For the first time since 2000, Maryland men’s basketball is 1-3 entering its fifth game of the season. Similarly to coach Gary Williams’ squad after the turn of the century, the Terps have dropped three consecutive games after winning their season opener.
What’s left to be seen is how this year’s Maryland team responds. Williams’ group won 10 straight games and left little doubt that they were worthy of a spot in the NCAA tournament after a 10-6 finish in ACC play. The Terps earned a No. 3 seed, progressed to the Final Four and eventually fell to Duke.
Williams’ team went on to win a national championship a year later. This year’s Terps are very different, but past seasons show an early-season funk isn’t season ending and can be overcome between November and March. Kevin Willard’s squad has time to leave their recent losses in the past, but further defeats could do more harm to an already tattered resume.
Maryland will need to make use of its upcoming extended home stretch and three games against inferior opponents to fix its offensive issues and prepare itself for Big Ten play ahead of its conference opener Dec. 1 at Indiana.
“What I’m looking forward to is getting 10 days at home consistently,” Willard said. “This schedule has not been conducive to growing this team.”
The Terps’ pair of losses against Davidson and UAB at the Asheville Championship were as bad and worse than its worst defeat throughout Willard’s first year at Maryland, per KenPom’s rankings. The Wildcats and Blazers currently slot in at No. 131 and No. 93, respectively.
The lowest-ranked defeat the Terps endured last season was an overtime loss at Nebraska, which finished No. 94 in last year’s rankings.
The Terps mostly avoided losses to inferior opponents last year and were a perfect 11-0 against quad three and four teams entering the NCAA tournament. The NCAA has yet to release its first NET rankings this season, which take into account factors such as game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin and net offensive and defensive efficiency to sort teams into four categories.
Maryland’s neutral site loss to Davidson could very well classify as its first quad three loss under Willard. The Wildcats finished last season ranked No. 145 in the NET and No. 140 in KenPom. So far this season, Davidson is 2-2 and currently slots in at No. 131 in the KenPom rankings after a 70-68 loss at East Tennessee State Friday. A neutral site game between a team ranked 101 and 200 in the NET rankings qualifies as a quad three contest.
But Maryland still has plenty of problems to deal with before focusing on what its resume might look like in March.
The Terps are shooting just 21.6 percent from three-point range, the 350th worst mark in the country and the second-worst mark of any power-conference team, per KenPom. They scored the least points in a game since 1982 in a 57-40 loss to then-No. 21 Villanova Friday.
They’ve averaged 58 points per game through their worst start in 23 years.
“I gotta come up with something quickly because the lineups I’m putting out there aren’t complemented,” Willard said. “The offensive struggles are on me.”
Maryland’s three-game homestand features games against UMBC, South Alabama and Rider over the next two weeks, a stretch that will give the Terps a chance to regroup after suffering three consecutive losses for only the second time under Willard. Maryland will hope to avoid another disaster and prepare itself for its first two Big Ten games, which hold heightened importance the longer the Terps sputter.
“We don’t have a whole lot of confidence right now to be perfectly honest with you, but we’ll get there,” Willard said. “I have great confidence in this team, I have great confidence in these players. I thought we’d struggle a little bit, I didn’t think we’d struggle this bad offensively to start, but I do know where we’ll be at the end of the year.”