After offseason attrition, Maryland's Mark Turgeon faces critical season
In 22 seasons under former coach Gary Williams, Maryland made 14 NCAA tournament appearances, two straight Final Fours in 2001 and '02 and won the national championship in that latter season. After Williams retired in 2011, the Terrapins hired Mark Turgeon from Texas A&M and the team has since not qualified for the NCAAs. Unsurprisingly, some fans are beginning to grow restless.
With Turgeon manning the sidelines, the Terps have slogged through three mediocre seasons, bookending a 25-win NIT campaign in 2012-13 with a pair of 17-win seasons. And considering the football team’s recent lull under fourth-year coach Randy Edsall, a Maryland fan blog has referred to this period as “sports jail.”
As the school girds for its move into the Big Ten, the nation’s toughest basketball league over the past four seasons based on Ken Pomeroy’s metrics, there is hope, with an esteemed recruiting class coming in and a solid group of players returning, that a jail break is on the horizon for the hoops team. But recent results and a turbulent offseason could make it difficult to trust that the Terrapins are progressing under Turgeon.
Earlier this month, guard Seth Allen was granted permission to transfer from Maryland, becoming the fourth player on scholarship (and fifth overall) to leave the program this offseason. The school announced in April that center Shaquille Cleare, forward Nick Faust and guard Roddy Peters were allowed to seek opportunities elsewhere. Forward Charles Mitchell is also rumored to be considering a transfer.
The rash of departures leaves the Terrapins with 11 players on scholarship for next season – though the team could add a transfer. Of the four scholarship players to exit the program, Allen was the most significant. The rising junior overcame a foot injury, which forced him to miss 12 games, to average 13.4 points, second only to rising senior small forward Dez Wells’ 14.9. Cleare and Peters, meanwhile, averaged fewer than 20 minutes and Faust, a former top-50 recruit, started less than half of Maryland’s games.
Losing Cleare, Peters and Faust is not a major blow, but it does thin the Terps' depth. Allen, however, would have been one of the team's top returning players. He could have moved over to shooting guard, his natural position, in a backcourt partnership with incoming freshman Romelo Trimble, Maryland’s first McDonald’s All American since 2003 and the lynchpin of a five-man recruiting class ranked No. 10 in 2014 by Rivals.
Trimble, Wells, guard/forward Jake Layman, forward Evan Smotrycz and fellow freshmen guards Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens give Maryland the makings of a formidable perimeter group. Losing Allen will force Trimble and others to carry a larger load, but the damage is not catastrophic. Though a suspect frontcourt -- especially if Mitchell leaves -- is concerning, Maryland could still finish in the top half of the Big Ten and compete for an NCAA tournament berth.
The most alarming aspect of the wave of transfers might be the timing. This was not the textbook case of a batch of players departing after the coach who recruited them left. Cleare, Peters and Allen were part of Turgeon's first two full recruiting classes, in 2012 and '13, and Faust recommitted to Maryland in 2011 after Turgeon arrived.
''I'm a little bit of everything -- surprised, angry, disappointed,'' Turgeon said last week, according to the Associated Press. ''All those emotions come into it. But what am I going to do? Am I going to sit here and cry about it? No. I'm going to recruit players and get to 13 (scholarships) and ... we'll hopefully be a tighter group because of it.'' Remaining players have expressed support for Turgeon and director of athletics Kevin Anderson said last week, “I totally support Mark.” Whatever the emotions of the team -- or the opinions publicly voiced by the AD -- there’s no denying this is an important year for the Terrapins. Turgeon and the program he oversees could have done without the offseason tumult.