It's the most telling time of the year.
Postseason tournaments are still a month away. Early-season victories are foggy memories. Teams live in the now, and right now intense conference matchups reveal which teams are getting ready for March Madness.
The Maryland Terrapins aren't getting better entering the final stretch. They're looking worn -- like a team that returned at 4 a.m. Friday from a snowy overnight road trip.
Maryland badly needed a victory over Virginia in front of a near sellout at Comcast Center on Sunday. These are two teams with roughly similar resumes. The NCAA tournament committee probably will select only one of them.
It won't be Maryland after that clunker of an effort.
Virginia beat Maryland 80-69 in a game it led by double digits for nearly the entire season half. The Cavaliers (17-6, 7-3 ACC) simply outplayed the Terps (17-7, 5-6) in every facet.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon sensed a problem during the pregame talk. The team knew this was a big game, and yet Turgeon looked into his players' eyes -- and saw nothing.
"We weren't there," Turgeon conceded.
Terps center Alex Len didn't score for 25 minutes, and Maryland was outrebounded for the first time this season 34-29. Virginia forwards Akil Mitchell and Justin Anderson combined for 30 points and 13 rebounds. Len needed two junk baskets in the final moments to manage nine points, seven rebounds and five blocks.
"It wasn't his best day," Turgeon said. "He really struggled the second half. The physicality got to him a little bit."
Len is supposedly an NBA prospect, but the Ukrainian center was outmuscled by two Cavaliers five and seven inches shorter and still hasn't learned to protect his area under the basket. And when your best player shows nothing, the rest follow downward.
"Every loose ball, every 50-50 play, we seemed a little lethargic, a half-step slow from the beginning," Turgeon said. "We just couldn't guard them."
Virginia especially wasn't guarded outside, where it converted 11 of 19 3-pointers. That's 18 points more than Maryland scored from beyond the arc, and that decided the game. Thirteen turnovers and 10-for-18 shooting from the line didn't help Maryland, but every time it got close, Virginia stuck a 3-pointer. Paul Jesperson converted all four attempts and Joe Harris three of four.
"It was target practice out there today. Nobody could miss," Cavs guard Jontel Evans said.
Target practice? A visiting team second in the nation in points allowed per game at 51.5 felt free to forgo its defensive shutdown because Virginia converted 54.2 percent of its own shots and had four starters score at least 12 points. Meanwhile, Dez Wells lead the Terps with 13.
Virginia has won six of its last seven. The Cavs enter the final month with a good chance to win 22 games and earn a high ACC tournament seed, which should make reaching the NCAAs a real possibility. Maryland needs to upset Duke or North Carolina and not fall flat again the rest of the way to receive any NCAA consideration.
Otherwise, Turgeon will see nothing in his players' eyes again.