By Ben Harris
Last season, the Terps went 30-27 en route to a Big Ten Tournament berth. However, Maryland fell in the semi-final to Iowa and was not selected to participate in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, after winning back-to-back NCAA Regionals.
While Maryland’s near .500 record may indicate that the Terps were rightfully left out of the postseason picture, a deeper analysis shows Maryland much more on the bubble. In 2016, Maryland’s non-conference schedule—featuring series at Alabama and Cal St. Fullerton, and a home series vs. Bryant—was the sixth-hardest in the nation. This led to Maryland finishing with an RPI of 60, good enough to squeak into the top-64. But, when factoring in automatic bids from conferences with weaker RPIs, it left the Terps on the outside of the NCAA Tournament looking in.
Let’s break down Maryland’s 56-game schedule for 2017.
In 2017, Maryland’s non-conference schedule figures to again be one of the toughest in the nation, featuring series at LSU and home against Bryant, in addition to two high-profile tournaments.
This is the continuation of a trend started last season when the Terps’ overall strength of schedule ranked 29th in the nation. No Big Ten team had a tougher schedule, and it was all thanks to Maryland’s arduous non-conference slate.
Maryland’s 2017 non-conference opponents averaged a record of 33-23 last year. For context, just 78 out of 300 teams in 2016 won more than 33 games—that’s the top quarter of division I baseball. These aren’t teams who put together 30-win seasons in weak conferences—eight went at least as far as NCAA Regionals last year.
Series and Tournaments:
The Terps hit the ground running to open their season, playing five of their first ten games against programs which finished in the top-10 in RPI last season. Maryland will spend opening weekend in Clearwater, Florida, facing Ball State, Alabama State (the four-seed in last year’s Tallahassee Region) and Louisville, the fifth-overall seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals, arguably the nation’s most talented team last season, hosted and won their NCAA Regional, tallying a 50-14 record en route to a top-two finish in RPI.
For the fourth time in the last five seasons, the Terps will travel early in the season to take on a high-profile SEC opponent. Exactly five years and one week after Szefc began his Maryland coaching career getting swept by the LSU in Baton Rouge, “The General” and his troops will return to Alex Box Stadium for an early test against the Tigers. LSU fell in last year’s Super Regional to the eventual College World Series champion, Coastal
Carolina, and finished ninth in the nation in RPI.
The following week, in their second tournament of the season, Maryland will play North Carolina State (38-22), Notre Dame and UMass-Lowell. The N.C. State Wolfpack, the toughest opponent of the three, finished 2016 with the eighth-best RPI in the NCAA, and also saw their season end at the hands of Chanticleers, one round before the Tigers.
The Terps welcome the Bryant Bulldogs to College Park for the second-straight year and third meeting in four years. The March series will reunite new Maryland pitching coach Ryan Fecteau with his former team. The Bulldogs had the best record in the nation last year (47-12, .796) but were eliminated by William & Mary, another of the Terps’ 2017 opponents, in the Charlottesville Regional.
Princeton, the four-seed in last year’s Lafayette Region, will travel to Maryland for the third straight odd-numbered year. The Terps handily swept both previous series, outscoring the Tigers 73-15 while tossing three shutouts.
Notable Midweek Matchups:
- March 14, at North Carolina (6:00 p.m. ET)
- March 21-22, at UNC-Wilmington (6:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. ET)
- April 11, vs. West Virginia (4:00 p.m. ET)
- March 7 and April 19, vs. William and Mary (both at 4:00 p.m. ET)
While Maryland’s final RPI will heavily emphasize non-conference results, the Terps will need to bolster their resume with positive results during conference play.
Over the past two seasons—Maryland’s first in the Big Ten—the Terps have played every Big Ten team at least once. That means no more surprises, and no more teams Szefc has never faced. Maryland begins its conference slate with three home games against Michigan, one of two 2017 conference opponents they did not face last year. The two teams have played four times during Szefc’s tenure as head coach—including the 2015 Big Ten Tournament Final—with the Terps winning just once. Maryland’s series against Michigan will mark the first time former Terps head coach Erik Bakich will return to College Park since leaving to become the Wolverines’ head coach in 2012.
Maryland begins April with two road series against Rutgers and Nebraska, followed by home series against Penn State and Michigan State. In 2016, Maryland dropped two crucial games to Rutgers to begin their penultimate series before salvaging a 6-0 win on Sunday to avoid a sweep. Under Szefc, Maryland is above .500 against the Cornhuskers (3-0), Nittany Lions (2-1) and Spartans (3-2).
To round out the conference schedule, the Terps will travel to Indiana and Illinois for the first time since joining the Big Ten, then host Northwestern at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium for what could be a crucial final conference series. Maryland is 16-15 under John Szefc against 2017 conference opponents and has beaten each one at least once. Overall, Szefc is 27-21 against the Big Ten.
What it Means:
To understand the impact the Big Ten move had on the Terps’ RPI and subsequent postseason hopes, you must compare 2012, the year before Szefc arrived, and 2015.
In 2012, still a member of the powerhouse ACC, the Terps went 32-24 with a 10-20 record in conference. Their strength of schedule? 22. Their RPI? 33.
Three years later, in 2015, Maryland posted a program-record 42 wins and a second consecutive trip to the Super Regionals. Their strength of schedule? 58. Their RPI? 31.
While the conference switch may indicate a negative impact on the Terps scheduling and postseason hopes, it merely shows how Maryland has adjusted. When in the ACC, the Terps could schedule a weaker non-conference schedule, knowing the ACC gauntlet would bolster their RPI and resume. Now in the Big Ten, Maryland, under the direction of Szefc, has done exactly what they need to do in consistently scheduling a difficult non-conference slate.
A strong showing in conference, combined with a respectable run in 16 games against out-of-conference, 2016 NCAA Tournament opponents, would put Maryland well within striking distance of a return to postseason play.