It’s kinda tough to write opinion columns about Maryland basketball.
I wish there was something bold and declarative to say about Maryland basketball. I wish I could join Maryland fans when they scream and yell in frustration about certain losses or show significant emotion after certain wins.
The social media era seemingly requires us to say SOMETHING at all times to keep ourselves connected to the conversation. Worse, we feel as though it requires us to say something declaratively in hopes of it getting more attention. So if you want to be a part of the overall Maryland conversation, you might scream out “TURGEON NEEDS TO GO!” after a loss or something utterly meaningless like “tough night for the ‘Turgeon can’t coach’ crowd” after a win. None of it adds any value to a conversation. We just do it because … well, because nothing seems to matter anymore.
But in the spirit of wanting something to matter, I’ll do my best to react to what was a seemingly solid week for the current Maryland basketball team. The Terrapins won four games in eight days, one of which was a Quad 1 victory at Rutgers Feb. 21.
The most appropriate reaction? “That’s a solid week. Good for them.” Something bolder or more declarative? Completely inappropriate.
Look, Maryland deserves credit for rolling off four straight conference wins in a span of eight days. No matter the league, no matter the circumstances, that’s a very difficult thing to do in major college basketball. More specifically, the Terps have continued to play very solid defense and seem to have improved a bit offensively.
Sure, we could point out that two of the four wins came against the absolute worst team in the league (Nebraska) and a third came against a Minnesota team that is once again trending significantly in the wrong direction, having lost six of their last eight and eight of their last eleven. The Rutgers win is clearly the best of the bunch. It’s also more meaningful since it FEELS like a bit of a barometer game for a team that had been soundly defeated at home by the same team two months ago.
An absolutely fair criticism of Mark Turgeon during his time at Maryland is that his teams haven’t played their best basketball when they need to … at the end of the season. Those who feel the need to scream the loudest on social media in defense of the head coach will try to take this a step further than warranted and suggest that the last eight days disqualify that particular argument. They do not. While Rutgers was a solid win, let’s not confuse the Scarlet Knights with a team we believe to be capable of making a Final Four run.
Which isn’t to say Maryland couldn’t beat a team like that; they already beat Illinois once this season. It’s just to say the Terps didn’t do that during this eight-day stretch. And those bold, declarative statements we want to make are better served for if (maybe when?) Maryland actually accomplishes that in, say, the Big Ten or NCAA tournament.
Keep in mind that those who are speaking so boldly and declaratively … don’t actually mean it. If Maryland’s postseason consisted of winning an 8-9 or 7-10 second-round matchup in the Big Ten tournament, losing in the quarterfinals and then losing its first-round game in the NCAA Tournament, not one of them would be racing to purchase a “LOSING IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT IS IRRELEVANT BECAUSE MARYLAND WON FOUR STRAIGHT GAMES AGAINST MINNESOTA, NEBRASKA AND RUTGERS IN MID-FEBRUARY” T-shirt. Although, now that I think about that, that’s actually kinda hilarious/amazing and I would have no choice but to print them, right?
Winning a handful of late regular-season games — even in a tough conference — is not a definitive answer about whether Maryland is trending toward becoming a regularly-contending national program in the coming years after a decade of evidence to the contrary.
To be clear, it’s not easy to be a regularly contending national program, and there is an argument that Maryland simply isn’t capable of being such a program. This line of thinking suggests Gary Williams was such an impossibly good coach that he unfairly recalibrated the expectations of a fan base to a level no other coach could possibly be expected to meet.
But that’s a REALLY complex conversation and one a number of folks around the Maryland program have struggled in grappling with. It can’t be answered with wins against Minnesota, Nebraska and Rutgers. That’s just not possible.
Even after this week, Maryland is doing about what they probably should have been doing this season. They had talented and solid defenders — they just lacked much of anything in the frontcourt. The win against Illinois stands out. The loss to Penn State is particularly disappointing. But they’re largely about what they should have been. Unless things go disastrously south, the Terps will make the NCAA Tournament.
But this isn’t a situation where Maryland has so little talent that just making the NCAA Tournament is an overwhelming accomplishment. Aaron Wiggins and Donta Scott are arguable NBA talents. They’re talented players. We’re moving the goalposts to try to make it seem like this group reaching the Tournament (in a year where the bubble isn’t exactly overwhelming) is by itself a monumental achievement for a coach.
But that doesn’t make it unpleasant, either. It could be worse! And lots of fans probably thought it would be after the Penn State loss. The coaches and players have worked together to prevent total disaster. That’s something!
And perhaps this imperfect group might prove to give Turgeon his best chance of finally accomplishing something significant in March. It is far from impossible. But we need to wait until we see that to start speaking so loudly one way or another.
Although to be fair, I can understand why we’d want to start yelling and screaming when a team so close to home is literally the RPI NUMBER ONE TEAM IN THE COUNTRY.
(Navy is. No, really. Navy is. Maryland is 39th. RPI doesn’t mean what it once did, but maybe pay a little more attention to the Mids? UMBC, too.)
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