SNIDER: Will the Terps bust your bracket?

Rick Snider
March 20, 2019 - 12:14 pm
Jalen_Smith

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

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Maryland is the scariest team in the NCAA Tournament.

The sixth-seeded Terrapins face play-in winner Belmont on Thursday in the NCAA Tournament. Maryland could easily lose. Indeed, a number of bracket experts are taking Belmont based on the Terps losing three of their last four, including a clunker to Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament.

But then, there’s also a path to the Final Four straight through Duke before a partisan crowd at Capital One Arena. While that sound ambitious, it’s just as likely as Maryland losing to Belmont.

What madness!

The upside is Maryland has one of the nation’s big men in Bruno Fernando, a sure-fire top 10 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. When Fernando is hot, he dominates around the rim. The Terps should run an uptempo style getting Fernando and sidekick Jalen Smith inside looks while Anthony Cowan knocks down outside shots. It’s a Final Four recipe that too often is disrupted by opposing defenses and coach Mark Turgeon’s inability to adjust, ever.

The downside is Turgeon’s team never improves come late February. This year’s 1-3 finish was typical. Turgeon gets outcoached and his players rarely show any sense of urgency. It’s the curse of recruiting star players who never grasp a sense of team, but rather focus on their next game somewhere.

Look at top-seeded Duke. There are two lottery picks on that frontcourt, and Zion Williamson played like a mad man in the ACC Tournament with 80 points and 30 rebounds in three games because he wanted that conference title badly. Duke has more talent than Maryland, yet coach Mike Krzyzewski knows how to motivate future millionaires.

Maryland should beat Belmont, which may suffer something of a letdown after winning a play-in game two days earlier. The Terps should stomp on them early and dictate the game. Yet, there is a fear of Belmont dictating the pace just like Nebraska did, and Maryland never recovering.

Still, if Maryland advances it faces the LSU/Yale winner. LSU is surrounded by controversy and a suspended coach, and Yale doesn’t have enough talent to win two tournament games. The Terps should advance to the second weekend, though getting past probably Michigan State after badly losing earlier this season to the Spartans is unlikely. Yet, playing in Washington and the prospect of facing old nemesis Duke should Maryland beat Michigan State is as much of an inducement as possible.

And beating Duke to reach the Final Four? That’s a long shot for a team that could be one-and-done. It’s just hard to decide which scenario will happen.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks.

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