When teams schedule nonconference games, they usually add opponents that will help boost their strength of schedule. To help build résumés for the NCAA tournament, programs can't consistently play against weaker opponents.
Last season, a weak nonconference schedule played a role in the tournament committee's decision to keep the University of Maryland men's basketball team out of the big dance. Head coach Mark Turgeon even expressed his displeasure with his team's nonconference schedule, which is stronger for this season.
The additions of ranked opponents Ohio State University and University of Connecticut, along with Oregon State University and George Washington University, helped improve the Terps' nonconference schedule. But these games don't mean as much when they result in losses, and that's what has happened to Maryland when it faced all four of those teams.
After the Terps' 77-75 loss to George Washington University at the BB&T Classic Dec. 8, Turgeon's team has fallen to 5-4. With these losses, the Terps are already putting themselves at a disadvantage to make the tournament.
Playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference gives Maryland the ability to turn things around and lock up a bid, but that would take a significant turnaround from where the team is now. The Terps have had several struggles early during the 2013-14 season, starting on the defensive end.
With the exception of the final seven minutes against George Washington, the Maryland defense has been suspect at best during its losses. Opponents' dominant big men and hot-shooting guards have been beating the Terps inside and out. On defense, Maryland players are having difficulty keeping their men in front of them and are late on rotations, giving opponents open shots.
As a result of these struggles, Turgeon has had to go deeper into his bench to find an answer on defense. Freshman Damonte Dodd has gotten a boost in minutes to help add more length to the Terps' frontcourt. Sophomore Jonathan Graham, a transfer from Penn State University, could also start to get more playing time. He came into the game against George Washington and provided a small spark off the bench during the second half.
Against George Washington, the Terps may have found a defensive strongpoint moving forward. Using a full-court trap, the Maryland defense repeatedly gave the Colonials trouble and helped the Terps make a comeback. Moving forward, Turgeon could use this defense more, especially if it has the same effectiveness.
Turgeon is digging deeper in the bench to add stability on offense as well. Junior Varun Ram got his first collegiate start, at point guard, against the Colonials.
Turnovers have been a problem for Maryland, especially when facing heavy on-ball pressure. Ram has seven turnovers this season, the least of any Maryland player who has played more than 100 minutes. A former walk-on, Ram could continue to get more minutes, as long as he continues to take care of the ball, while sophomore Seth Allen remains sidelined because of injury.
Now that the tough part of the Terps' nonconference schedule is in the past, ACC play has become even more important for them. They will need to finish nonconference play without lapses against the weaker opponents, and post a winning record against all conference opponents. Without a significant turnaround, Maryland will be in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the fourth consecutive season.
Follow Chris on Twitter @Garmelo10.