Maryland entered the season with lofty expectations.
When their NCAA Tournament run ended on Thursday, a feeling of unfulfillment was in the air.
The 2015-2016 version of the Terrapins were expected to be a Final Four team. With Jake Layman and Melo Trimble returning to the team for another go-round, Maryland also received the services of Robert Carter and Rasheed Sulaimon via the transfer market and Diamond Stone via the recruiting circuit.
With a starting five like that, it’s pretty easy to see why Maryland was being projected for a Final Four run.
The Terps ran through the nonconference portion of the schedule pretty easily with the only hiccup being a 89-81 loss to North Carolina in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 1. Even in the loss, it still looked as though Maryland belonged in the conversation with some of the most talented teams in the country.
Just a week later, Maryland traveled to the Big Apple for a date with Connecticut in the Jimmy V Classic. The Terps controlled the game from the opening tip against the Huskies, who ended up making the NCAA Tournament.
When Big Ten play began in late December, Maryland continued to impress. The Terps won their first four Big Ten games, which included Stone’s 39-point effort against Penn State on Dec. 30.
Maryland also avoided a loss on the road against Wisconsin thanks to a last-second game-winning three from Trimble.
During the month of January, Maryland fell to both Michigan and Michigan State in a pair of games where the Terps clearly didn’t play their best basketball. Maryland responded by ripping off a five-game winning streak, which featured a convincing victory over then-ranked No. 3 Iowa.
Then the decline started to happen for Maryland. The Terps lost four of their final six regular season games, including road games to Indiana and Purdue.
The team did have a decent showing in the Big Ten Tournament when they were nothing short of impressive against Nebraska and gave Michigan State everything they could handle. However, Maryland still ended up receiving a less-than-favorable No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
With a No. 5 seed sent their way, the Terps ended up traveling to Spokane for a date with No. 12 seed South Dakota State. Maryland played pretty well overall, but nearly coughed up a 12-point halftime lead in the final moments.
The team was rescued by Layman’s career-high 27 points, which helped seal the deal.
With a win in the First Round, the Second Round was supposed to feature a highly-anticipated matchup with No. 4 seed California. However, No. 13 seed Hawaii threw a wrench into those plans by upsetting the Golden Bears.
Maryland found themselves in a dogfight with Hawaii before a 14-0 second half run put the Terps in front for good. Trimble led the way with 24 points and made the team’s only three-point shot.
That brings us to Thursday evening’s loss at the hands of top seed Kansas.
While it’s no slap in the face to fall to a talented team like the Jayhawks, this is a situation that the Terps shouldn’t have been in this early in the NCAA Tournament.
Maryland definitely had the talent on their roster to garner a No. 1 or 2 seed in the tournament field. All five starters finished the season in double figures and there’s certainly a reason for that.
All five of these players have a future at the NBA level. However, they never seemed to gel together as a cohesive unit.
This was arguably one of the most talented starting units in the country, but their consistent struggles during Big Ten play ultimately doomed them. With the selection committee taking a hard look at who the elite teams around the nation were, Maryland just didn’t rise to the occasion.
One of the most glaring blemishes was a road loss at Minnesota on Feb. 18. Despite Stone being suspended for the game, Maryland still got little production from anyone not named Sulaimon.
Sulaimon scored 28 points, but Carter and Trimble only managed to make six of their 23 field goal attempts on the evening. Great teams simply don’t slip up against a lowly bottom feeders like the Golden Gophers.
However, it was more than just the Minnesota game.
When Maryland needed to improve their resume against good Big Ten teams like Purdue and Wisconsin, they failed to do so down the stretch. The same can be said for the regular season finale against Indiana where Maryland had one final chance to make a big impression.
The Hoosiers dominated the Terps in the second half on their way to the easy 80-62 victory. Ironically, the win gave Indiana the outright Big Ten regular season title.
That honor was supposed to be Maryland’s to lose and that’s exactly what they did down the stretch.
If a few of those games go Maryland’s way, they’re a No. 2 or 3 seed most likely and avoid Kansas so early in the NCAA Tournament. Obviously, you never really know what the committee would’ve done if the Terps had performed better, but a few more wins certainly couldn’t have hurt.
Obviously, this season wasn’t a failure because Maryland won 27 games, including a pair of tournament contests. However, with the grand expectations in mind, it wasn’t exactly a rousing success either.
It’ll always be the season that could’ve been if the chemistry was there. It’ll take a while to stomach the latest loss around College Park, that’s for sure.