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Maryland Basketball Preview: Is this Mark Turgeon’s best team yet—in a put up or shut up year?

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A bevy of transfers and a chance to make a splash in the non-conference could mean big things for Mark Turgeon’s club.

Maryland v UConn Photo by Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

To those who don’t follow Maryland basketball that closely, Mark Turgeon signed a 5-year, school-friendly extension over the summer. By school-friendly, I mean his buy-out is cheap.

Our AD, Damon Evans, negotiated a pretty good deal. He did not overpay. I am not on the “Fire Turge” train, like many Maryland basketball fans.

Why? Let’s take a look at our B1G East compatriots that Maryland beat in the 2002 National Championship game: the Indiana Hoosiers. Twenty years has past since Maryland won its only NC in mens basketball by beating Indiana. Plenty of Terrapins fans think Maryland should be in the Final Four regularly even though the Terps have only been to two Final Fours in their entire history.

These fans are delusional.

Bobby Knight coached at Indiana for thirty years 1971-2000, compiling a 0.731 winning percentage. Indiana has been chasing the ghost of Bobby Knight’s success for more than twenty years since he was unceremoniously dismissed. This is his curse to Indiana for firing him.

Likewise, Maryland has been chasing the success of Gary Williams’ two-year run when the Terrapins went to two consecutive Final Fours and won a national championship. Like Indiana, Maryland has been unsuccessfully chasing this success for twenty years, a level of success that Gary Williams, the coach responsible for the two straight Final Fours, could not replicate.

Let’s look at Indiana futility in trying to chase the ghosts of Bobby Knight’s success:

  • Mike Davis (2000-2006) ( 0.592)
  • Kelvin Sampson (2006-2008) (0.741)
  • Dan Dakich (2008) (0.429)
  • Tom Crean (2008-2017) (.552)
  • Archie Miller (2017-2021) (0.536)
  • Mike Woodson (2021-????) (?????)

Hmm. Kelvin Sampson came pretty close to replicating Bobby’s win percentage. But, I forget why he was fired. (Not really.)

Mike Davis got fired for not being good enough, yet he had a better winning percentage than everyone except Kelvin.

For 9 years, Crean coached IU to a 0.552 win percentage only to be replaced by a guy who was even less successful. Maybe the IU athletic department should have listened to TLC’s warning about chasing waterfalls.

IU has reached the NCAA tournament eight times in the 20 years since their 2002 NC appearance. Since Turge has been in the B1G, he has reached the NCAA tournament five out of six years and co-won the B1G championship in 2019-2020. In my opinion, his best team to date was the 2019-2020 team (11th in KenPom). KenPom agrees.

The NCAA tournament was canceled because of COVID in 2020, so that year doesn’t count for making the NCAA tournament. Maryland would have most likely qualified as a 3-seed. While not a Final Four team, I felt they were very likely to go to Sweet 16. Since joining the B1G, Turge has coached MD to a 1st place finish in the standings, a 2nd place, a 3rd place, a 5th place and three 8th place finishes and a 0.696 winning percentage. Significantly higher than Mike Davis, Tom Crean, and Archie Miller.

This comparison illustrates why “you ‘don’t go chasing waterfalls.” The odds of replacing Turge with someone worse than Turge are pretty high.

I. 2020-2021 Season Review:

Due to the unexpected mid-season trasnfer of two freshman bigs in 2019 and the expected departure fo Jalen Smith to the NBA following the 2019-2020 season, MD was devoid of talented bigs that could compete at the B1G level for the following 2020-2021 season. MD was undersized and had a thin bench.

They finished the season ranked #35 in KenPom, with a 17-14 overall record and 9-11 in the B1G. Turge was forced to play small ball, with their best line-ups being a four-guard rotation. It was perhaps his best coaching during his tenure at MD. But, he was forced to be creative and to do things he normally wouldn’t do due to a depleted roster.

II. The Personnel

A. The Coach

Which brings us to this season in which Turge finds himself in a very different situation. The Terps are still a little thin in the front court, they don’t have a line-up of future NBA Draft candidates, but they are DEEP with lots of B1G level talent.

The most common criticism among the "Turge haterz" is that his team's fold come crucnh time in March. Let's look at the season-ending Ken Pom rankings compared to Turge's NCAA tournament success:

Year KenPom NCAA Result

2014-2015 33 2nd Round

2015-2016 22 Sweet 16

2016-2017 46 1st Round

2018-2019 24 2nd Round

2020-2021 35 2nd Round

Assuming being ranked top-32 gets you into the second round and being ranked top-16 gets you into the Sweet 16, Maryland’s NCAA performance was consistent with their KenPom ranking in in 2018-2019 and 2016-2017. In three out of the five years, MD's NCAA performance actually outperformed their KenPom ranking.

B. Maryland and Kenpom

This is obviously not an exact science. NCAA performance depends a lot on the draw and some random dude going off from 3-point land. But, taking multiple years, you would expect to see some semblance of a pattern. What I see is NCAA peformance consistent with the respective KenPom rankings, which brings us, finally, to this year's preview.

I cant' find the data, but Maryland has consistently outperformed KenPom's pre-season rankings, always finishing higher than projected in the pre-season. For example, MD's pre-season KenPom ranking was 15 and they finished that year ranked 11 in Ken Pom during the COVID year (2019-2020).

This year MD's pre-season Ken Pom ranking is 18, which based on past history, projects them to finish about 15 in KenPom. Unfortunately, there are four KenPom top-10 B1G teams (UM-#2, IL-#5, Purdue-#6, OSU-#8) Despite being ranked slightly lower than the 2019-2020 team (18th compared to 15th), I think this is Turge's best team yet. Unfortunately, the B1G has a lot of damn good teams, so grabbing a share of this year's B1G title is unlikely, despite Turge fielding one of his best, if not his best, team at MD.

C. The Players

But, I think one of the four teams legitimately ahead of MD will stumble and MD will eke out a top-4 finish. Here's why: Maryland is not relying on any freshmen who do freshmen things.

1. The Starters

G Fatts Russell (transfer from URI) - reports are he is quicker than Anthony Cowan and a better defender. He will be a candidate to lead the B1G in steals. At URI he was an inefficient scorer becasue he was forced to take a lot of bad shots due to a lack of scoring options at URI. His offensive efficiency projects to improve significantly, with all the sscoring optins availble to him.

G Eric Ayala - We all know what we are getting with Ayala. Named to the Pre-Season All B1G Team

SF Hakim Hart - Really came on the 2nd half of last season. Has apparently gotten bigger to handle the B1G physicality. Turge commented that Hart has matured and no longer treating basketball as a hobby, but more like a job, reflecting a more mature focus to his game.

PF Donta Scott - Was the best player on the floor at Maryland’s recent open scrimmage. Last year shot 50% from the field and 44% from 3-point range. And can bang with the big boys underneath despite his lack of height

C Qudus Wahab - Georgetown transfer. Solid player in the Big East last year. 6'-11" 240 lb. Led Georgetown in rebounds (8.2 per game) and double-doubles (8). Brought in specifically to bang with talented bigs like Hunter Dickinson. Will quietly do exactly what is expected.

2. The Reserves

G Xavier Green - transfer from ODU. Was brought in for defense, hustle and intensity. Apparently he had horrible shooting form, which has been vastly improved since arrving at MD. He is currently projected to play a much larger role than originally anticipated, mostly becasue of his improved shooting, but all the other components were better than expected.

G Ian Martinez - transfer from Utah. Really came on at the end of last year for the Utes and exhibited a high offensive efficiency. Has a high upside, but progess was slowed a bit by an injury over the summer. Will definitely paly lots of minutes, nevertheless.

PF Pablo Dziuba - transfer from Arizona St. Incredibly athletic and strong big man. Will defintiely get minutes. Needs to develop more defensive consistency. Apparently, pretty good offensive game.

F Julian Reese - top-50 ranked incoming freshmen

G/F James Graham - 110-ranked incoming freshmen, but enrolled early and was on MD's roster during 2nd half of year, not counting against his eligibility, but gained valuable experince and accelerated his development.

How deep is MD's bench? Top-100, 4-star Ike Cornish will not see much playing time, either will 3-star/4-star sophomore Marcus Dockery.

IV. The Schedule

Only here to note some excellent Bahamas action for the Terps, who will face Richmond in the opening round, then either Louisville or Mississippi State.

ESPN, probably

V. Predictions

There are no sure-fire NBA players on this roster. However, there is lots of experienced upper-tier Power-5 basketball talent on this roster. Only two freshmen (1 being a top-50 recruit) will crack the crack the rotation, and both will be reserves. They will lose to some teams throughout the season when elite-level players have great nights.

But this team will grind lots of wins on consistency and experience. Turge did an excellent job last year with the transfer portal. As I wrote earlier, I think this is Maryland’s best team yet under Turge. But, this team’s success will be muted by so many top-tier teams in the B1G this year.

Larry’s 2021-2022 Predictions:

  • Top-4 Finish in the B1G
  • Top-15 finish in KenPom
  • 3-Seed in NCAA Tournament
  • Random record prediction: 13-7 in the B1G, 22-8 overall

Let us know your thoughts on the 2021-22 Terps season in the comments!

Poll

How will the Terrapins finish in 2021-22?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Win the Big Ten
    (4 votes)
  • 47%
    Double-bye in the BTT
    (22 votes)
  • 41%
    Solidly upper-half
    (19 votes)
  • 2%
    Sub-.500, and Turge says goodbye
    (1 vote)
46 votes total Vote Now