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Steve Lavin: Maryland Is Sweet 16 Team, Capable Of More

February 12, 2019
Fox Sports college basketball analyst Steve Lavin, who coached teams to eight NCAA Tournament berths and made five trips to the Sweet 16, believes the Maryland men's basketball team can make a deep run come March. 

"I'm big on Maryland," Lavin said on Glenn Clark Radio Feb. 1. "I think they're a Sweet 16 team capable of even going farther."

Lavin was the head coach at UCLA from 1996-2003 and St. John's from 2010-2015. Lavin made the Tournament six out of seven years at UCLA, making it the Sweet 16 in five of those years and the Elite Eight once.

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon -- now in his seventh season at Maryland -- has yet to get any Terps team past the Sweet 16. In fact, Maryland hasn't made it past the Sweet 16 since it won the national championship in 2002. But history shows that patience really is a virtue, at least for some teams. 

"I'm old enough to remember when [Duke's Mike Krzyzewski] couldn't win the big one back in the mid-80s. I remember [Maryland's] Gary Williams in the early 90s. The perception was good coach, really intense, but they couldn't punch through," Lavin said. "The answer isn't a quick change." 

Lavin emphasized the Terps' size and strength as this season's difference makers. Led by sophomore center Bruno Fernando and freshman forward Jalen Smith in the frontcourt, the Terps rank third in the nation in rebounding margin. Maryland is outrebounding opponents by more than 10 per game. 

"When you control the backboards in basketball it's equivalent to controlling the line of scrimmage in football," Lavin said. 

But right now, it's discovery time for a Maryland team that is one of the youngest in the nation.

The freshman trio of Smith and guards Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins each average more than 24 minutes per game. Fernando, sophomore Darryl Morsell and junior Anthony Cowan Jr. are the most battle-tested players on the team. 

The No. 24 Terps (18-6, 9-4) knocked off Nebraska on the road, 60-45, Feb. 6, and Turgeon's team will be tested during the coming week. No. 12 Purdue (Feb. 12), No. 6 Michigan (Feb. 16), and No. 21 Iowa (Feb. 19) are looming, and the latter two are road games.

The Terps notched impressive wins against ranked opponents as part of a seven-game win streak in January but didn't face any of those three teams during that span. 

Nail-biting home wins against Nebraska, Indiana and Wisconsin catapulted Maryland to No. 13 in the country before a Jan. 21 date with Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich. But a veteran Spartans team dictated play, effectively shutting down Cowan and Smith. The Terps were held to under 60 points for only the second time this season, losing 69-55. 

Two weeks later Maryland fell to Wisconsin, 69-61, in Madison, Wis. 

"They go on a seven-game win streak, but can you beat Michigan or Michigan State? Can you beat Wisconsin on the road?" Fox Sports analyst Casey Jacobsen said Feb. 4. "If you can do those things, then we'll stop talking about your youth."

Jacobsen has gained a bit of notoriety among Terps fans as being a non-believer in the studio, but it's not personal.

"I'm not anti-Terps" he joked. "They play in a conference that has a lot of other really good teams and we're asked to make decisive calls about what we think is best."

The Big Ten has five teams that are ranked higher than Maryland in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll. The Terps have also never won a road game against a ranked opponent in the Turgeon era.

Fortunately, the next game -- the biggest game of the season, according to Jacobsen -- is in College Park, Md. Maryland will host red-hot Purdue -- winners of eight straight games -- at Xfinity Center Feb. 12. The Boilermakers defeated Wisconsin on the road and downed Michigan State convincingly at home during that stretch. 

"If [Maryland] can beat Purdue at home, I am in on this team as far as a power conference team that could absolutely make a run at possibly a Final Four," Jacobsen said.

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

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

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox