COLLEGE PARK -- Even teams that are built to challenge for a run to the Final Four lose games, especially in this unpredictable college basketball season. You see it all over the country.
Just on Saturday, Virginia lost to Duke and Oklahoma lost to Kansas. Maryland’s 27-game home winning streak was snapped when it got bitten, too, in a 70-57 loss to Wisconsin. Head coach Mark Turgeon tried to focus on that fact when talking to the media postgame, echoing what he said to this players in the locker room.
“Reality is, we’re 22-4, OK? We’ve had a good year. Every team goes through it, OK?” he said. “This is really probably the biggest adversity we’ve hit because we lost a home game, so we’ll see how we handle it.”
And he’s right.
The concern coming out of Saturday’s game should not be that they lost. The concern should be the collection of reasons that led to the loss.
In its most basic form, all the loss really does for their list of goals is make it much tougher to win the Big Ten regular-season title. With Iowa having already mowed through the toughest part of its schedule, the Hawkeyes have the easier path because Maryland still has to go on the road to Purdue and to Indiana this season.
But the Big Ten tournament is still wide open and any Top 15 team that gets into the NCAA tournament, regardless of seed, will be a threat to make a Final Four push.
It is, instead, the 20 second-chance points surrendered to Wisconsin, the 40 percent shooting from the floor, the 57 percent shooting from the free-throw line, the four bench points, and the 1-of-14 shooting performance from point guard Melo Trimble that present the real issue.
“For my competitive nature I don’t think there’s anything as a good loss, but it could be an important loss,” senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon said. “I thought we were making strides in the right direction and this game kind of pointed some out some things that we need to get better on.
“Again, I think a loss like this, a game like this after we watch film can make us a lot better going forward.”
The script has flipped from earlier this season for Maryland.
Once unable to get defensive stops, like down in Chapel Hill in a shootout against North Carolina or at home against Georgetown, Maryland is now often shutting teams down defensively but is unable to keep pace offensively.
Few teams in the country have, over the course of a game, ranged from looking like an elite offense squad (see, Saturday’s 12-0 run in the first half) to struggling to even find a good shot (see, Saturday’s eight-minute stretch without a point in that same half) like Maryland.
There will be nights when teams hit shots, even with solid defense, and Saturday night was one of them. The confusing thing is that Maryland should be able to keep pace.
Though they have not played like it lately, the Terrapins’ starting five is one of the best on-paper offensive units in college basketball. But when Trimble shoots 1-of-14 from the floor and gets to the line (only?) 10 times while turning it over five times, the efficient heart of the Maryland offense is no longer there.
That then ripples outward to effect Robert Carter, Jr. (who took only five shots on Saturday) and Diamond Stone (who only took six) while Trimble and Sulaimon combined to shoot the ball 26 times.
Add in the free-throw numbers and the inability to finish at the rim and it becomes tough for Maryland to combat 12 Wisconsin threes.
“It’s just one of those nights,” Turgeon said. “Wisconsin was terrific.”