This isn’t exactly what fans thought March Madness would be like in Maryland this year, now is it? It’s one thing if the hopes of a national championship for this year’s Terps squad were always a bit ambitious. It’s just that fans had good reason to think the team could at least make a significant run.
Instead, we enter the dance this year with Terps fans feeling far better about the likelihood of a first-round departure than the possibility of a trip to Houston for the Final Four. What once seemed like a formality — a 13-year Sweet 16 drought coming to an end — now feels like an improbability at best.
Let that sink in. Unless Maryland plays drastically better (or gets rather fortunate breaks), fans could be looking at 14 years since a “basketball school” was even one of the last 16 standing. (In fairness, it’s been more of a “women’s basketball school” for more than a few years now.)
In fact, things have been so disappointing that fans are forced to … well … lemme take a trip down memory lane before I continue that sentence.
There is quite the juxtaposition that exists when considering the state of the Maryland basketball program today to the state of the program just 24 months ago. After a loss to Florida State during the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in March 2014, head coach Mark Turgeon saw his third season in College Park, Md., come to a close rather unceremoniously. Not only was there no trip to the NCAA tournament to be made, but there was also no postseason appearance of any kind for the Terps for the second time in three seasons. Turgeon’s teams were 23-29 in conference play during his tenure to that point, generating no better than a seventh-place finish in the league in the process.
And somehow, it was about to get worse. The quintet of Seth Allen, Charles Mitchell, Nick Faust, Roddy Peters and Shaquille Cleare was set to depart the program, leaving the Terps equally as undermanned as they were unsuccessful. If you’ll remember, many spent much of that offseason wondering how far the school needed to get into Turgeon’s initial eight-year contract before a buyout could be considered.
Fast forward to today, Maryland is on the cusp of a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament, a 24-month span that has seen victories against outstanding Big Ten programs like Michigan State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Ohio State, Iowa, Iowa State, Michigan and more. In those 24 months, the Terps have landed perhaps the most prized recruit in school history (Diamond Stone) and one of the most significant transfers they’ve ever landed (Rasheed Sulaimon).
Maryland is far better in the spring of 2016 — no matter how disappointing the end of the season might be — than it was in the spring of 2014.
Yet, if the season ends shy of the second weekend of the tournament … look … there’s no easy way to say this. If the season ends before the second weekend of the tournament, people are going to have to revisit that contract conversation again.
Some of you haven’t even waited to find out how the season plays out to direct your commentary in that direction.
After this season, there will be three years left on Turgeon’s contract. To be fair to him, he’s accomplished almost as much at Maryland as, say, Herb Sendek did at North Carolina State. Of course, Sendek managed to at least reach one Sweet 16 in 10 seasons before he was dumped by the Wolfpack in 2006.
The Sweet 16 isn’t really a marker of great success for a good basketball program. For most good programs, the Sweet 16 is a birthright — a forgone conclusion. Having to use the Sweet 16 as a measuring stick alone is a sign that your basketball program hasn’t achieved nearly as much as its social media hype would suggest it has.
Perhaps you could say it’s the sign of a program that’s stuck in purgatory. Or “Turgatory” if you’re a columnist looking for a catch phrase that isn’t quite as clever in print as when you first said it in your head.
Familiar with Turgatory? It’s that place where you spend five years trying to figure out if your basketball coach is really worthy of leading what is expected to annually be a top-notch program without any accomplishments significant enough to warrant any major acclaim nor failures miserable enough to warrant overwhelming scorn.
Much like purgatory, Turgatory might end up being a place Maryland can only get out of by paying large sums of money. Except in college athletics, they call their indulgences “buyouts.”
Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that. A Sweet 16 run doesn’t solve everything, but it would at least be an accomplishment. I’d be willing to consider the conversation again from there.
Issue 219: March 2016
Photo Credit: Ed Sheahin/PressBox