By the time Maryland tips off against their to-be-determined first round opponent Thursday at 3:10 p.m., it will have been a full week since they last played in an actual game.
Not only will it have been seven days since their last outing, but they’ll have played just one game in the last 13 days, and two in the last 18 days.
The question now is just how valuable that time off will end up being for the Terps. It’s a classic question of rest versus rust, and the implications are heightened considering Maryland’s opponent will be coming off a win just two days prior.
With Temple and Belmont tipping off late Tuesday night, it will only have been roughly 40 hours between games for whomever Maryland ends up facing, a stark contrast to the Terps’ long break. One narrative says that might help Maryland. Another says the lack of momentum, for a young, streaky team reliant on momentum all season long, could be devastating.
It’s a fair question to ask. The only comparable stretch earlier this season came during winter break, a time most teams face long breaks due to the holidays. Maryland faced Loyola (MD) on December 11, then Seton Hall on December 22, and played again on December 29 against Radford.
Maryland blew out Loyola, capping a 9-2 start to the season, with their two losses coming at the hands of Purdue and Virginia. Momentum appeared to be on their side.
Then, 11 days later, an unranked Seton Hall team came into College Park and beat Maryland on their own court.
Not only did the Terps suffer a rare home loss, but they looked slow and sloppy during the game. Maryland shot 8-for-25 from 3-point range, and went down 14-3 right off the bat. They ended up battling back to lose by four, 78-74, but the slow start was too much to overcome.
History repeated itself a week later.
Maryland played host to Radford after another week off, and again came out slow. Facing the 125th-ranked team in KenPom, again on their own court, Maryland went down 19-10 in the first six minutes, despite outclassing their opponent in talent and size.
Mark Turgeon has admitted in the past that he tends to save his best, most fiery, motivational speeches for halftime, not pregame. But Maryland has shown that with time off, they can struggle to show up at tip-off.
Against a quality, NCAA Tournament-worthy opponent, that likely wouldn’t end well.
There are plenty of ways to preview their matchup. It would make sense to analyze individual matchups, scout out other teams' tendencies, or point out how much of an X-factor Anthony Cowan has become. Ultimately, though, the Terps’ chances in this year’s Big Dance may prove to be quite simple.
Will the time off, and accompanying extra rest and practice time, prove helpful? Or will they come out slow, putting themselves in a hole out from which they may not be able to dig?
The answer will likely determine whether they make a run, or face yet another too-early March exit.
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