Let's get this conversation out of the way (for the first time, anyway) as early as possible.
Maryland enters Wednesday night's game against Florida State at 13-1. It also played the nation's No. 306 nonconference schedule per CBSSports.com, a number that figures to fluctuate some in the next two months but at no point will approach a level that could be described as "remotely challenging."
In the here and now, the question asked to Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon is just how good his team is, even if it doesn't pop up in what are ultimately irrelevant national rankings at this stage.
"Well, we're as good as our record because that's just who you are," Turgeon said this week. "But I don't care about the ranking stuff. We have plenty of time to prove ourselves on that. We have a tough league schedule ahead of us, with a lot of good teams multiple times on our schedule. I don't worry about all that. We took care of our schedule. You see teams lose games they should win and we didn't do that. We took care of it, which was important. Most importantly, we had young guys getting better during that stretch."
The better question to ask is what sort of impact will a shaky nonconference strength of schedule (NC SOS) have down the road.
And the truth is, it probably isn't as much as you'd think, as the list at the bottom suggests.
In all but one year between 2004 and 2011, at least one team with a nonconference schedule strength worse than 250 earned an at-large bid (long-time data stalwart CollegeRPI.com does not have last year's, but if memory serves Cincinnati's NC SOS was in that ballpark and the Bearcats earned a No. 6 seed).
It's worth noting that since 2006, every team that made it in with a lousy nonconference schedule strength also had at least 24 wins. That makes sense; the best way to counteract picking up easy victories in the early going is to stack roughly a dozen conference wins on top of them.
Put another way, sometimes sheer quantity does the trick if it is overwhelming quantity mixed with just a dab of quality. And with a 68-team field, it's a lot easier for that strategy to work.
Turgeon's right. The Terps will see Duke twice, North Carolina twice and Miami and N.C. State once each. Odds are, Maryland will play one of those teams again in the ACC tournament. There are plenty of chances for the Terps to prove themselves and offer a glimpse of who they really are.
What that is remains to be seen. If the Terps keep piling up victories --- as in another dozen or so between now and St. Patrick's Day --- their often-dull November and December won't be given much thought when the NCAA tournament selection committee convenes in March.
NCAA AT-LARGE TEAMS WITH NONCONFERENCE SCHEDULE STRENGTH OF 250+, 2004-11
Cincinnati (25-8, 11-7 Big East, RPI: 36, NC SOS: 285, No. 6 seed)
Louisiana State (26-7, 13-3 SEC, RPI: 37, NC SOS: 252, No. 8 seed)
Wake Forest (24-6, 11-5 ACC, RPI: 16, NC SOS: 268, No. 4 seed)
Purdue (24-8, 15-3 Big Ten, RPI: 45, NC SOS: 268, No. 6 seed)
Notre Dame (24-7, 14-4 Big East, RPI: 26, NC SOS: 279, No. 5 seed)
Stanford (26-7, 13-5 Pac-10, RPI: 14, NC SOS: 293, No. 3 seed)
Notre Dame (24-7, 11-5 Big East, RPI: 31, NC SOS: 311, No. 6 seed)
Washington State (25-7, 13-5 Pac-10, RPI: 25, NC SOS: 312, No. 3 seed)
Air Force (24-6, 12-4 Mountain West, RPI: 50, NC SOS: 273, No. 13 seed)
Boston College (26-7, 11-5 ACC, RPI: 22, NC SOS: 282, No. 4 seed)
George Washington (26-2, 16-0 Atlantic 10, RPI: 37, NC SOS: 323, No. 8 seed)
West Virginia (21-10, 8-8 Big East, RPI: 34, NC SOS: 261, No. 7 seed)
Pittsburgh (20-8, 10-6 Big East, RPI: 36, NC SOS: 264, No. 9 seed)
N.C. State (19-13, 7-9 ACC, RPI: 63, NC SOS: 268, No. 10 seed)
South Carolina (23-10, 8-8 SEC, RPI: 45, NC SOS: 299, No. 10 seed)
Air Force (22-6, 12-2 Mountain West, RPI: 70, NC SOS: 315, No. 11 seed)
--- Patrick Stevens