If you felt déjà vu as you watched Maryland fall to Wisconsin in its Big Ten Tournament opener, it’s because Maryland played this game four years ago.
Maryland’s last trip to Greensboro for the ACC tournament saw the Terrapins matched up against Florida State in the 8 vs. 9 game. A noon tipoff meant students across College Park had to watch on laptops during class, and when the Maryland lost the game due to a mental breakdown they couldn’t react for fear of being caught by their professors.
Fast forward to this afternoon in New York. 12:00 game time, 8/9 seeds facing off, Maryland comes up just short after a backbreaking mistake late on. It’s almost too familiar. If fans look closely they might even be able to find the finger marks on their faces left from burying their faces in their hands at the end of the Florida State game.
Ok maybe not, but the similarities between the games ring true. The Terps are still plagued by the same issues they faced at the end of their time in the ACC three years into their tenure in the Big Ten, and today was no different. Under coach Mark Turgeon, the Terrapins have struggled to establish an identity. They play up and down high scoring basketball against strong teams like Indiana and North Carolina, and pound the ball into the ground against defensive teams like Wisconsin.
In 2014 Florida State was a very average team, and looking back one might be surprised to find that Maryland was ranked 26th in the nation in adjusted defense according to Ken Pomeroy. Unfortunately, instead of dominating on defense, the Terps let themselves get mired down in Florida State’s mediocrity.
After a close low scoring first half, Maryland came out flat to start the second, allowing Florida State to go on an 11-0 run, while they failed to score a single point for four minutes. The Terps turned up their defensive intensity with Coach Turgeon’s trademark 1-3-1 press, and tied the game with just two minutes to go. But the comeback was not meant to be. On the final play, every single Maryland player either botched pick ‘n’ roll coverage or missed the subsequent rotations, and Florida State center Boris Bojanovski found himself alone under the basket for the game winning dunk.
Back to the Big Ten. Let’s run through the disappointing early conference tournament loss checklist:
Let the opponent dictate the play? Check. Maryland has been significantly better on offense than on defense this year, yet they allowed Wisconsin to slow the pace of the game.
Extended scoring drought? No doubt. Maryland did not score a point between 7:08 and 2:13 in the first half.
Lucky adjustment? Absolutely. Late in the second half, Kevin Huerter put the Terps’ struggling offense on his back and scored 9 of the last 11 Maryland points.
Boneheaded mistake to seal the loss? You bet. Down three points with four seconds to go, Dion Wiley and Huerter failed to properly execute an inbound pass, closing the door on Maryland’s hopes to play basketball into March.
The two games are painfully similar, but that is not the end of the parallel between these two seasons. In 2014 Maryland was left out of the NCAA tournament, and the current Maryland squad will certainly face the same fate come next Sunday. But after both of these seasons, the future was bright in College Park.
Coming off a disappointing 2013-14 season, Coach Turgeon brought in the best recruit of his career, Melo Trimble, and the Terps had reasons to be excited despite their early postseason exit. Now, Coach Turgeon has secured a consensus top-15 recruiting class in the nation, will bring back nearly all of the key contributors from this year’s team, and will return Ivan Bender and Justin Jackson, who both missed all of conference play due to injuries.
Much like in 2014-15, the 2018-19 Terrapins will be among the deepest and most talented in the Big Ten, and they have a good shot at making the preseason top-25. And just like in 2014-15, Coach Turgeon will find himself on the hot seat, fearful of losing his job if he cannot bring Maryland to the NCAA tournament with a highly talented roster.
President Wallace Loh and Interim Athletic Director Damon Evans need to remember that the Terps have been where they are now before as they consider the future of the program. Coach Turgeon was able to bring the Terrapins to the NCAA tournament in the two years after being on the host seat in 2014. However, the Terps have yet to win the Big Ten or the Big Ten tournament, even though the Big Ten weaker than it has ever been. If Turgeon does not elevate Maryland to the next level in 2018-19, Loh and Evans will face a choice: replace Turgeon, or allow the Terps to run on the treadmill of mediocrity.