COLLEGE PARK -- Back-to-back losses in December eventually get hidden by the passage of time in a long college basketball season. Back-to-back losses in February sound alarms.
The optics are less favorable. Polls react, often harshly.
That is where Mark Turgeon finds himself and his team, coming off losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota, with Michigan coming to College Park on Sunday. The first true stumbling block of the season came less than a month before the start of the NCAA tournament.
“I think the timing’s perfect,” Turgeon said Saturday. “To be honest with you, it hurt us for our chance to win a league championship. We still can do it, but I think the timing’s really good for us.”
Three games against NCAA tournament teams are ahead for Maryland in the next four overall. That includes rematches against the Wolverines at home -- a team that already beat the Terrapins in Ann Arbor -- and a Purdue team on the road that gave Maryland a battle in College Park.
This is a team that, over the course of the season, has seemed to play better teams more competitively, even in losses like against North Carolina and Michigan State, while struggling to put away lesser teams, like in close wins over Rider and Penn State or Thursday’s loss to Minnesota.
In that regard, perhaps Turgeon is correct.
But the optics are the force most difficult to fight, though if you ask Turgeon or players they will say outside noise means little in day-to-day preparation. This is a team that only had a handful of high-quality wins, but was still talked about favorably in the national conversation because of its lack of a bad loss.
Now there is a bad loss. The Terrapins become one of just two teams in the Top 25 with a loss to a sub-200 RPI team.
“We knew at some point we were going to have adversity. Every team goes through it over the course of a long year," senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon said. "I’d rather have it now than in March.
“We’re not a bad team, we just got to remember who we are and get back to the certain principles that we were doing when we were 22-3.”
Junior center Damonte Dodd said the team’s plane ride home was difficult. Since, the team has tried to embrace Turgeon’s mantra that the sun will indeed rise tomorrow. Slowly but surely, laughter and camaraderie are making a return after Thursday’s loss.
“They’re disappointed, they’re upset, they want to do better,” Turgeon said. “But I want them to do better because they want to do better -- not because the expectations on them are so high.
“We’re still 22-5. A lot of coaches in the country would kill to be where I am right now.”