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FOX Sports' Steve Lavin: Terps Have 'Opportunity To Have That Special Run'

November 27, 2017
FOX Sports college basketball analyst Steve Lavin, who called Maryland's 79-65 victory against Butler Nov. 15, said it's possible the Terps make a run to the Final Four in the near future if they can maintain roster continuity.

"It's so delicate, fragile and tenuous in what takes to win a national title," Lavin, who was the head coach at UCLA from 1996-2003 and at St. John's from 2010-15, said on Glenn Clark Radio Nov. 16. "But I do think what [head coach] Mark Turgeon's building is a consistent program that will deliver good results, and the more you knock on the door, the more likely you are, the more you enhance the odds, the probabilities, the percentages of eventually getting to that Final Four or winning it all.

"It's vital or critical that the group is able to stay together, mature and develop. I think the personnel is there, the coaching is there, the system and the style of play is there. And now it's just a matter of things lining up so you can have that magical season, whether it's this year or next."

The past two national champions have both been led by upperclassmen. North Carolina won the national title in 2017 with seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks and juniors Justin Jackson and Joel Berry leading the way. Villanova won in 2016 behind seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu and juniors Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. 

This season's Maryland team is led by three of its key pieces from a year ago in sophomores Anthony Cowan Jr., Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson. Maryland could return eight scholarship players next year, including those three, though Jackson tested the NBA waters this spring and could leave after this season.

The Terps are also expected to return forward Bruno Fernando and guard Darryl Morsell, both of whom have flashed difference-making ability as freshmen. Turgeon will also bring in a high-end recruiting class composed of forward Jalen Smith, wing Aaron Wiggins and guard Eric Ayala. 

"I think if this group stays together for consecutive seasons, then there's an opportunity to have that special run," Lavin said.

Turgeon has led the Terps to the NCAA Tournament each of the past three seasons, but they've made just one trip to the second weekend of the tournament. Maryland lost to West Virginia in the round of 32 in 2015, lost to Kansas in the Sweet 16 in 2016 and lost to Xavier in the first round this past spring.

Lavin referenced Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski and former head coaches Jim Calhoun (with Connecticut) and Gary Williams as coaches that initially struggled to get over the hump. Williams' Maryland teams made 11 straight NCAA Tournaments from 1993-2004 but didn't make the Final Four until 2001.

Lavin's UCLA team beat Williams' Maryland squad, 105-70, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2000.

"… In 2000, [Maryland] got bumped out in the second round, but the nucleus of that group came back in 2001, goes to the Final Four, and then that nucleus came back again," Lavin said. "I think they added [Chris] Wilcox, and they punched through and won it all in 2002.

Lavin also cautioned that randomness plays a role in a team's tournament success, whether it be injuries, a bad bounce or how the bracket falls.

"The bracket comes out on Selection Sunday, sometimes you get a good draw, sometimes you get a bad draw," Lavin said. "I thought last year Villanova had the worst draw I've seen in years when they drew that veteran Wisconsin team who had been to multiple Final Fours and had four or five seniors. And that's the [second] round draw that Villanova received for playing as consistently in the regular season as any team in the country."

The Terps have started 6-1 this season. Their top performer has been Cowan, who has taken over Melo Trimble's role from years past as the primary ball-handler, scorer and distributor. He's averaging 15.3 points, 3.6 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 33.3 minutes per game. 

Lavin loved what he saw from Cowan against Butler.

"It's the skill set with Cowan that impresses me most, and his judgment, it's his decision-making," Lavin said. "He's got that blazing … speed when he needs it, but he's under control. He maneuvers at a pace where he still makes excellent choices and decisions, and I think the year playing alongside Melo Trimble and having that older brother so to speak [taught] him some of the nuances of the point guard position."

For more from Lavin, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox