Maryland was awarded a four seed in the 2010 NCAA Tournament and will face 13 seed C-USA Tournament champion Houston in the first round on Friday night. It was a good seed for the Terps and a reward for being co-champions in the ACC regular season with Duke. I felt like Maryland might drop a seed or maybe two after losing to Georgia Tech in their first ACC Tournament game but it seems that loss had no effect on where Maryland was seeded. Most projections had them as a 5 or 6 seed so a 4 was a pleasant surprise.
I don’t think Maryland will have much trouble with Houston. Conference USA is very down after Cheatpari left for Kentucky so winning the conference tournament doesn’t mean that much. The league has some solid but not great teams in UTEP, Memphis and UAB. Houston was 7-9 in C-USA and 15-15 overall until the conference tournament. Not very impressive. They were also 2-6 on the road and only 9-12 against teams in the top 150 of the RPI. The Cougars had also lost 4 out of their last 6 games and have a slew of bad losses on the season. Houston lost to Texas San Antonio (RPI 187), Central Florida (RPI 191) twice, SMU (RPI 208) and Tulane (RPI 282). That is a pretty bad collections of teams and five bad losses is no fluke. Unless they get steals they will have little chance to guard Maryland in the half court as their defensive efficiency is ranked 165th in the nation and that is even worse when you consider their average opponent has an offense that ranks 96th in the nation. Houston’s coach Tom Penders will try to throw a slew of junk defenses at Maryland to disrupt their offense. They are lead by Aubrey Coleman who is most famous for stomping on Arizona’s Chase Budinger’s head last season. He is a pure volume scorer who took more shots this year (697) than any other player in college basketball. Most of Houston’s offense consists of beating the defender off the dribble and simple ball screens. They have a very good assist to turnover ratio but that is deceptive because they rarely turn the ball over. Their assist percentage is 324th in the nation and they mostly rely on Coleman, Kelvin Lewis, Maurice McNeil to make plays one-on-one. When you examine games in conference their offense doesn’t look as good shooting less than 40% from the floor with an efficiency of 105.1 which ranks them 101st in the nation.
The one interesting area that may become a factor is rebounding. Houston makes Maryland look like a five clones of Bill Russell. In conference play Houston is ranked 314th in defensive rebounding percentage and 190th in offensive rebound percentage. Just for comparison Georgia Tech was ranked 26th and Duke was ranked 5th in the nation for offensive rebound percentage in conference games. With Jordan Williams, Dino Gregory and even Landon Milbourne the Terrapins should enjoy the kind of rebounding advantage they have not had since ACC play began. Though Maryland struggles on the defensive boards on offense they rank a respectable 56th in offensive rebound percentage in league play. If Maryland can grab a decent about of second chance points then Houston will be in big trouble.
Houston is at a significant disadvantage in many areas against the Terps. It would take a continued defensive malaise and a large number of turnovers by Maryland for the Cougars to have a chance to win this game. It isn’t impossible for Maryland to lose as 13 seeds have won 21 games first round games since 1985 (losing 79) but there is a good reason why Ken Pomeroy projects Houston as having only a 14% chance of winning. An interesting note is that four of the last nine 13 seeds that defeated a 4 seed won in overtime. Recent 13 seeds that have won include Cleveland State over Wake Forest in 2009, San Diego over UConn and Siena over Vanderbilt in 2008. All those mid-majors had impressive conference records and were more impressive squads than Houston. Murray State and Siena are much close in profile to 13 seeds in the past that pulled off an upset than a Houston team that stumbled through their schedule and got hot for one weekend. I see Maryland getting to Sunday and facing a tough matchup in Michigan State. Neither team played well in their last game with the Spartans losing to Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament and Maryland losing to Georgia Tech. I think that Maryland is the deeper team and has been more consistent lately but I don’t like the way Maryland has played the last two games. I think Michigan State can control the tempo and pound Maryland on the glass to come away with the win.
I mentioned on a blog for Raycom Sports back in December that some ACC teams could be in trouble for their nonconference scheduling. Back then I predicted that only one team of the six worst schedulers would get invited to the NCAA Tournament. Low and behold I was spot on, thank you very much. The bottom six schedules in order were Boston College, Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Miami. Only Georgia Tech made it in out of that list. There was a good bit of outrage over the Hokies being relegated to the NIT but back in December it seemed likely to me that they would be in deep trouble when the committee looked at their profile. A league schedule that turned out to be one of the weakest any team in the ACC played, only six games against the other top six teams in the ACC and 0-3 record against the top three seeds in the ACC Tournament doomed the Hokies. It is another example of the new reality of post expansion ACC basketball. Out of conference scheduling has become more important than ever. Gary Williams always schedules good opponents. Next year Maryland will play Notre Dame, Villanova and two out of Texas, Pitt or Illinois. Throw in a pretty good opponent in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and that is a record no one could argue with. Scheduling Penn State, Georgia and Seton Hall as Seth Greenberg did is no way to get in the NCAA Tournament. It isn’t even worth hearing arguments about how Virginia Tech can’t get decent out of conference matchups. Virginia scheduled Syracuse, Arizona, Xavier, Stanford, Auburn and UAB the last few years while Greenberg dropped very good programs in Old Dominion and Richmond from the Hokies schedule. He tried to get cute with the schedule this season and it blew up in his face. I was a little surprised they were not selected but the committee has been very clear and consistent, regardless of Greenberg’s comments to the contrary, about rewarding tough out of conference schedules. He could have just asked FSU’s Leonard Hamilton who went 9-7 in 2006 and got snubbed. His team had better wins than anything Virginia Tech had this season but it wasn’t enough.