Rob Dauster

Maryland's Rasheed Sulaimon drives to the basket around Iowa's Dom Uhl in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, in College Park, Md. Maryland won 74-68. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

No. 8 Maryland lands first marquee win over No. 3 Iowa

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COLLEGE PARK, Maryland — For a team with legitimate national title aspirations and a shot to win the Big Ten regular season title, it may surprise folks that haven’t been paying attention that Maryland was a No. 3 seed in the latest NBCSports.com bracket projection.

And prior to Thursday night, there were projections that slotted the Terps as a No. 4 or No. 5 seed.

That’s what happens when it’s January 28th and your best win is over … a disappointing UConn team? A Georgetown team that lost to Radford, UNC Asheville and Monmouth? The worst Wisconsin team in more than 15 years? Believe it or not, their best RPI win as No. 3 Iowa rolled into town was against Princeton, who was slotted in at 60th.

And that is what made this result so important, as the No. 8 Terps knocked off the Hawkeyes on Thursday night, 70-64, giving them their first marquee win of the season against what may be the last elite opponent they play before March. The Terps really don’t have that many more opportunities for quality wins left on their schedule. They get Purdue twice. They play at Indiana. There’s a game against Michigan and the Big Ten tournament. That’s about it.

So this win in and of itself is key for seeding if nothing else, regardless of whether or not head coach Mark Turgeon believes it.

“It’s the first [game against a ranked opponent] at home,” Turgeon said. “It’s hard on the road against ranked opponents. It kind of made me mad when people were talking that way.”

Turgeon will have less reason to be mad tonight, but the fact of the matter here is that the win itself matters far less than the manner in which the Terps landed this win.

They did it without Melo Trimble.

Not without him without him. He played. He was on the floor for his usual 35 minutes. He just was more or less a non-factor.

Trimble, in case you’ve been sleeping under a football-shaped log for the last two months, is Maryland’s star. He’s the guy that hit the game-winning three at Wisconsin, the guy that has found his name somewhere near the top of every National Player of the Year list that you should be paying attention. He’s been dubbed by your’s truly as the best Big Shot Maker in college basketball, and he is the biggest reason that the Terps are now 17-2 in games decided by six points or less in his two seasons in College Park.

And on Thursday night, Melo finished with 11 points and three assists, shooting just 2-for-7 from the floor and, perhaps most surprisingly, getting to the free throw line exactly zero times before there were 17.4 seconds left on the clock. Five of his 11 points came in those final 17.4 seconds when the game was essentially decided. He didn’t score in the second until those free throws and took just three shots in the final 20 minutes.

Head coach Mark Turgeon didn’t even put the rock in Trimble’s hand on the biggest possession of the game. He used him as a decoy, sliding him on the weak side of the floor to draw the help defender as Jake Layman floated a lob pass over a fronting post defender for a Diamond Stone layup that made it 64-60 with a little more than a minute left.

Didn’t matter.

Rasheed Sulaimon and Robert Carter Jr. both finished with 17 points and the Terps left the Xfinity Center with the 70-64 win.

And therein lies the most confounding thing about this Maryland team.

On paper, they’re may be the most talented team in the country, and I don’t say that lightly. Trimble is an all-american, and when Sulaimon is playing well, he gives the Terps what may be the best back court in college basketball. Diamond Stone is a soon-to-be lottery pick, Jake Layman could end up getting drafted and Robert Carter Jr. may actually be the team’s most well-rounded player.

“It’s really impressive when you look at the talent level. The size, the versatility, I think that’s what makes Maryland so tough,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “Carter’s a handful, Stone is so good. Sulaimon and Trimble are so quick off the dribble, it’s hard to contain them.”

“We know what we have and we know what our potential could be,” Sulaimon said.

Why, then, is this team so inconsistent? Nine days earlier, in the same building that the Terps beat the hottest team in college basketball, the Terps were taken to overtime by Northwestern. They needed to come back from down 13 points with seven minutes left to beat Penn State right here in College Park. It’s been a consistent thing this year. They struggled with Rider early in the year. They struggled with Illinois State.

And the answer may actually be their savior.

Trimble is one of the five best point guards in college basketball. I’m not sure there is anyone in the country that would tell you otherwise. But the knock on Trimble is that he can be too ball-dominant at times. When the offense gets bogged, often times it turns into — or it is the direct result off — The Melo Show. The ball sticks in his hands. He dribbles out the clock, waiting for a chance to attack in isolation or a ball-screen action.

That was just fine last year, when Trimble’s supporting cast wasn’t as good as this year’s squad.

But now he may be sharing the court with four other NBA players.

When the ball moves, it gets other guys involved. Sulaimon got into a rhythm shooting the ball early and that opened up lanes for him to penetrate. “He does such a good job of finishing, especially going to his right, but he’s a tough guard because he can shoot it too,” Iowa point guard Mike Gesell said. “He’s very good for that team. He really got it going tonight.”

Iowa’s inability to guard Sulaimon and Trimble in man-to-man forced them into their 2-3 zone, which Carter feasted on. “He went to work in there,” McCaffery said.

The key was that they weren’t just finishing off plays. That duo finished with 22 shot attempts and nine assists. They weren’t just involved in the offense. They were creating it.

That’s what it’s going to take for Maryland to reach their ceiling.

And when they do, they have the pieces needed to beat anyone in the country, to win a national title. Tonight was evidence of that.

“We beat a really good basketball team tonight,” Turgeon said. “They are probably one of, if not the best team, right now, in college basketball. And we were able to beat them.”

And doing so with Trimble playing a minimal role down the stretch to boot.

“That’s a good sign for us.”

 

Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan in doubt for this weekend with ankle injury

Purdus forward Caleb Swanigan (50) drives on Illinois guard Khalid Lewis during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Champaign, Ill., on Sunday Jan. 10, 2016. Illinois won 84-70. (AP Photo/Rick Danzl)
(AP Photo/Rick Danzl)
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Purdue won at Minnesota on Wednesday night, but they did it without star freshman Caleb Swanigan.

‘Biggie’ rolled his ankle in a loss to Iowa over the weekend, and while he still managed to play 10 second half minutes in that game — and practice for the majority of the time on Tuesday — the staff held him out of Wednesday’s game. Head coach Matt Painter told reporters after the game that the ankle was too sore to even partake is shootaround and that the 6-foot-9 power forward’s status for the weekend was unclear. Purdue plays Nebraska in West Lafayette on Saturday.

Swanigan is averaging 10.1 points and 8.9 boards on the season.

Purdue was also without Kendell Stephens, their best three-point shooter, who is mourning the death of a friend and missed his second straight game.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Iowa-Maryland, Arizona-Oregon headline a good night in hoops

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: N0. 3 Iowa at No. 8 Maryland, 7:00 p.m.

This is the last truly difficult test that the Hawkeyes are going to get in the Big Ten regular season, meaning that if there is any real chance of the Terps — or anyone else, for that matter — catching Fran McCaffery’s club for the conference title, Maryland needs to get this win. The Hawkeyes are the hottest team in college hoops, steam-rolling to a sweep of Michigan State and Purdue to climb to 7-0 in the conference while Maryland is sitting two games back, still trying to figure out how all of their pieces fit together. The key matchup here is going to be Jarrod Uthoff and whoever he ends up guarding. Robert Carter? Jake Layman? Will Maryland be forced to go small against the Hawkeyes?

In any case, it’s going to be a fun watch and the XFinity Center will undoubtedly be rocking.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. This game won’t get the pub as Iowa-Maryland, but it’s a critical Pac-12 battle between what may be the two best teams in the league. No. 23 Oregon at No. 18 Arizona, 9:00 p.m. Get to a TV.
  2. No. 25 Notre Dame will be without Demetrius Jackson as they visit Syracuse, who could really use the win. How will the Irish deal with the Orange zone without their playmaker? Tip is at 7:00 p.m.
  3. A battle between two of the ACC teams that are going to be scrapping it out for at-large bids come February. Cincinnati’s size visits UConn’s talented back court. Tip is at 7:00 p.m.
  4. No. 12 Michigan State snapped their three-game losing skid against Maryland on Saturday. Can they now take out Northwestern on the road?
  5. If you like high-scoring basketball games, give Washington at UCLA a watch. Both teams run and both teams hate playing defense. Tip is at 10:00 p.m.

VIDEOS: Colorado State gives Emmanuel Omogbo standing ovation in his return

Colorado State's forward Emmanuel Omogbo celebrates a 74-66 win over San Jose State after an NCAA college basketball game in Fort Collins, Colo., Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (Austin Humphreys/The Coloradoan via AP)
(Austin Humphreys/The Coloradoan via AP)
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The Moby Arena crowd gave starting forward Emmanuel Omogbo a standing ovation upon his return to the court on Wednesday night.

Omogbo had returned from Maryland on Tuesday, where he spent the weekend grieving with friends and family following the tragic death of his parents and two-year old twin niece and nephew in a house fire.

“I teared up,” assistant coach Ross Hodge said. Hodge traveled with Omogbo back to him Chillum, Maryland, home over the weekend.

Omogbo ended up being the difference-maker for the Rams as well, scoring all 11 of his points in the final 12 minutes of a 74-66 win.

The team, and the coaching staff, was glad to have him back, and while it is going to take a while to get past what happened to him and his family, the important thing for Omogbo is that he have the support in Fort Collins to do it.

“I had four sons, now I have five. He’s my fifth son, he really is,” Eustachy said after the game. “He’s always been a little special My wife claims that she signed him on the visit, and Emmanuel backs it up. My wife adores him and vice-versa, so he’s family.”

BUBBLE BANTER: Clemson-Pitt in a key bubble battle headline the night

Clemson's Sidy Djitte (50) gets a rebound in front of Pittsburgh's James Robinson in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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The latest NBCSports.com NCAA Tournament bracket can be found here.

WINNERS

Clemson (13-7, KenPom: 51, RPI: 92) is shaping up to be one of the most interesting bubble teams this season. They already have five wins against the RPI top 50 and a sixth coming at Syracuse, who currently is sitting at 51st in the RPI. They do have a pair of ugly losses to Minnesota and UMass, who are sub-150 on both the RPI and KenPom, and a non-conference strength of schedule that ranks 331st, which is a major, major black eye on their profile.

In other words, that non-conference RPI number eliminates any margin for error that the Tigers have. If you remember, SMU was snubbed for the 2014 NCAA tournament in a season where just about every bracket projection had them slotted right around a No. 9 seed. They’re currently slotted as an one of the last four at-large bids in our latest bracket.

Clemson cannot afford another loss that could be considered even a moderately bad loss and they probably need to beat Virginia and Notre Dame at home to really feel comfortable. But the fact this team is even in the conversation at this point should go to show you just how good of a job Brad Brownell has done since league play started.

The rest of Wednesday’s winners:

  • Wichita State (15-5, KenPom: 17, RPI: 22): The Shockers are going to be another interesting at-large case. They’re 14-2 on the season when Fred VanVleet is in the lineup and both losses were true road games. But their two best wins are against a UNLV team that could be NIT bound and a Utah team that projects to finish in the middle of the pack in the Pac-12. The issue is that the MVC is only going to bring their résumé down, as Evansville is the lone remaining conference member in the RPI top 100, and Wichita State gets them on the road on Saturday. The Shockers beat Loyola (IL) Wednesday night.
  • Seton Hall (14-6, KenPom: 39, RPI: 49): The Pirates avoided losing to St. John’s at home, setting them up for a critical two-week stretch: at Creighton and then a three-game home stand against Marquette, Georgetown and Butler. For a team with just two top 50 wins (Wichita State at home, at Providence) they need to add some depth to their profile.
  • Colorado (16-5, KenPom: 48, RPI: 20): The Buffaloes added another solid win to an already strong résumé when they knocked off Stanford on Wednesday night. They have four RPI top 50 wins and their only two losses outside the RPI top 20 are on the road to league foes. That said, on KenPom, the Buffs only have one top 50 win to their name.
  • St. Joseph’s (17-3, KenPom: 54, RPI 37): The Hawks have no bad losses this season. They also have no good wins. Their best win is either Princeton or at Temple, and beating UMass Wednesday won’t change that. Assuming they beat who they’re expected to beat, the Hawks could see their season come down whether or not they can beat Dayton.
  • Butler (14-6, KenPom: 38, RPI: 53): Beating DePaul earned the Bulldogs their third league win of the season, all of which came against DePaul or St. John’s. Butler is 0-4 against the top of the conference, and while they have no bad losses this season, their only two good wins are against Purdue and over Cincinnati on the road. Butler needs to big off one of the Big East’s Big Boys down the stretch of the season.
  • Arkansas (10-10, KenPom: 55, RPI 103): The Razorbacks have a ways to go to really get back into bubble contention. A good way to start? Beating Texas A&M. Now they have a marquee win to hang on a profile with just one sub-100 loss.

LOSERS

The Pitt Panthers (16-4, KenPom: 50, RPI: 30) have been a bit of a running joke in recent years. That’s what happens when you don’t play anyone in the non-conference portion of your schedule and proceed to get worked over in league play. And while it may seem like the latter has happened this season, Pitt actually has a surprisingly solid résumé, even with Wednesday’s loss at Clemson. They have won at Notre Dame and at Florida State, which are top 50 wins in both the RPI and KenPom. They beat Davidson as well, and their two bad losses – N.C. State at home and at Clemson — both register as top 100 teams in both metrics. The bad? A non-conference strength of schedule that ranks in the 180s and 11 wins over teams that rank 115 or lower on KenPom.

In other words, Pitt has a record of 16-4, an RPI of 30 and a pair of top 50 road wins without a bad loss to their name and games left against Virginia, Miami, North Carolina, Syracuse, Louisville and Duke. They were a seven seed in our most recent bracket, and it’s hard to see a loss at Clemson changing that too much. So when we talk about Pitt needing to prove themselves and Pitt not being all that good, understand that Pitt can still be in a good spot when it comes to the NCAA tournament.

The rest of Wednesday’s losers:

  • Stanford (11-8, KenPom: 95, RPI 46): The good news for Stanford is that losing at Colorado is anything but a bad loss. The Buffaloes are 20th in the RPI and 48th on KenPom. The Cardinal don’t have a bad loss on their résumé, but they’re just 2-8 against the KenPom top 50 and they have just five total top 100 RPI wins. They’re not in a terrible spot to make a run at a bid, but they need to start racking up some wins.
  • Temple (11-8, KenPom: 97, RPI: 72): The Owls followed up a great home win over SMU by losing to East Carolina. They now have three sub-100 losses in the RPI while a sweep of Cincinnati and a win at UConn are their only other top 150 wins in the RPI. The Owls weren’t even one of the Next Four Out in our most recent bracket, and that was before the loss.
  • Cal (14-7, KenPom: 37, RPI: 35): The Golden Bears actually have a stronger profile that many will realize, particularly if value is put on the RPI. They have five top 50 wins and just two losses outside the top 50, the “worst” of which is against Richmond. A loss at Utah, who is ranked 18th in the RPI, is not going to hurt. The one red flag with this group is that they’re now 1-7 away from home this season.
  • Boise State (15-6, KenPom: 73, RPI: 62): The loss that Boise State took at UNLV on Wednesday will look a lot worse on paper than it was in real life. And if the Rebels continue to play up to their potential, as they have done in the last two weeks, this likely won’t be a sub-100 loss come the end of the season.
  • Tulsa (13-7, KenPom: 66, RPI: 61): The Golden Hurricane took a brutal loss on Wednesday night, getting blown out at Houston, who needed this win to get them back into the RPI Top 150. Tulsa is just 2-5 against the RPI top 100 with their best win coming against a Wichita State team that looks way better on KenPom (17th) than the RPI (50th).
  • Marquette (13-7, KenPom: 120, RPI: 117): This is a team that ranks 280th in non-conference strength of schedule that played a game tonight against Stetson, who ranks 295th in the RPI. They’re not dead yet, but they’re getting close.
  • Virginia Tech (12-9, KenPom: 105, RPI: 103): With just one bad loss (horrific loss, to sub-300 Alabama State), the Hokies still had a fighting chance after starting ACC play 4-1 with a win over Virginia. But after losing to Louisville, they now have six straight games against teams ranked 51st or higher in KenPom, with four of them away.

VIDEO: John Thompson Jr. was not happy with the refs last night

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People that don’t get a chance to cover Georgetown basketball games may not realize just how close Big John Thompson is to that program.

He built Georgetown into a national power. His son coaches the team right now. He sits on the baseline for every game. And, just about every night, you can find him sneaking into the back of the press room for the post game press conference.

If you know about about Big John, it’s that he’s not afraid to speak his mind.

And he did just that last night:

JT III is asked a question about the officiating during Georgetown’s win over Creighton, and Big John cuts off his son.

“Last two games here at home have been terribly called,” he said. “You can tell the f***ing commissioner and everybody else in the Big East that I said that.”

After JT III provided a more diplomatic response, Big John closed down the presser with a simple directive to his son, a way to avoid getting in trouble with the league: “Shut up.”