The case for Maryland as Big Ten favorites is straightforward and compelling. They are coming off a surprising 27-8 (14-4) season; they return stars Melo Trimble and Jake Layman; and they add center Diamond Stone, a very highly touted recruit, and Robert Carter, an impact transfer at forward. They were good last year, and they should be significantly better this year.
This is good analysis, and in my opinion Maryland has to be considered at least a contender in the Big Ten for these reasons, maybe even the frontrunner.
But there’s some overhyping going on with this team. The early previews are comparing this year’s Terrapins to last year’s Wisconsin team, which was more or less unanimously anointed the team to beat before last year began, and which carried the burden of Final Four buzz from the very start.
The comparison of this year’s Maryland team to last year’s Wisconsin team has no basis in fact.
Last year’s Badgers were coming off a 30-win season and a trip to the Final Four. They returned four starters, and 7 of their 8 rotation players. They finished 6th in the 2014 Kenpom ratings after taking Kentucky to the final seconds in the national semifinal.
This year’s Terrapins are coming off a 27-win season that ended in the second round of the NCAA tournament. They lose Dez Wells, an extremely high-usage player whom they counted on to create offense. They also lose two other seniors, Richaud Pack and Evan Smotrycz, who contributed significantly. They also finished just 32nd in the Kenpom ratings last year.
It’s this last fact – Maryland’s per-possession profile – that makes me most skeptical about them. Put simply, they overachieved last year. That doesn’t take anything away from what they achieved: all 27 of their wins counted. But it should make us a little skeptical about extrapolating last year’s success into this year.
Finally, Mark Turgeon has been coaching for a lot of years now and his record just isn’t that great. In 17 years as a head coach, he’s won just one conference title (2006, at Wichita St.). In his eight seasons as a major conference coach, his teams have averaged a 5th place finish. He’s never had a particularly good offensive team (last year’s Terps finished 58th in adjusted offensive efficiency) which makes me doubt he’ll deftly adjust to this coming season’s rule changes.
All told, if you give me an even-money bet on Maryland versus the field for the Big Ten title, I'm reaching for my wallet and betting on the field.