Maryland was one of the preseason favorites to win the national championship.
So is bowing out in the Sweet Sixteen at the hands of the NCAA tournament's No. 1 overall seed a disappointment?
Certainly, preseason expectations were enormous for the Terps, and certainly those expectations were not met. Along with North Carolina, Maryland was one of the two teams tabbed as title favorites back in the fall. What followed was a season that featured a whole lot of winning but never really saw the Terps consistently display championship potential.
The roster was the reason for all the hype. Melo Trimble was picked as the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year after a dazzling freshman campaign that landed him on the All-Big Ten First Team. Jake Layman joined Trimble in returning to school to chase a championship rather than get an early jump on a pro career. Diamond Stone was one of the top recruits in the country, a likely one-and-done player who provided a big body down low. Robert Carter Jr. and Rasheed Sulaimon were transfers, veterans of the ACC on board for this talent-packed season.
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But there were shaky starts in wins over Georgetown, Rider and Illinois State. There was a Big Ten/ACC Challenge loss to North Carolina. But still, even after road defeats at Michigan and Michigan State, Maryland was still a strong 22-3 and 10-2 in conference play after a win on Feb. 9. That record, though, wasn’t enough to sell the Terps as a legitimate championship contender. Even in their own conference, the Spartans were everyone’s consensus as the team with the better shot to win it all.
When Maryland lost four of its last six regular-season games — including an inexcusable defeat at Minnesota — and split a pair of bouts at the Big Ten Tournament, the luster was almost completely gone, earning only a No. 5 seed on Selection Sunday. The Terps won ugly against No. 12 seed South Dakota State and No. 14 seed Hawaii to get to the Sweet Sixteen, and though they looked good in the first half Thursday, Kansas is no South Dakota State or Hawaii.
The campaign was no failure. Maryland won 27 games for just the fifth time in program history and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2003.
“I’m really proud of my team. It wasn’t easy this year,” head coach Mark Turgeon said after Thursday’s loss. “We won 27 games. Had great leadership, great seniors. We’ve only won 27 games five times, we haven’t been to the Sweet Sixteen in 13 years. So I’m proud of my group for what they did.”
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But Turgeon could be without that entire starting lineup next season if Trimble, Carter and Stone take their talents to the NBA. As strong as the Terps looked coming into this year, the championship window wasn’t exactly wide open.
A team the legacy of which was supposed to be a national championship will have to settle for a different legacy. What that is remains to be seen, though one of those departing seniors — who was only in College Park for one season, it should be mentioned — hopes it’s laying a foundation for the future of the program. Maryland returned to the national spotlight in the past two seasons, and perhaps that will yield recruiting successes down the line for Turgeon.
“We have nothing to hold our heads down for. I think we had a tremendous season,” Sulaimon said. “Through the ups and downs, we came together when it mattered the most. We did something that the school hasn’t done in 13 years.
“But ultimately, I hope this group’s legacy is a group that fought hard, that was entertaining, that was fun to watch. And in the future (I hope) that this was a springboard to lead to great Maryland teams in the future under coach Turgeon. Hopefully this group is remembered as winners, ultimately.”
Of the 36 games they played, the Terps won 27 of them. So winners they were.
But when it came to March, when seasons are made or broken, Maryland made a much quicker exit than many expected them to when the season tipped off.