Photo courtesy of Maryland athletics
For Maryland basketball, it has been, historically speaking, a very strong team.
When assessing the 2020-21 campaign at the midseason mark, it is important to keep in mind a few things. The first is the level of competition. The Big Ten is an elite conference with no easy match-ups.
Secondly, the Terrapins have dealt with less opportunity for team camaraderie and an overall shorter non-conference schedule. These factors are small, but they do help teams ramp up for the conference play. Albeit, no one in the Maryland program would say that those are excuses for a 2-5 conference record and an 8-6 overall mark.
For head coach Mark Turgeon and his squad, there have been some very positive moments this season. For starters, they have shown the ability to dig in and play elite defense at times. Maryland’s defensive prowess was put on display against Wisconsin, aiding it in a big time road win. A combination of players using their long frames to their advantage and a team-wide effort to be better defensively has helped immensely.
Additionally, Maryland has shown a surprising ability to play well on the road. Maryland is a team that, in most seasons, boasts one of the most distinct home-court advantages. The Terps have not always played their best basketball on the road.
In the past, the Terps have often relied on “The Pride” — Maryland’s student section — to win the majority of their home games. This season, the lack of fans has forced Maryland to become road warriors and defeat some elite teams in their home arenas.
Let’s go to the aforementioned Wisconsin game where Maryland beat a top-10 opponent on the road for the first time since 2014 when it beat the No. 6 Badgers. This was their first win in conference play, and it is safe to say that it was a must-win game.
Most recently, the Terps went to Champaign and beat 15th-ranked Illinois, 66-63. This was a shocking win, as Maryland seemed to be reeling prior to this game. Coming off consecutive tough losses did not bode well for the Terps. Nonetheless, they dug deep and won this tough road game, potentially keeping themselves alive in the fight for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
This season has not been all butterflies and rose pedals for the Terps, however. As one can presume based on a 2-5 record in conference play, the Terps have had a tumultuous season. They have struggled in close games to this point.
A Christmas Day tilt with Purdue left the Terps feeling as if they had faltered at the exact wrong time. That was the first close loss. The Terps have given away a couple of games this season, and in painful fashion.
Maryland could have very easily beaten Indiana recently, and been 3-4 in Big Ten play instead of 2-5. Factoring in a win over Purdue, it could be 4-3 in one of the toughest conferences in the country.
It is so easy to look back on these games and think Maryland could be so much better, but the fact of the matter is that they are over and in the record books. Maryland cannot do anything about them now.
The Terrapins can only improve and move forward. One thing that can be changed is their play in College Park. In order to win in the Big Ten, teams must defend their home court and pick up wins when necessary.
While every match-up is going to be tough, Maryland needs to start winning at home. It is an unreliable method to assume it can win on the road against all of these talented teams. In order to make the tournament, the Terps need to step it up in Xfinity Center and make it, once again, a place where teams do not exit with a win.
Finally, the most glaring weakness of this year’s Terrapins team is their lack of offensive fluidity. Maryland tends to fall into stretches where it does nothing but shoot contested jump shots early in the shot clock. If these shots are going in, no one has much of a problem with them, but when they are not falling, they are viewed as a glaring weakness.
A prime example is against Iowa, Maryland was leading 19-9 early in the contest, but lost by more than 20 points. How does this happen? Simply put, Maryland made none of its shots following the hot start.
Iowa went on a run where it scored more than 20 points during a span where Maryland scored none. For the majority of the game, the Hawkeyes were attacking Maryland with a 3-2 zone. Maryland fell right into their trap and missed jumper after jumper.
The Remainder of the Year
For Maryland, it will be a tough climb out of this hole. That being said, as long as the Terrapins can patch up their issues, there is no reason to believe they are left out of this tournament. Road wins against two ranked teams as well as a few more wins in conference play should vault them into the NCAA Tournament.
Conversely, if they can’t beat teams like Nebraska and Penn State, they might have a tough time getting to Indianapolis. Maryland knew this year would be tough. Now it is time for it to dig as deep as possible and win some basketball games.