) are among the key contributors who have returned. Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt and Jay Huff are back to provide depth in the post, with sophomore Marco Anthony and freshmen Kihei Clark, Kody Stattmann and Francesco Badocchi among those competing for minutes on the perimeter. Virginia’s expected to be one of the best teams in the ACC, along with Duke and North Carolina, and this home matchup sets up as a great opportunity for Maryland.
2) Marshall (November 23)
2017-18 record: 25-11
KenPom rankings since 2014: 236 – 261 – 147 – 149 – 105
The rebuild for head coach Dan D’Antoni was a difficult one, as in 2014 he was hired to take over a program that lost 19 and 22 games in the two seasons prior. Marshall’s put together three straight winning seasons, and last year the Thundering Herd not only made the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 1987. With their uptempo style of play and one of the best perimeter tandems around in seniors Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks, who combined to score nearly 43 points per game last season, Marshall has the talent needed to go back to the Big Dance. The Herd do have to account for the departure of one of the nation’s best shot blockers in Ajdin Penava, so how they go about doing this is something to keep track of in the lead-up to their game against Maryland, but with five of the team’s top six scorers from last season back they should be fine. Marshall’s in a one-bid league, and they face a serious challenge from Western Kentucky in Conference USA, but this is a result that could ultimately help Maryland if it can get the win. And if by some chance the Terps can’t, it isn’t a loss that would do irreparable harm to their resume.
3) Loyola University Chicago (December 8 in Baltimore)
2017-18 record: 32-6
KenPom rankings since 2014: 246 – 132 – 184 – 97 – 31
Porter Moser’s rebuilding project at Loyola has gone on for a couple years longer than D’Antoni’s, with there being the occasional good season sprinkled in between periods of mediocrity in the early stages. And it should also be noted that the school changed conferences early in Moser’s tenure, moving from the Horizon League to the Missouri Valley in 2013 to fill the vacancy left by Creighton. That all led into last season, with Loyola winning 32 games, the Valley regular season and tournament titles and going on to reach the Final Four. Three key rotation guys from that team, Donte Ingram, Aundre Jackson and Ben Richardson, graduated in the spring but there’s still the talent needed to make another trip to the NCAA tournament. Reigning Valley Player of the Year Clayton Custer is back, as are fellow senior Marques Townes and sophomores Cameron Krutwig and Lucas Williamson. Not sure Loyola runs through the Valley like it did last season, as both Illinois State and Southern Illinois have a lot of talent back on their respective rosters, but the Ramblers should still be a contender. As for the impact of this matchup on Maryland, it’s similar to the Terps’ game against Marshall. If Loyola does what it’s expected to do, this is a game that shouldn’t cause Maryland’s computer numbers to plummet with a loss.
4) Seton Hall (December 22)
2017-18 record: 22-12
KenPom rankings since 2014: 94 – 83 – 29 – 51 – 26
Kevin Willard’s program is a good example of what kind of impact a quality recruiting class can have over the course of four years. While Isaiah Whitehead, who won Big East tournament MOP after the Pirates’ run to the title in 2016 (and then moved on to the NBA, was the headliner the other four players in that class were most responsible for the foundation Seton Hall was able to lay over the course of the last four seasons. Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and Ishmael Sanogo were all key figures in the program, and with all four now having moved on the Pirates have some major holes to fill. Myles Powell, a very good shooter, should have even more freedom offensively and he’ll need to take advantage of it if Seton Hall is to have a shot at getting back to the NCAA tournament. Myles Cale may be in line for a breakout season, and front court returnees Michael Nzei and Sandro Mamukelashvili will be in the rotation as well. Freshmen Anthony Nelson and Jared Rhoden and transfers Quincy McKnight (Sacred Heart), Taurean Thompson (Syracuse) and Romaro Gill (Vincennes) will all need to step forward as Seton Hall looks to replace one of the most successful senior classes in program history. Seton Hall may end up being a bubble team this season, but given their opponents in Big East play this could be a team that gives Maryland a boost later in the season by pulling off an upset or two in conference.
5) Hofstra (November 16)
2017-18 record: 19-12
KenPom rankings since 2014: 266 – 111 – 92 – 188 – 157
While Hofstra’s KenPom numbers aren’t all that impressive, with just two seasons within the top 150 in the last five seasons, the Pride are expected to be one of the top teams in the CAA in 2018-19. Reigning conference Player of the Year Justin Wright-Foreman, who averaged 24.4 points and 3.2 assists per game last year, leads the way for a team that returns four of its top five and five of its top seven scorers from a season ago. Joe Mihalich’s team shouldn’t have much trouble scoring points, as they averaged 80.2 points per game and ranked 71st in adjusted offensive efficiency in 2017-18. What Hofstra needs to do in order to make strides in 2018-19 is get better defensively, as the team was unable to get stops at critical points in games against top competition. That task gets tougher with the graduation of big man Rokas Gustys, who pulled down 12.0 rebounds per game while also averaging 10.5 points per. Grad transfers Jacquil Taylor (Purdue) and Dan Dwyer (Penn) add size and experience in the post, but it should be noted that the former has experienced an injury-riddled career to this point. This game isn’t on the level of the Marshall or Loyola-Chicago games mentioned above, but it is a tricky matchup especially when considering what Wright-Foreman can do when he gets hot.
6) Radford (December 29)
2017-18 record: 23-13
KenPom rankings since 2014: 256 – 171 – 222 – 296 – 170
After winning 14 games in 2016-17 Mike Jones’ Highlanders rebounded in a big way last season, increasing their win total by nine games and winning the Big South’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. While Radford was eliminated by eventual national champion Villanova in the first round, the teams’ First Four win over LIU Brooklyn netted the Big South an extra NCAA tournament unit and the financial boost that comes with that is a big deal to smaller leagues. Six of the top seven scorers from last season’s team, led by first team All-Big South forward Ed Polite Jr. and Big South Freshman of the Year Carlik Jones, are back and that makes this a tricky game for Maryland in its last non-conference game before returning to Big Ten play. Radford was among the most deliberate teams in college basketball a season ago, as it ranked 344th in both adjusted tempo and offensive possession length. They’re solid defensively, and the slow pace can led to opponents trying so hard to speed things up that they turn the ball over (Radford’s opponents turned the ball over on 20.2 percent of their possessions last season). Radford should be the favorite in the Big South, but while this could be a game in which Maryland plays a team that winds up in the NCAA tournament a win may not have much of an impact on Maryland’s computer numbers.
7) Delaware (November 6)
2017-18 record: 14-19
KenPom rankings since 2014: 106 – 260 – 275 – 290 – 247
Since Monte Ross led the Blue Hens to the NCAA tournament in 2014 the Delaware program has been down, with that downward slide being more like dropping off of a cliff as the Blue Hens went 10-20 in 2014-15. Martin Inglesby, who replaced Ross after the 2015-16 season, has led Delaware to 13 and 14 wins in his first two seasons in Newark. Three of the team’s top five scorers from a season ago are back, most notably sophomore guards Ryan Allen and Kevin Anderson, with the latter playing in just 11 games due to a torn ACL. Redshirt senior Eric Carter, who averaged 11.0 points and a team-best 9.1 rebounds per game last season, is Delaware’s best option in the front court. The question for Delaware is who steps up alongside those three to help account for the departures of leading scorer Ryan Daly and fellow guard Anthony Mosley, who combined to average 27.8 points per game. And if Delaware is to make a move for a spot in the top half of the CAA, it will need to be more efficient on both ends of the floor.
8) Navy (November 9 in Annapolis)
2017-18 record: 20-12
KenPom rankings since 2014: 308 – 277 – 204 – 206 – 225
After finishing each of the first three seasons of Ed DeChellis’ tenure outside of the Top 300 in the KenPom rankings, the Midshipmen have managed to take steps forward. Navy won 20 games last season, but the Midshipmen have to account for the loss of three starters from that team. One of the two starters back is senior point guard Hasan Abdullah, who averaged 9.9 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game playing alongside Shawn Anderson and Bryce Dulin. With those two, Navy’s lone double-digit scorers, having graduated one would think that even more will be asked of Abdullah from a scoring standpoint. Junior center Evan Wieck, who started all 32 games last season, returns as well. He and senior forward George Kiernan, who averaged 9.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game off the bench, should lead the way in the front court, while sophomore Cam Davis and senior Ryan Pearson look to help Abdullah on the perimeter.
9) Loyola (MD) (December 11)
2017-18 record: 9-22
KenPom rankings since 2014: 292 – 308 – 288 – 227 – 323
The Greyhounds haven’t had a winning since since the 2012-13 campaign, Jimmy Patsos’ final season at the helm and also the program’s last as a member of the MAAC. The G.G. Smith era wasn’t particularly kind to Loyola, which has lost 19 games or more in four of its five seasons under his watch. As a result a change was made, with Tavaras Hardy being tabbed as Smith’s replacement. Hardy, who has served as an assistant at Georgetown, Georgia Tech and Northwestern, will be working with a team that returns three of its top five scorers from a season ago. Juniors Chuck Champion and Andrew Kostecka and sophomore Isaiah Hart will lead the way on the perimeter, with the trio averaging between 10.3 and 11.5 points per game and Hart being the Greyhounds’ assist leader last season. Leading scorer Andre Walker (15.8 ppg) and leading rebounder Cam Gregory (8.2 rpg) have both moved on, with the departure of the latter meaning that forwards Brent Holcombe and KaVaughn Scott (combined to average 8.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game) will need to step up.
10) North Carolina A&T (November 12)
2017-18 record: 20-15
KenPom rankings since 2014: 334 – 337 – 339 – 349 – 306
Maryland’s matchup with the Aggies is a prime example of a non-conference game that would have a far greater impact in a loss than it would a win. In the first four seasons of KenPom rankings listed above North Carolina A&T lost at least 22 games. Last season the Aggies went 20-15 and still had a final ranking of 306. That’s a byproduct of the strength of the MEAC, a league in which many of its members load up on guarantee games during non-conference play. And while those games are key in balancing the books of the league’s athletic departments, they also lead to a high number of losses. As for the talent on the floor, senior guard Aaren Edmead returns as does sophomore guard Kameron Langley. Edmead, who averaged 9.6 points per game last season, is North Carolina A&T’s leading returning scorers, and Langley led the team in assists with an average of 5.1 per contest. Head coach Jay Joyner, who did a masterful job in improving his team’s win total by 17 games from the season prior (3-29 in 2016-17), has some major holes to fill ahead of the 2018-19 campaign.
11) Mount St. Mary’s (November 18)
2017-18 record: 18-14
KenPom rankings since 2014: 209 – 226 – 263 – 209 – 238
This is the start of a new era at Mount St. Mary’s, with Dan Englestad returning to the school to replace Jamion Christian after spending five seasons at Southern Vermont. Englestad’s got quite the project in front of him too, as the top seven scorers from last season’s team have all moved on. The Mount’s leading returning scorer? That would be sophomore forward Omar Habwe, who averaged 2.6 points in 11.1 minutes per game last season. Among the players lost are guard Junior Robinson, who was responsible for 22.0 points and 4.8 assists per night, and the team’s leading rebounder in Chris Wray (9.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 3.8 apg). Among the newcomers who will need to contribute immediately is Texas Southern grad transfer K.J. Scott, who averaged 12.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game in seven starts last season for the Tigers.