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Glenn Clark: Was Win Against Iowa A True Stepping Stone For Terps?

February 20, 2019
The streak is over! Long live the streak!

Yes, as you know, the No. 24 Maryland men's basketball team finally won its first game on the road against a ranked team since 2008 by beating No. 21 Iowa, 66-65, Feb. 19. It was about the most joyless way possible for such a streak to end. Not only did Maryland choke away a double-digit lead late, Iowa is just barely a top-25 team. Had it not been for an ACTUAL MIRACLE against Rutgers Feb. 16, the Hawkeyes probably wouldn't have been ranked. They're a team that has appeared to be roughly as lucky as they are good. 

The problem with overemphasizing the value of the streak ending is that the issue isn't REALLY that Maryland hadn't defeated an opponent whose name happens to have a little number next to it during the entire Mark Turgeon era. It's that they haven't really beaten a team that was particularly good on the road during the Mark Turgeon era. 

To complete the original thought, if I stated that Maryland still hasn't defeated a top-20 team on the road since 2008, I'd be accurate. I'm not trying to diminish the accomplishments of this Maryland team; I'm more trying to explain why snapping the "streak" itself was far more esoteric than actually significant. 

Maryland actually defeated an unranked Michigan State team on the road in December 2014. That Spartans team went on to reach the Final Four and finish the year as the No. 7 team in the country. That win didn't actually snap the streak, but I would argue it was far more valuable than defeating a Hawkeyes team that only nine days earlier needed a similar miracle to beat Northwestern at home. 

Hopefully Iowa becomes more "good" than "lucky" in the coming weeks and this win holds up for Maryland as a little more than just a "Quadrant 1" victory. I'm skeptical of that. But at least Turgeon and company don't have to hear about the "streak" for some time. Even if that proves to be the defining value of the win, that's not nothing. 

Maryland fans have to hope that the road win proves to be another step on the Terps' path toward proving themselves capable of winning a big game against a team that is REALLY good. If the Terps are going to accomplish anything of note this season -- something that, to be fair, they really haven't done during Turgeon's tenure -- they're almost certainly going to have to win at least one game against a very good team to do that. 

Whether that accomplishment is a Big Ten Tournament title or a deep run in the NCAA Tournament (the only two potential accomplishments that would invigorate the fanbase), it seems extremely unlikely the Terps could do it without recording a major win. Maryland has never won a game in the Big Ten Tournament against a ranked opponent during the Turgeon era. In the same span, they haven't won an NCAA Tournament game against an opponent with a single digit seed. 

For the Terps to be the quality of basketball program they're hoping to be, those things obviously have to change. They have to win big games away from home against truly good opponents. 

Much has been made about Maryland's youth this season. Yes, the Terps are the fifth-youngest team in college basketball. That's a fact but not an excuse. It can't be enough for this team to fall short of winning the biggest games this season because it's "young." Duke's top four players are all freshmen. They're young. That doesn't seem to be much of an excuse for them. (Yes, I know Duke's freshmen are all NBA players. The point is that being "young" alone isn't singularly why a college basketball team succeeds or fails.) 

Part of the hope for a young team is that they're building toward becoming an even better team in the years to follow. But there's peril in hoping for that in this sport. It's already assumed that Maryland's best player (Bruno Fernando) will depart after this season; projects Fernando to be selected seventh overall in this year's draft. It remains possible that freshman big man Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) could go as well; he's currently projected to be the 23rd overall pick. Additionally, sees freshman guard Aaron Wiggins as a first-round pick in the 2020 draft, meaning he's very much on the radar. 

Combine that with potentially unknown attrition -- a player who perhaps chooses to transfer because they decide they want to be closer to home, for example -- and you're reminded that college basketball is a "this year" sport every year. As young as Maryland is, this might prove to be its best chance at doing something special with this core. 

If we were to excuse another shortcoming due to the Terps' youth this year, we'd probably be inclined to excuse a similar shortcoming next year if they were to lose Fernando and Smith because "they had lost too much." At some point, "next year" has to become "this year." This year needs to be "next year." Or something like that. 

This brings me back to my point about the win against Iowa. For Maryland's sake, you have to hope this was a stepping stone for them in learning how to beat the actually good teams. While watching a big second half lead slip away was uncomfortable, we've certainly seen past Terrapin teams crumble in such situations. This team figured out a way to get the job done even when everything seemed to go wrong. 

You have to hope this was the next moment a team needed in terms of learning how to win. Maybe Iowa isn't really a good team, but they're certainly not a bad team either. The Hawkeyes have been one of the more efficient offensive teams in the country, and they struggled for much of the 40 minutes against the Terps. 

Hopefully it's the next step. Hopefully this team is on the cusp of learning how to win the biggest games. I'm sure plenty of you are skeptical. But Maryland fans simply have to hope.  

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox