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.
And yes, if you’re scoring at home, those are the exact same sentences I used in my lede for my last Maryland basketball column Feb. 22. At the time, Maryland had reeled off four straight wins (the Terps would make it five a week later), and a particular group of Maryland fans was speaking loudly about how well things were going.
Of course, we all know what’s happened since then. Everyone not named Aaron Wiggins was mostly lifeless in a loss at Northwestern, and then the particularly significant indignity of Senior Night — multiple blown double-digits leads in a 66-61 loss to Penn State, finishing the Nittany Lions’ inexplicable season sweep of the Terrapins. It was one of the more disastrous weeks in recent Maryland history, although it speaks volumes that a red-hot team losing games to two of the worst teams in the conference can’t even be identified as definitively the most disastrous week in recent Maryland history.
So what do I have to say now?
Well, the headline (reflecting the theme) of my last column was “Now Isn’t The Time For Bold, Declarative Statements About Maryland Basketball.” And I don’t write my own headlines, but I’d be OK with this one being “Now STILL Isn’t The Time For Bold, Declarative Statements About Maryland Basketball.”
And that’s the thing. It’s not just that I think Maryland fans shouldn’t get too high after big regular-season wins. It’s that they also shouldn’t get too low after crushing regular-season losses. Nothing has happened in the last few weeks that we haven’t seen before in the Mark Turgeon era. We’ve seen massive wins and crippling losses and, yes, lots of late-season issues. If we’re looking for the necessary evidence to be able to make a definitive statement about the head coach (which seems odd considering, you know, we’re a decade into this), none of this can help us.
A few weeks ago, I was warning you that a winning streak was irrelevant because if Maryland got bounced in the NCAA Tournament, not a single Maryland fan would find him or herself saying, “Yeah, but they beat Nebraska on back-to-back nights so I don’t really care.”
And that statement works the same way in reverse. As horrendous as the last two losses were — and make no mistake, they’re as awful as basically everyone in that movie “I Care A Lot” — these still aren’t the results that matter. If somehow Maryland manages to make a run to the national semifinals, not a single Maryland fan is going to say, “Yeah but that doesn’t count because they lost at home to Penn State.”
It’s not as if we don’t remember horrendous losses. Most Maryland fans remember the terribly ugly postgame scene after Maryland’s home loss to Florida State (yes kids, there was a time when it was embarrassing for MARYLAND to lose to FLORIDA STATE in basketball) on Valentine’s Day in 2001. But we remember if because of the juxtaposition between the worst loss of Gary Williams’ career and then his greatest success a little more than a month later, reaching the Final Four for the first time in school history.
The reasonable debate regarding Mark Turgeon has always been about what he’s done (or namely hasn’t) in the NCAA Tournament specifically. He still has the chance to change that narrative in the coming weeks despite how miserable the last few days have been. If he does, that’s literally all that matters. At least for a little while, anyway.
I understand why it’s difficult for us to keep this perspective. A week ago, we were wondering if perhaps Maryland was peaking at the exact right time and this unlikely Terrapins team might prove to be one of the more magical in school history. Now we’re wondering if it’ll win as much as another game.
(To be clear, there’s absolutely no reason to think they’re in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament altogether. The win against Illinois in particular has held up so well while the bubble has remained so brutal that Maryland is still quite safe. Let’s not talk about the Terrapins the way we would the lesser college basketball programs like, say, Syracuse or Duke.)
And if I were a betting man, I certainly wouldn’t be putting any money down whatsoever on any prop bets for Maryland to make a run to a Big Ten tournament title or the Final Four or even the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament or maybe even the second round. It’s hard to have any faith at all in a team so wildly inconsistent. But that doesn’t mean something special couldn’t happen. And whatever happens, that’s all that matters. That’s it. We’ll either never be able to criticize Turgeon’s lack of March accomplishments or we’ll have an entire decade without such an accomplishment to judge him by. I think that matters.
But we have to let it play out first. Be patient. These aren’t the results that matter most. We STILL need not be so bold or declarative.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox