Not long ago, the question most had about Maryland basketball — well, the few outside of the fan base who spoke about Maryland basketball — was whether the Terps would be an NCAA tournament team. The preseason forecasts almost unanimously put them 10th or lower in the Big Ten and chalked it up as a likely recovery year.
What a difference a month can make.
After their blistering 8-0 start, the 22nd-place Terps have the 14th-lowest odds of winning the national championship, according to FanDuel. No, that doesn’t mean Kevin Willard’s team is a real contender for the national title. A game in the Big Ten’s schedule is a wildly premature discussion. But their meteoric rise in odds from 150-to-1 last season to 50-to-1 now, easily the largest increase of any team, is anecdotal evidence that their stellar play is beginning to garner attention.
Maryland is behind the following teams in title odds: Duke, Gonzaga, Indiana, Purdue, UCLA, Virginia, Kansas, Arkansas, Creighton, Tennessee, Illinois, North Carolina and Alabama. This is elite company for a team that few have paid attention to over time. The Terps just beat Illinois, of course, and they’ll have chances to take out UCLA and Tennessee in the next 10 days.
Willard believes the program belongs permanently in this elite company.
“I want to bring this program back to a championship level, and to get it back to a championship level you need a building like this every night. If you look at the Kansases, the Kentuckys, those kinds of programs, which I think, this program is at that level, they have such a crowd every night,” he said after touring Illinois in front of a raucous crowd at the Xfinity Center .
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So where will they end up in Monday’s AP poll?
No. 7 Creighton lost to Texas, but the Longhorns are in second place so this loss shouldn’t drop them far. No. 4 Arizona lost to Utah at 15, but Maryland would need a long fall to overtake them. No. 15 Gonzaga, playing an insanely brutal schedule, lost to No. 6 Baylor, his second loss in a week. She should pass Maryland. Seventh-ranked Creighton has suffered back-to-back losses, but they came up against No. 14 Arizona and No. 2 Texas with seven points total after back-to-back ranked wins over Texas Tech and Arkansas. So the Blue Jays shouldn’t fall far either.
They will pass No. 16 Illinois after beating the Illini head to head.
On the other hand, if voters appreciate their win over Illinois as much as CBS’s Gary Parrish, they could overtake a number of teams. They were the biggest climbers in Parrish’s Top 25 and One rankings on Saturday, climbing from 18th to 10th. Has anyone placed Maryland in the top 10 in any poll this season, let alone a month later?
North Carolina is in freefall and should fall below Maryland after losing two straight games and suffering an almost unprecedented week-long plunge from No. 1 to No. 18. The Tar Heels have another tough game at Virginia Tech on Sunday. Similarly, No. 19 Kentucky lost game in Michigan today, although the Wolverines didn’t play great.
Long story short, there weren’t many surprises in the top 20, but Maryland’s win and Willard’s continued hot start should put them close to No. 13-No. 16 on Monday. With back-to-back games against Wisconsin, Tennessee and UCLA in just under a week, they have an opportunity to move to the elite neighborhood that no one could have foreseen.