Mark Turgeon is not on the hot seat at the University of Maryland as he enters the NCAA Tournament.
That's not really an "opinion" as much as it's a reasonable inference that I just went ahead and had two different sources with knowledge of the situation confirm to me because the conversation was getting particularly loud after the Terps' awful loss to Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament.
As one source said to me directly, "Even if they were to get embarrassed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the decision has already been made that he's coming back."
And while I guess I'm technically "reporting" this, I have to maintain that a reasonable inference could have led to the same conclusion. There are four easily-known facts I additionally confirmed that are all part of the reason why there really was never any actual doubt about Turgeon's future -- just raw emotion from a frustrated fan base again seeing a team limp to the finish line.
1. As so many have pointed out, the truth is that overall, the season is a "successful" one for the Terrapins based on the lack of expectations coming in. One of the youngest teams in the country, Maryland was projected to be a team that would have to fight just to make the NCAA Tournament -- not a team that would still be a No. 6 seed despite stumbling down the stretch. As disappointing as it is to watch another March swoon (at least to this point), it doesn't singularly define the job that has been done this season.
2. There is good reason to think there are positive things to come in the future for Maryland. Of the team's regular contributors, only center Bruno Fernando (who in fairness has been the team's best player by a good margin) can reasonably be "expected" to depart. There is always the possibility of an unexpected departure, of course. Perhaps a player like Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) could get better feedback than expected from the NBA and choose to leave -- or, of course, the unexpected could happen.
One of the talented freshmen could transfer, or another player could choose to go pro knowing his NBA chances are next to none but accepting he'd rather get paid to play elsewhere than continue to play for free in college. BUT with well-regarded incoming freshmen (like consensus four-star big Makhi Mitchell from D.C.) set to join the group of likely returners, there's reason to believe Maryland could be relevant again next season.
3. This is a university that just dealt with an ACTUAL disaster in the football program (the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair) and an ensuing crisis based on the university's role in his death, response to his death and handling of the coaches and administrators who were negligent or failed to live up to the expectations set for them in the process. To put it in a more simple way, the school has had "bigger fish to fry" of late than to make a dramatic decision because a basketball team struggled down the stretch.
4. Oh yeah, the one that kinda outweighs everything else. With four years remaining on a contract that leaves him owed nearly $13 million and no buyout, Maryland would owe half of that figure almost immediately if the school were to fire Turgeon. Considering Maryland just had to buy out former football coach DJ Durkin and was already in a terrible financial situation because it came in way overbudget on the Cole Field House project, there just doesn't appear to be significant money lying around to spend on someone who isn't coaching the basketball team. It might be easier to find that money if the team had somehow gone 10-22 this year instead of 22-10, but even then, it's a costly price.
This is all compounded by the fact that a significant part of the fan base is opposed to athletic director Damon Evans even being the person to make this decision at all, as many believe he should have also been let go in the aftermath of the McNair tragedy.
Perhaps you think this is a rather long-winded way for me to say "the NCAA Tournament doesn't really seem to matter for the Terps." That's not remotely true. It's just that it probably matters for more esoteric reasons. I mean, obviously if Maryland could do something wildly unexpected and make a run to a Final Four, it would matter. It would lead to a banner at Xfinity Center and it'd go down as one of the greatest seasons in Maryland basketball history.
But for more esoteric reasons, the opportunity is very real for Turgeon to change the narrative that surrounds him. The most damning statement that can be made about Turgeon is his lack of significant, late-season wins. With the exception of a February 2015 home win against then-No. 4 Wisconsin, the Terps just simply haven't won games that particularly mattered late in the season.
(Someone will point out that in 2013, Maryland won February and March games against Duke, and in 2014, the Terps beat Virginia in their regular season finale, and all of those teams were ranked in the top five. That's true. But Maryland wasn't in line to even make the NCAA Tournament in either of those seasons. Those wins were certainly noteworthy and significant, but they didn't actually matter that much.)
That can change during the next week. If Maryland can survive its opener against the Belmont-Temple winner -- which will not be easy either way -- the Terps would potentially face third-seeded LSU next. That presents an opportunity to finally win an NCAA Tournament game against a single-digit seed (seriously, that's something that hasn't happened under Turgeon at Maryland).
And this LSU team -- while unquestionably talented -- is as ripe for the taking as just about any top-three seed in recent memory. The Tigers' case for a top seed was made largely on the strength of two wins: a controversial road win at Kentucky on a late basket that almost certainly shouldn't have counted and an overtime home win against Tennessee. Those wins shouldn't be dismissed. Beating Tennessee anywhere and by any margin is incredible. Even being in position to have a chance to beat Kentucky on the road is remarkable. But the context is noteworthy. If one basket goes a different way in each of those games, LSU is almost certainly not a No. 3 seed.
And then of course there's the controversy surrounding their suspended head coach Will Wade, who won't be with them unless ... I honestly can't fathom how he could possibly be back with them ever again. The Tigers lost their SEC tournament opener to Florida -- in fairness, a good team -- without Wade.
The opportunity is very much there to change the narrative. Will it happen? I understand why you're apprehensive. But if you're rooting for an early exit in hopes of a coaching change, you might want to reconsider your strategy.
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