If you were told in January that the Maryland men’s basketball team was going to be safely in the NCAA Tournament come March and vying for a possible No. 7 seed, you might have laughed.
But the Terps (15-10 overall, 9-9 in the Big Ten) have managed to turn it around at the right time and have solidified their spot in the NCAA Tournament with only two games left to go in the regular season.
“In an abnormal, unprecedented season, Maryland’s having some normalcy in that this team is getting better,” Big Ten Network analyst Andy Katz said on Glenn Clark Radio Feb. 23. “They’re peaking at the right time. It took them time to figure things out.”
The Terps are in the midst of a five-game winning streak, which has included a 68-59 win at Rutgers and a 73-55 win against Michigan State in a nationally-televised game at Xfinity Center Feb. 28. The winning streak has moved them out of the bubble range, where they stood for almost a month. Maryland is projected to be a No. 8 seed, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.
After Maryland slid to 10-10 overall at the beginning of February, rumblings began to pick up about head coach Mark Turgeon’s future with the program. But assuming the Terps make the NCAA Tournament, it will be Turgeon’s sixth appearance in seven years (counting last year). Thus, the narrative has shifted.
“I think it’s been one of his best jobs,” said Katz, who also works with Fox Sports. “They’ve been very disciplined and are taking care of their business and that deserves a lot of credit.”
Given what the Terps had to deal with coming into the season, having lost star players Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith to the professional ranks, just making the tournament should be considered a great accomplishment, according to Sporting News college hoops columnist Mike DeCourcy.
“Given what was lost from a year ago … I think making [the tournament this] season, especially when you had to rally in order to do that, I think that’s significant in itself,” DeCourcy said on GCR Feb. 22.
The impact of the loss of Cowan has been evident this year, according to DeCourcy, with no one on the team averaging more than 2.8 assists per game. However, players like Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins and defensive force Darryl Morsell have stepped up late in the season to pick up some of the slack.
“I think [Morsell] probably should be [Big Ten] Defensive Player of the Year, if it’s given to a non-shot blocker,” Katz said. “His toughness has been proven time and time again. … He’s shown great leadership as well.”
The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Morsell is averaging 8.5 points and 3.6 rebounds per game and has spearheaded a Maryland defense that ranks among the top 30 in the country in adjusted efficiency, according to KenPom. That has led many like Katz to put him in the conversation for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
Morsell recorded three steals apiece in Maryland’s wins against Rutgers and Michigan State. He has also helped Maryland out on the offensive end, with the Terps winning every game in which the senior has scored double-digit points with the exception of two — a December loss at Purdue and a January loss to Wisconsin.
With only two games left in the regular season, the Terps are focused on continuing their winning streak to keep the momentum going in March.
“It’s like they’re on a surfboard and in front of them are some serious rocks,” DeCourcy said, “and if you can get past the rocks, then [you’re] OK.”
Those rocks are Maryland’s final regular-season games against Northwestern March 3 and Penn State March 7 and then the Big Ten tournament. The Terps lost to Penn State, 55-50, earlier this year.
If Maryland can hold on to its spot in the NCAA Tournament, the team may have a chance to make some noise in the tournament, according to Katz. The Terps have won four road games this year, including two against opponents that are currently ranked. The tournament will be held exclusively at sites in Indiana, with Lucas Oil Stadium hosting the Elite Eight and Final Four.
“Maryland has proven that they can win on the road,” Katz said. “… Sure, they definitely could [win some games].”
For more from Katz, listen to the full interview here:
For more from DeCourcy, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox