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Blogger Spotlight: Testudo Times talks Maryland and the ACC

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Nobody’s want a piece of Maryland this season. The Terps are just 11-6, but feature the nation’s most efficient defense and one of the nation’s top players in forward Jordan Williams.

Maybe that’s why their close losses – to the likes of Top 25 mainstays Pitt, Illinois, Temple, BC, Duke and Villanova – make it seem like Maryland’s ready to run off a host of ACC wins. Tonight against Virginia Tech would be a good place to start. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

So I chatted with Ben Broman, the man behind the Maryland blog Testudo Times, in this week’s Blogg Spotlight for his thoughts on the Terps, the ACC and blogging.

Q: Anyone just tuning into the college hoops season would look at Maryland’s 11-6 and shrug indifference. That must be infuriating given the Terps’ losses and that superb defense, right?

A: I don’t know if I’d say “infuriating.” It’s a little frustrating and disappointing, definitely. Maryland’s not nearly as bad as the record indicates. In fact, if they could hit free throws – a relatively small alteration – it’s not a stretch to say they’d be 14-2 or so right now, with a bunch of impressive wins. So yeah, it’s kind of annoying to think that there are people out there assuming this is a down year for Maryland.

Except for the fact that, well, it kind of is. The defense is great, don’t get me wrong, and the losses are far from damning – in fact, playing top 10 teams toe-to-toe in hostile environments is pretty impressive. But the flaws that caused those games to be lost have popped up again and again. They aren’t one-time occasions. It’s pretty easy to see what’s wrong with this team: they have no consistent perimeter scorer, experienced guard, or anyone capable of hitting free throws, and it’ll more than likely stay that way unless the NCAA unexpectedly introduces free agency. (Too late to call dibs on Jelan Kendrick?)

As long as those problems are around, no one really knows if Maryland is worth more than a shrug of indifference, and most Terrapin fans will agree. After all, it’s not like they only have close road losses to top 25 teams; the Terrapins lost to BC at home earlier in the year and probably should’ve beaten Temple in a virtual home game, too. They’ll probably prove that they’re worth more than a shrug of indifference by the end of the season, hopefully by running through ACC play with relative ease. But until that happens, I’m not upset by casual fans’ ignorance. Who knows? They might actually be unintentionally right.

Q: Same must apply to Jordan Williams. Guy’s been nothing short of a beast (18.1 points 12 rebounds a game) and playing a ton of minutes, but it’s all Jared Sullinger, JaJuan Johnson, Terrence Jones, etc, etc.

A: Maybe it’s just selective perception, but I’ve actually heard a solid amount of Jordan Williams talk by knowledgeable fans. If we’re talking solely casual fans, then yeah, he’s probably being overlooked. But that’s what happens when you can’t win big games on a national stage. I don’t think you can expect any great player to get a lot of talk if they’re on a bad team. Again, if Maryland could hit free throws – or, for that matter, if Jordan Williams could hit free throws – he’s probably seen as a first team All-American candidate.

It may also hurt that he’s not really exciting to watch. It might come as surprise to people that don’t watch him regularly that he’s kind of…awkward. He’s very strong, surprisingly agile and quick, and extremely savvy, but he doesn’t always look the part of a dominant college big man. That might be an impediment.

Either way, almost everyone that truly cares about the game considers him among the top 5 post players in the nation and perhaps the best player in the ACC. For now, that’s enough for me. Hopefully he’ll stick around one more year to reap the benefits of the hype machine that would almost surely surround him in 2011-12.

Q: Compare the difference to last year’s squad to this season’s. Ignore the records. Which would you prefer?

A: Last year’s, and it’s not particularly close. Jordan Williams has the potential to be an all-time great at Maryland, but he isn’t yet. Greivis Vasquez had not only reached that level by his senior year, he was extremely entertaining to watch. More importantly, last year’s team doesn’t have this year’s team’s fatal flaws: the lack of experience, the absence of a consistent perimeter scorer, and free throw shooting. After all, they were one Korie Lucious three-pointer away from being in the Sweet Sixteen (and potentially much farther) last season.

But if we’re playing preferences, let’s just put the sophomore version of Jordan Williams on last year’s team and call it a Final Four.

Q: Gary Williams recently said home-court advantage at Cameron Indoor Stadium was worth about eight points. What’s the Comcast Center worth? (This one will have a follow up)

A: Probably about four, but it depends on how full it is. It definitely gets overlooked by the people that are obsessed with Cameron, but it lacks the tradition and reputation that makes Cameron intimidating. Comcast is probably the second- or third-best homecourt advantage in the conference.

The thing about it is that while it’s an advantage, it’s not as big of one as Cole Field House was. Comcast is cavernous; those intimate places like Cameron, Cole, or even Cassel at VT seem like they’re so much louder when the fans really get riled up.

Q: Agreed completely on Cole Fieldhouse. The trend of replacing classic venues with bright and shiny new spots is never going to end, which is fine, I guess. Schools have to find ways to make money. But when Oregon replaces Mac Court – a dump, but a fabulous edge for the Ducks – with a $226 million arena, it seems like some of the soul is gone. Is Comcast ever going to feel the same as Cole did?

A: It’s all relative, so it’ll probably feel similarly eventually. But the combination of extreme intimacy and storied history isn’t easy to replicate, and it’s certainly not present in Comcast as it stands right now. It has some unique advantages, like the wall of students, the hypno-signs during free throws, and a cheesy nickname (the Comcastle!), but it’s still huge (in a bad way) and without much tradition.

As other sacred grounds are devalued, Comcast will rise up the ranks and will start to feel like “one of those special places” again. Speaking in absolute terms, though, Comcast will never reach Cole one-on-one.

Q: Here’s an easy question, but difficult to answer – Why are so many ACC teams so damn bad this year?

A: Most conferences have a team or two going through a rough patch, on a downswing, if you will. K-State and Oklahoma in the Big 12, Michigan and Indiana in the Big Ten, etc. It’s a temporary problem that should be fixed in a year or two. The problem with the ACC is that that’s half the conference.

Malcolm Delaney essentially is VT. Wake Forest wasn’t left with a full cupboard and is imploding under Bzdelik, who isn’t exactly John Wooden. UNC is still a year away from being back and was overhyped. N.C. State is still suffering under Sidney Lowe. And Maryland continues to blow chances to look impressive out of conference.

I wish there was some really cool, smart answer as to why this is, but there isn’t. Or if there is, I don’t know it. A lot of usually strong teams are bad this year, and that’s about all you can draw from it. The ACC will be back eventually, but probably not anytime soon.

Q: And the thing, is, we all know the ACC will be back given its rich hoops history. Where would you place the Terps in that history? Above N.C. State, below Duke?

A: It’s kind of hard to quantify where Maryland deserves to be, mostly because of their varied history. They’ve had a few stretches of national prominence under Lefty and Gary Williams, but they’ve also been nationally irrelevant for a long stretch, too. Heck, they didn’t even have a Final Four appearance until the past decade. I know there’s a lot of timing that goes into that (thanks, Duke, UNC, and UCLA) but it’s still strange to see a team with two Final Four appearances be the third-most storied team in the game’s most storied conference.

I think saying they’re in the second tier, right below Duke and UNC and fighting for space with N.C. State and Wake Forest, is pretty spot-on. And if I’m picking programs between N.C. State, Wake Forest, and Maryland, I’ll take Maryland. In that sense, yeah, they’re probably No. 3 in the conference in terms of history, right above N.C. State and right below Duke.

Q: And what about that 2002 Maryland team, which, in my opinion, always gets overlooked as one of the top teams of the past 15 years. Where do they rank in ACC lore?

A: That one’s pretty tough. If we’re talking strictly the past 15 years, just off the top of my head, I don’t know, around top 5ish? Number two or three or so? The fact that they didn’t win the ACC tournament hurts, but that 15-1 record in conference and 32-4 record overall is pretty amazing. And they did win a natty, after all.

I’ve never really been surprised that they’ve been overlooked, either. For one, ACC also happens to stand for All-Carolina Conference, so expecting any team out of Tobacco Road to get consistent props is probably expecting too much. And Indiana, the opponent in the national title game, was pretty weak that season. They got hot at the right time, but they were far from a power that year. It’s not like that should devalue what Maryland did – they beat UConn and a really good Kansas team on the way to the title game – but that final game wasn’t an all-time great. That hurts, too.

 Q: For those who don’t know who “Testudo” is, explain your blog’s name and how it ended up on SB Nation.

 A: Testudo is Maryland’s mascot. It’s Latin for “shell”, which makes sense. As for why I picked it: I’m exceedingly unwitty.

As for how we got on SBN, sometimes I still wonder. I had been doing some blogging odd-jobs over the past couple years before deciding to go full-time for Maryland in early 2008, which was my first true sporting love. I’ve been a Terrapin fan essentially since birth and there was a hole in the blogosphere where Maryland blogs were supposed to be, so I decided to fill it. I started blogging on a WordPress site for a few months before reaching out to Peter Bean and the guys at SBN. Looking back on it, I’m kind of surprised they agreed to let me aboard given my relatively unproven blogging chops and the extremely high-quality content elsewhere on the network. All worked out in the end, though, and the ride has been a blast.

Q: Best and worst part of running the blog? For those of us who rely on it for Maryland news, how much longer do you envision do it?

A: The worst part is either the time devotion or the occasional disgruntled reader/commenter. Like many other bloggers, the site isn’t my full-time job, so the time constraints can be rough. And there’s always that weird feeling when someone less than happy with whatever I wrote, be it a random fan or a former player, decides to let me know about it in less than pleasant terms. Maryland’s unwillingness to offer press credentials is annoying, too.

But it’s always worth it for the best part: while being as minimally cheesy as possible, it’s the odd occasion when someone gives an honest, heartfelt compliment and tells me how much they enjoy TT. I never expected that when I started, and I still kind of get goosebumps when it happens. The sense of community at the site is truly amazing, too. There are some regulars on TT that graduated in the 50s and 60s, talking Terps sporst with current students. That’s a pretty proud thing for me.

I don’t think there’s anything coming in the near future, as far as changes in the site go. I don’t plan far enough ahead to give a definitive asnwer on how long I’ll keep doing it, but I don’t see any reason coming in the near future to stop. I really like where the site is right now and don’t want to change too much. As long as I can keep doing what I’m doing now (and I don’t know why I wouldn’t be able to do so), I’ll keep blogging.

You can find Ben’s work at Testudo Times.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

No. 22 Butler ruins No. 2 Villanova’s seniors’ perfect Pavilion record

Butler center Nate Fowler and Villanova forward Eric Paschall, right, vie for a rebound in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Villanova, Pa. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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All Villanova players have known since they joined the program is winning at The Pavilion. Late into Wednesday’s game against No. 22 Butler, it looked like that would continue to be their only frame of reference for a group of seniors that were 45-0 in the building.

Then another ‘0’ turned that zero into a ‘1.’

The Bulldogs ripped off an 18-0 run in a 5-minute span to ultimately claim a 74-66 victory over second-ranked and defending national champion Villanova.

Villanova looked like it was going to cruise to another home win when Josh Hart’s 3-pointer with 10 minutes, 37 seconds remaining put the Wildcats up 49-42.

They wouldn’t score again until nearly the 4-minute mark.

During that span, Butler made 7 of 11 shots, with three being 3-pointers, while the Wildcats went 0 of 6 from the field and turned the ball over twice.

A seven-point lead for Villanova became an 11-point advantage for Butler. Villanova would try to rally, but couldn’t pull it off as it saw its home winning run stopped, its seniors’ perfect Pavilion record blemished and its seven-game winning streak come to a halt.

Beyond it probably being immensely annoying to the senior class, the loss probably doesn’t hurt Villanova too much as it looks to hold on to a No. 1 seed, preferably in the East region. The Wildcats’ resume is still as strong as nearly anyone in the country and they are, after all, the defending champs. They’ll be fine.

For Butler, it’s a signature win for a team that’s had a number of really good victories, but a few confounding losses, like St. John’s on the road and to Creighton (without Maurice Watson) and Georgetown at home. Beating Villanova – at the Pavilion, no less – could be worth a seed line.

Kelan Martin was fantastic for Butler, going for 23 points and eight boards, while Kamar Baldwin went for 15 points off the bench.

Jalen Brunson led the way for Villanova with 24 points while Josh Hart had 18 points and six rebounds. Kris Jenkins struggled, going 1 of 8 from the floor while scoring eight points.

The Wildcats get a chance to start a new streak at the Pavilion on Saturday with Creighton coming to town.

 

No. 8 North Carolina stakes their claim to the title of ‘nation’s best’ with beatdown of No. 7 Louisville

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 22:  Theo Pinson #1 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after a play against the Louisville Cardinals during their game at the Dean Smith Center on February 22, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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North Carolina may not have anyone on their roster that sends chills down the spine of opposing coaches, and they may not have anyone on their roster that is going to be targeted by NBA franchises as lottery pick, and they may not be dominating the headlines like undefeated Gonzaga, reigning champ Villanova, winner of 13 straight Big 12 titles Kansas or even Tobacco Road rival Duke.

They’re not a sexy pick, they’re not the favorite in Vegas and they may finally crack the No. 1 seed line in all bracket projections after beating No. 7 Louisville 74-63 on Wednesday night, but at this point, I’m not sure that the Tar Heels aren’t the best team in college basketball.

‘The Best Team In College Basketball’ is not an easy title to earn this season, not because there are too many candidates but more because everyone of those candidates have some kind of glaring flaw that makes you wonder have they’ve made it to late-February with a winning record. Think: UCLA’s defense. Or maybe: Kansas’ total lack of front court depth. How about: Kentucky can’t shoot. And then there’s: Duke doesn’t have a point guard, or: Gonzaga doesn’t play anyone.

We can play that game with every team in the country.

In fact, I did, just last week on a podcast.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

North Carolina didn’t escape our wrath. There are question marks about Joel Berry II’s consistency, as he had a nasty habit of laying an egg every once in a while. Is that defense going to hold up for six games in a single-elimination tournament? Do they have enough consistent three-point shooting? Can Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson stay healthy?

Here’s the thing: I think the answer to all those questions is ‘yes’.

Justin Jackson has developed into a bonafide all-american and quite possibly the ACC Player of the Year. He’s a versatile scorer that is shooting the grip off the ball and has proven the ability to be the guy to take and make big shots for the Tar Heels this season. That’s taken some of the pressure off of Berry, who can spend more time as a secondary offensive weapon, facilitator and a leader than having to worry about carrying the team offensively. Theo Pinson’s return has opened some things up offensively, while UNC’s four-headed front court monster — Kennedy Meeks, Hicks, Tony Bradley and Luke Maye — have shown that they can score in the post or off of a missed shot, where they lead the nation on offensive rebounding percentage.

And as far as the defense is concerned, they’re ranked 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency by KenPom.com. Yes, a lot of that has to do with the pistol-whipping that was Gameday on Saturday night against Virginia, but Louisville, who was the third-best offensive team in ACC play, managed just 63 points in 73 possessions on Wednesday.

My point?

That defense doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be good enough, and it probably is.

But here’s the most important number to know: Two.

That’s how big North Carolina’s lead in the ACC is as of today. Louisville, Duke, Florida State and Notre Dame have all lost five times this year. As long as the Tar Heels can go into Pittsburgh and get a win over the Panthers, they are going to clinch a share of the ACC regular season, and they can lock up the outright league title before the showdown with the Dukies on the season’s final night.

The margins are thin, yes, but after Wednesday, North Carolina has as much claim to the title of ‘Nation’s Best’ as anyone in college basketball.

VIDEO: UNC fan ejected after heated exchange with Rick Pitino

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A UNC fan sitting court side in the Dean Dome on Wednesday was ejected from No. 8 North Carolina’s win over No. 7 Louisville after getting in a heated verbal exchange with Rick Pitino.

Cell phone video posted by a reporter attending the game showed Pitino having to be held back by members of his staff. According to ESPN sideline reporter Maria Taylor, who said she heard what the fan said, the line that set Pitino off was, “Pitino you suck.”

Bubble Banter: California, TCU and Syracuse with critical games tonight

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 10:  Ivan Rabb #1 of the California Golden Bears stands on the court during a quarterfinal game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament against the Oregon State Beavers at MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. California won 76-68.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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The latest NBC Sports bracketology can be found here. That is where the seeds you see listed below come from. 

This post will be updated throughout the night.

WINNERS

Syracuse (RPI: 84, KenPom: 48, first four out): Did the Orange just lock up their NCAA tournament bid? It’s going to be close, after John Gillon banked in a 23-foot three at the buzzer to send No. 10 Duke back to Durham with a loss. Here’s how it stands for the Orange: They’s 17-12 on the season and guaranteed to finish at least .500 in ACC play. They now have six top 50 wins and nine top 100 wins, but they also have three losses to sub-100 teams, 12 total losses and they play at Louisville on Saturday. The road hasn’t been kind to Syracuse, either; they’ve won just two roadies this season, at N.C. State and at Clemson.

Providence (RPI: 69, KenPom: 58, first four out): All of a sudden, Providence is one of the most interesting bubble teams in the country. Last week they beat Butler and Xavier at home, and on Wednesday night, they went into Creighton and picked off the Bluejays. The Friars are now 17-11 on the season with five top 50 wins, including three in the top 25. They are 8-8 against the top 100, but the problem is that they have one sub-100 loss and two more sub-200 losses, which is really, really bad. They won the games that they had to win to get themselves into this position, but I still would strongly recommend that they win out down the stretch.

Seton Hall (RPI: 47, KenPom: 59, play-in game): I think the Pirates may have just punched their ticket to the tournament as they beat Xavier at home on Wednesday. They have four top 50 wins — two away from home — and seven top 100 wins with just a single sub-100 loss. I won’t say they’re a lock because a loss to DePaul would not be good for them.

Wake Forest (RPI: 40, KenPom: 31, next four out): The Demon Deacons are still in the tournament picture after landing a comeback win over Pitt on Wednesday night, but they have some work left to do. They have no bad losses and seven top 100 wins, but that 1-9 record against the top 50 is an eyesore. They get Louisville at home next week. That’s a game they have to have.

Arkansas (RPI: 33, KenPom: 51, No. 9 seed): Arkansas kept themselves away from the danger of the cutline and just about locked up a bid with a win over Texas A&M on Wednesday. With three games left, and one of those three at Florida, it will be hard for the Razorbacks to miss the dance at this point. But this is also a team that lost to Missouri. They can pull anything off.

Michigan (RPI: 52, KenPom: 27, No. 10 seed): The Wolverines avoided disaster on Wednesday night using a late rally to avoid what would’ve been a killer of a loss at Rutgers. They were already in the tournament with a little bit of room to spare entering today, and this win — however ugly it was — doesn’t hurt that.

VCU (RPI: 26, KenPom: 41, No. 9 seed): The Rams beat Saint Louis on Wednesday night, which means that they didn’t lose to the Billikens. They are close to a lock by now, because two of their last three games are at Rhode Island and at Dayton — neither of which is a bad loss — and they close with GW at home. Even if they lose out, I think it will be hard for roughly ten teams to jump them in the bubble standings.

TCU (RPI: 54, KenPom: 43, play-in game): There’s no shame in losing at Kansas, which TCU did on Wednesday night, but they did miss out on an opportunity to land a résumé-defining win. The Horned Frogs are just 2-8 against the top 50 with just five top 100 wins, which isn’t a bad profile but it is one that lacks enough depth to feel anywhere near comfortable.

Illinois State (RPI: 36, KenPom: 50, No. 12 seed): The Redbirds beat Southern Illinois, so they’re still in the mix. But with just one top 75 win and three sub-100 losses, it’s going to be hard to get in if they don’t get that MVC automatic bid.

LOSERS

Cal (RPI: 39, KenPom: 47, No. 10 seed): Cal is probably still safe after losing at home to No. 6 Oregon on Wednesday, but it sure isn’t going to feel good that they were up by 15 and blew a lead in a game that would have cemented their status as an at-large team. As it stands, Cuonzo Martin’s team is 18-9 on the season without a single bad loss, but they’re only 1-7 against the top 50, their only win over a tournament team is USC and they may not play another RPI top 100 team this season. Don’t lose anymore.

Kansas State (RPI: 51, KenPom: 28, No. 11 seed): Bruce Weber really just cannot make this easy on himself. Kansas State lost for the seventh time in the last nine games on Wednesday, falling at home to Oklahoma State. The Wildcats have just four top 100 wins, but three of those are top 30 wins, two of them are on the road and one of those is at Baylor. That’s enough to keep them on the cut line for now, but with at Oklahoma, at TCU and Texas Tech left, I would urge them to find a way to turn this slump around.

Tennessee (RPI: 50, KenPom: 42, first four out): The Vols may have finally played themselves off the bubble — which is an exceedingly difficult thing to do this season — by losing at home to Vanderbilt. In fact, I think I would go as far as to say that the Commodores now have a better chance of getting an at-large bid than Tennessee.

Pitt (RPI: 59, KenPom: , next four out): Pitt was in the picture because the bubble is trash. They had a chance to land a nice win at a Wake Forest team that has really good computer numbers … and then blew a 19 point lead. I can’t see them getting an at-large bid at this point.

 

VIDEO: Brooks hits 3-pointer with 0.2 left to lift Oregon past Cal

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Dillon Brooks did it earlier against UCLA. Wednesday, he added Cal to his list.

The Oregon junior hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 0.2 left on the clock to give the sixth-ranked Ducks a 68-65 victory over the Bears after trailing by as many as 16 in the second half.

It’s the second time this season that Brooks, who finished with 22 points, has hit a game-winning three, and this one keeps the Ducks within a game of first-place Arizona in the Pac-12 standings.

The bigger story here may actually be Cal, as the Golden Bears gave away a 15-point lead in the final 10 minutes and a 10-point lead in the final five minutes in a game they desperately needed to win for their at-large résumé. Cal is just 1-7 against the RPI top 50 this season, and while they don’t have any bad losses to their name, this was their last chance to land a marquee win before the Pac-12 tournament.

I don’t think they’re in danger of missing the dance just yet, but I would not recommend tempting fate and losing down the stretch of the season.