I purposely wanted to wait a little while before reflecting too much on Maryland's season-ending loss to LSU March 23.
When a loss is that gut-wrenching -- the type that demolishes your heart more than even a blender in an Eve 6 song is capable of doing -- it's a little tougher to offer pragmatic thought. You need some time to distance yourself from such heartbreak and think a bit more clearly.
And with the benefit of that extra time, I do indeed think it's imperative that we give head coach Mark Turgeon credit. Everything about that
brutal 69-67 loss to LSU
changed the moment he switched to a zone defense. The Tigers absolutely crumbled, giving the Terps a legitimate shot at pulling off a staggering comeback win.
We criticize Turgeon a ton for how he handles in-game situations. But that was a game-changing in-game coaching decision that is worthy of recognition.
But it sure as hell isn't worthy of changing a narrative.
There's no nice way of saying this. Mark Turgeon was coaching a power conference team for the 409th time in his career, this time in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. (I'm ignoring his 218 games at Wichita State, which was very much a mid-major at the time.) LSU interim coach Tony Benford was leading a power conference team for the fourth time in his.
If the two programs are even comparable when it comes to talent, Turgeon should have coached circles around his opponent. Instead it took until the second half for a possible advantage to be identified, and ultimately it couldn't prevent the outcome from being the exact same as every other time he's faced a single-digit seeded team in the NCAA Tournament since he arrived at Maryland.
This was the chance. This was the opportunity. Take nothing away from LSU; the Tigers are clearly a talented bunch. But that stretch in the second half was a reminder of how flawed they are as a No. 3 seed. They had a bunch of scoreless droughts this season when they HAD their head coach, the since-suspended Will Wade. No one needed to be caught explaining it on tape for us to understand that they'd be even more susceptible without him.
And yet STILL Maryland couldn't overcome an actual good team in the NCAA Tournament. Turgeon STILL couldn't record his first Tournament win against a power conference team since 2006, when Wichita State beat No. 10 seed Seton Hall and No. 2 seed Tennessee en route to the Sweet 16. Everything was set up for the Terrapins to make fans forget all about the Nebraska disaster in the Big Ten tournament and for the region come to life with Maryland pride in D.C. this weekend. But STILL we're forced to wonder if it will ever happen.
But give him credit for that switch to the zone. It was a really good decision. I'm not saying that ironically. It was a great maneuver.
But is that one maneuver worthy of us looking past how what was once believed to be a "basketball school" not only hasn't recorded a win against a good team in the NCAA Tournament, it has recorded just four Tournament wins of any sort during the past eight years under Turgeon?
Even if you're willing to overlook the first three years of Turgeon's tenure here -- because he came in at an awkward time during the calendar year originally and the move to the Big Ten was uncomfortable -- is that one maneuver worthy of us looking past the fact there hasn't been a single season since the conference switch in which the Terps have actually been better in March than they were in January?
These things seem to weigh a bit more heavily for me than a good in-game adjustment that led to almost winning a game once.
Perhaps you're more willing to give Turgeon a pass because you're thinking about what this team is capable of becoming next season given their relative youth. That's more than fair. But not only are we all working under the assumption that sophomore center Bruno Fernando will depart, the conversation surrounding freshman forward Jalen Smith's future is only getting louder. After two great performances for national audiences this week,
) who cover the NBA are discussing the Mount Saint Joseph graduate as a legitimate prospect.
This MIGHT have been Maryland's best chance. Maybe not. Maybe Fernando and/or Smith return next year, the Terrapins have another year in which they experience significant good fortune on the injury front, no one chooses to transfer and more freshmen are ready to make an impact. It's not impossible. But even if that all plays out, it's tough to have significant confidence when the track record here shows no likelihood of being able to make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
The best defense of Turgeon, who has spent 12 years as a major conference coach with almost no postseason accomplishment of note, would be to try to compare him to Villanova's Jay Wright, who had a bit of a reputation for postseason issues before finally breaking through to win two national titles.
But even that comparison is absurd. Villanova was Wright's first power conference job, and by his fifth year he had already reached an Elite Eight, something Turgeon has never done. By his eighth year at Villanova -- Turgeon just finished his eighth at Maryland -- Wright had been to four Sweet 16s, a Final Four and had won a Big East regular-season title. Wright was a VASTLY more accomplished coach by this point than Turgeon is. It's almost a comical defense.
Obviously, I can't say with certainty that it's impossible Turgeon could become a totally different coach in future years. I'm a silly sports take artist, not a tarot card reader. And I'm not even calling for Turgeon to be fired, which would be silly since I
just explained a week ago
why he won't be. But as best as I can explain it, I don't know what anyone could present that would justify why Turgeon is worthy of being the Maryland basketball coach after these eight seasons.
I certainly couldn't accept one single coaching adjustment as such evidence.
Hopefully something will happen in the future that will change all of this. But how many times have we said that before?
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox