It’s been a long five years for the Maryland Terrapins, and there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. After moving like a runaway train in its first Big Ten season, the Terps are finally poised to make a return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010, just one year before longtime head coach Gary Williams retired. Given their success in their new conference this year after struggling in the ACC for so long, a No. 2 seed is only fitting for the Terps.
Granted, Maryland wasn’t the absolute worst it could be in its final ACC seasons. From the 2010-2011 season up through 2013-2014, their overall record was 78-57. Not great by any means, but also not at all bad considering that programs like Boston College and Virginia Tech finished far worse over that stretch. Moreover, any coaching change will bring about a transitionary period, especially since Williams favored an aggressive man-to-man defense and a faster-paced offense that involved faking out opposing defenses in the post before going for a perimeter score while current coach Mark Turgeon lets his guards control the offense while employing a man-to-man defense, but also switching to zone as he sees necessary.
It should also be noted that after falling short in the ACC for years, Maryland moving to the Big Ten was kind of a head scratcher since it can be argued that the latter conference is even tougher than the ACC. But Turgeon had his men prepared, and the results speak for themselves.
Maryland went an astounding 27-6 in its first Big Ten campaign, finishing 14-4 in conference play and rocketing to second place in the standings. They finished just two games behind the conference leading Wisconsin Badgers, who are almost certain to be a No. 1 seed in this year’s tournament. Adding to the case that they should be a 2-seed, Maryland actually beat Wisconsin on February 24 as if to say “You may be better in the standings, but we can still beat you any day of the week.”
Maryland also did fairly well in the signature win department, in and out of conference play. On November 25, they defeated one of last year’s Sweet Sixteen representatives in the Iowa State Cyclones. Twice during the regular season, they beat the ever feisty Michigan State Spartans, including a double-overtime thriller on December 30. And this is where the case for Maryland NOT being a No. 2 seed comes into play.
Despite their talent, Michigan State did not finish in the Top 25 at the end of the regular season despite finishing third in the Big Ten with a 23-10 overall record (12-6 Big Ten), and the team needed a lot of momentum just to get consideration. Yesterday, they used a second half outburst to defeat Maryland in the Big Ten semifinal, 62-58, and thus earned an opportunity against Wisconsin in the conference championship game later this afternoon. A loss as bad as that could easily take the Terps out of the 2-seed conversation.
But that is not what should happen. After going through a rocky transitionary period following Williams’ retirement and only getting as far as the NIT semifinals in 2013, their sole postseason appearance in the past five years, the fact that Maryland overcame so many odds and finished as well as they did in an arguably tougher conference speaks volumes not only to their talent, but to their heart.
This team is full of fighters, from freshman upstart and leading scorer Melo Trimble (16.3 PPG) to dynamic senior Dez Wells (15.4 PPG) and the ever clutch Jake Layman (12.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG, .374 3P%). Their No. 8 spot in the AP ranking doesn’t even do them justice, with a team like Gonzaga ahead of them despite zero signature wins, merely at No. 7 because of a superior record of 30-2. Yes, having an extraordinarily strong crop of college teams this year makes ranking the top 25 tough, but Maryland has gone above and beyond to establish itself as an elite team this year.
That all being said, when it comes time to make the selections later today, Maryland’s efforts should be rewarded accordingly. At this point, anything less than a 2-seed would be mind-boggling.
*Section Photo credit to Jamie Sabau, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Mike Carter, USA Today Sports