It is a group no coach wants to be in when the calendar flips to March.
When national pundits discuss the NCAA tournament in advance of the bracket’s release, there is always a group of four or five teams entering the postseason on a downward trajectory that were highly regarded for much of the season but are now seen as at risk for getting picked off in the first weekend of the NCAAs.
After losing four of six games to end the regular season, Maryland is often mentioned in that group right now along with teams like Iowa, Iowa State, Dayton, and Providence.
Even in the face of that, Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon tried to provide reasons for optimism during a conference call with the media on Monday.
“I think teams can turn it on a dime, but I’m not disappointed with the way we’re playing,” Turgeon said. “I’m disappointed that we’ve lost a couple games of late, but we have a 3-seed in a great league. We had a very difficult road schedule.
“Not many teams win at Purdue or at Indiana late. I think those games late in the season in hostile environments where we competed is going to help us for the postseason. It’s going to help us grow, help us grow as a team, keep us hungry so the league’s terrific. It really is. I’m happy to be the 3-seed and we’ve had to overcome some things and we’re looking forward to the postseason.”
If you are looking for contextual signs of positivity, begin with the schedule. Of the four losses in the last six games, the optimist can explain them this way:
- vs. Wisconsin -- Few teams in the conference were hotter over the second half of the season than the Badgers. The Terrapins were undefeated at home last season. There was bound to be a loss somewhere along the line.
- at Minnesota -- Even in the absence of Diamond Stone because of suspension, the loss was inexcusable. Turgeon would admit that the team wasn’t locked in. Fluke. Sub-200 RPI fluke. And really bad fluke. But fluke.
- at No. 20 Purdue -- Purdue will enter March as a matchup problem for teams because of their size. Even with a massive rebounding deficit, Maryland lost by only four points on the road to a ranked team
- at No. 13 Indiana -- Maryland started well, but the hot-shooting Hoosiers are the prototype for a team that gives the Terrapins trouble. Indiana spreads the floor and gets out in transition. That burned Maryland.
Optimism might also be found in personnel.
Melo Trimble has broken out of his slump, scoring at least 14 points in each of his last four games.
The Terrapins seem to have found something in their small-ball lineup, which shifts Jake Layman to the power forward spot and allows them to spread the floor more than at any other point this season. They had previously been constrained by minutes concerns, but those disappear by this point in the season.
Signs of optimism are only useful, though, if they ultimately bear results and that will be the question in the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament. There are still plenty of concerns.
How much of an issue will rebounding be? Will the team’s inability to defend in transition negate their gains in the half-court? Will the chemistry between Trimble and backcourt mate Rasheed Sulaimon return to levels we saw earlier this season, when they seemed to be perfectly complementary parts?
Turgeon believes teams can turn on a dime, for the better or for the worse. It would start with a victory on Friday in Indianapolis.