March Madness never disappoints. The madness has been at an all-time high this year, with upsets like No. 15 seed Oral Roberts, No. 14 Abilene Christian and No. 12 Oregon State making the headlines.
However, No. 10 seed Maryland couldn’t pull off the big upset of No. 2 Alabama and join the ranks of double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16. The Terps fell to the Crimson Tide, 96-77, March 22.
This is the fifth straight year without an appearance in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the Terps. Granted, Maryland did win a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship in 2019-20, and that team had the potential to make a deep run in the tournament.
With that in mind, the question now is whether Turgeon, with two years left on his deal, might be on his way out. However, former Loyola and Siena head men’s basketball coach Jimmy Patsos urges fans to pump the brakes first.
“Before we all worry about what’s wrong, why don’t we acknowledge what’s right?” Patsos said on Glenn Clark Radio March 23.
Looking at the bigger picture, Turgeon did well with the hand he was dealt in 2020. After last season, star big man Jalen Smith left for the NBA and four-year starter Anthony Cowan Jr. graduated, leaving the Terps with a flawed roster in 2020-21.
But Patsos pointed out that it’s often difficult to put together a team after a big-time four-year player like Cowan leaves because of the way recruiting can shake out in the years prior.
“It’s not easy to recruit when you have Cowan there and every other point guard is going, ‘Why would I come here?'” Patsos said. “Right — Anthony Cowan, a sophomore who plays 35 minutes. He’s really good.”
Entering the 2020-21 season, the depleted Terps were picked to finish 11th in the Big Ten. Without a true point guard to lead the team — or a true center — Turgeon managed to rally his troops to a 17-14 record and a ninth-place finish in the Big Ten. The Terps secured a spot in the big dance, during which Maryland upset a formidable UConn team, 63-54, in the first round.
The development of players like Darryl Morsell — who earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors this year — along with Aaron Wiggins (14.5 points per game, 5.8 rebounds) and Eric Ayala (15.1 points, 4.3 rebounds) has Patsos, a former Maryland assistant under Gary Williams, praising Turgeon’s season rather than criticizing it.
“If you’re going to criticize him, you better give him a lot of kudos for the year he had with the team he had,” Patsos said.
But for Turgeon’s critics, what matters most is how his teams have performed when the spotlight is on in March — and for Turgeon, that is the biggest question. Turgeon has never beaten a team in the tournament that was ranked in the top 25 at the end of the season.
In the loss against Alabama March 22, Turgeon was criticized for one questionable coaching decision in particular that could have contributed to the team’s downfall that night. After Maryland built an 18-12 lead, Turgeon subbed in Galin Smith, Jairus Hamilton and Reese Mona.
The coach hoped to get three of his starters some extra rest before the under-12 media timeout, but Alabama built a 27-22 lead before a stoppage in play.
“I wanted to call that [timeout] around 9:20, 9:30 when there was a turnover and they hit a three … he waited to call it at 8:51,” Patsos said. “And that was one 3-pointer too late.”
Turgeon has two years left on his deal, typically the time when coaches either receive an extension or are asked to move on from their respective teams. But letting go of the 2015 Big Ten Coach of the Year after a fifth NCAA tournament appearance is something Patsos feels is a step too far for the Terps.
“Let’s talk about where we are compared to a lot of other people before we act like the car’s going over the cliff,” Patsos said.
Fellow Big Ten schools Minnesota, Penn State and Indiana all fired their head coaches recently and are expected to take a step back in the upcoming season. None of those programs qualified for the NCAA Tournament this year.
The Terrapins are not nearly in that same position, and a decision on Turgeon is sure to set the course for the direction of the program. For Turgeon, the possibility exists that he does not feel comfortable with his contract situation and thus opts to explore other opportunities.
What would Patsos do if he had two years left on his deal at Maryland?
“If I’m Turge, I’m happy to coach here now,” Patsos said. “… You’ve got a good base of a team. Let’s go. The Big Ten’s getting worse because Minnesota and Penn State have new coaches, and Indiana, it’s going to take a couple years. Go do your thing. That’s what I would do if I was Mark Turgeon.”
For more from Patsos, listen to the full interview here:
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