There’s a chance that when Maryland’s lineup is announced next season, only one name will carry over from this year’s squad. That name is Mark Turgeon. The Maryland coach has received a lot of criticism over the last six months, some of which was deserved and some of which wasn’t. That’s not unusual for a high profile coach. But now, with the wisdom of hindsight on our side, let’s take a look at just how well Turgeon did.
First, let’s establish what Turgeon was working with.
If you remember back to the beginning of the 2015-16 season, pundits were calling Maryland the most talented team in the country, but they quickly ran into trouble. Guard Dion Wiley tore up his knee before he even got a chance to play. Luckily for the Terrapins, they already had a starting shooting guard that was going to log a ton of minutes in Rasheed Sulaimon.
Maryland still came into the season with an extremely strong starting five of Robert Carter, Jake Layman, Diamond Stone, Sulaimon, and Melo Trimble. It’s worth noting that three of the five starters had never played in a Maryland uniform prior to this year, which made predictions even more difficult than normal. Still, they looked like a formidable starting group with the potential to be the best. That assessment now seems misguided with or without Wiley. Over the course of the season, every one of these players made an argument that they belonged in the NBA (some more strongly than others), but also showed limitations.
Carter and Stone excelled offensively, but ultimately didn’t exceed expectations. Defensively, Stone was adequate and Carter seemed lost at times. Neither seemed to be able to rebound at a consistent rate. That was an especially perplexing problem for Stone, who was often the biggest and strongest player on the court.
Trimble was by every measurement a great point guard, but fell short of what fans were looking for. His three-point shooting percentage fell dangerously low in the second half of the season. Without the three ball in his repertoire, he struggled to score when calls weren’t going his way. He also developed a terrible habit of disregarding the offensive system at times when offense was desperately needed. The skill set was there, but he was less mature than we’d hoped.
Layman and Sulaimon exceeded expectations, which is always a pleasant surprise to see in seniors. Sulaimon played exceptional defense, shot well, and was the most dangerous Terp in transition. He also served as an acceptable replacement ball handler when Trimble was on the bench. Layman evolved his offensive and defensive game to the point where he could always contribute with a well-rounded game, though he never quite got the hang of passing.
So that’s what Turgeon had in his locker room. Some offensively talented big guys who struggled to consistently rebound, a star point guard who didn’t shoot well in the second half of the year, and a few seniors who outplayed expectations. This definitely was a highly skilled team, but not the once-in-a-lifetime team of star-level talent the Maryland faithful were dreaming of. No one played well enough to deserve their jersey to be up in the rafters this season.
Next we’ll look at Turgeon himself.
It’s tough to determine exactly what impact a coach has on performance from one game to the next, but there’s a few places that serve as good indicators.
The first (and most obvious) is overall record, which ended up being 27 wins and nine losses. Not bad. The team didn’t finish the season as well as they started, but those 27 wins are still a lot. Of those wins, only two were against Top 25 competition (Iowa and Purdue at home). They lost six games to that very same level competition, none of which were at the Xfinity Center. As good as 27 wins are, it’s vital to find ways to win on the road. The Terps never quite figured that part out.
Next, there’s the matter of improvement over the course of the season. Ideally, a team should improve every game and there’s an onus on the coach to make that happen.
Defensively, Maryland made some advancements this season. Stone went from a defensive liability to acceptable, even becoming a good enough blocker to deter opposing guards. Layman also improved defensively, becoming a threat to opposing offenses both on the perimeter and interior. Carter didn’t improve much, but the team’s help defense and switches improved to the point where that gap was less noticeable.
On the offensive side, the team showed some improvement overall, but individual shooting slumps were rampant. Once again, Layman showed marked improvement, especially with moves in the paint. Stone adapted to the college game nicely, but that kind of improvement is expected in a star freshman. Carter and Sulaimon both started strong and sustained their output nicely. Trimble’s shooting woes caused Maryland’s offense to struggle at times and Nickens was never able to put together two solid performances in a row, but it’s unclear how much of that was on Turgeon.
Rebounding seemed to be the one place where no one could make any headway. Maryland lost several games due to poor rebounding performance (the second Purdue game comes to mind) and Turgeon admitted in post-game interviews that it was an area that required improvement. Despite having identified the problem and Maryland’s clear height advantage over their opponents, the team’s rebounding performance remained lackluster. They could occasionally rise to the point of matching their opponents on the boards, but could never dominate. This is on Turgeon, plain and simple.
Overall, Maryland improved over the course of the 2015-16 season and Turgeon deserves credit for that. Still, I wouldn’t say they improved at the same pace as the best teams in the country. Turgeon came up against some serious barriers that prevented this team from reaching the top level and was ultimately unable to overcome them.
Finally, there’s the tournament.
Whether fair or not, no one cares much about your season unless you do well in March. Maryland made it to the Sweet 16 this year as they beat a No. 12 and No. 13 seed to get there. I understand the temptation to minimize that accomplishment just because their opponents were relatively low-ranked, but keep in mind that these games are often serious tests of a coach’s ability. You have just a few days to figure out your opponent and prepare your game plan. When you’re dealing with lower ranked teams like Hawaii and South Dakota State, there’s a number of unknown factors that you have to coach around. Maryland outclassed these two teams from a talent level, but Turgeon did what was expected of him to prevent the upset. He earned his wins.
The final game against Kansas was a loss and it didn’t come down to the wire. I would call this game “competitive” because of the strong first half performance, but Maryland didn’t lose by a fluke. Much like last year against West Virginia, this team struggled in the second half. I’ve heard some claims that those two losses reflect poorly on Turgeon’s in-game coaching ability, but two games isn’t very much of a pattern. On average this year, Maryland actually played stronger in the second half. It was slow starts that hurt them more than slow finishes.
If you’ve stayed with me this long, you’ve earned an A. Turgeon gets a B-minus. I was contemplating a C-plus, but 27 wins and a Sweet 16 appearance counts for quite a bit. It’s clear Turgeon wasn’t able to maximize this year’s talent pool, but that talent was overestimated to begin with. Let’s see what happens next year.