So, it turns out that Maryland didn't turn a corner.
That was the hope, after the Terps beat N.C. State. That a young team had grown up, had found themselves, and maybe had even set themselves up for a major run through the ACC. A road trip to a middle-of-the-conference North Carolina was the ultimate test for that theory.
The result: another healthy, painful dose of reality.
UNC, a talented, deep, comparatively veteran team, showed just how far away this young Terrapin squad is when the two met on Saturday afternoon. The first half was an utter whitewash, with the Heels outclassing Maryland in every aspect of the game. Much like the Miami game, both Maryland's roster and coaching staff looked lost for the opening twenty minutes, and they were certainly overmatched by Carolina's length, athleticism, talent, and tempo.
Just a sampling of the first half numbers: Maryland turned the ball over 15 times, had only two assists, shot 33% from the field and 0-7 from three, and allowed UNC to shoot 48% from the field themselves. Maryland often struggled to even so much as catch and handle the ball with consistency, seemingly having walked into a train and looking completely unprepared for the intensity in the Dean Dome, from both the crowd and the opposition. The deficit at the break was 42-20, but UNC more or less could've picked their score.
There deserves to be a lot more said about that performance, and we'll do so in time. It was a dismal showing by Maryland, as poor as they've looked all year and enough to make you once again doubt the short-term future of the team. Both Turgeon and his players deserve criticism for it.
But they deserve, too, at least some credit for turning things around in the second half, where they were easily the better team and showed some much-needed hustle and desire. Maryland actually outscored UNC in the second period 32-20, but were in such a deep hole that they struggled to ever make a serious dent in the Heels' lead. They were the same young, overmatched team in the second half that they were in the first; the only difference was that they were playing with passion and at least some modicum of composure, both of which were lacking in the opening twenty minutes. This is still a young team without a leader, and that means that those types of games will happen. Still, if Mark Turgeon wants this bunch to go anywhere this year instead of waiting for them to age, he needs to find some way to get through to them and get them playing with that type of effort consistently. Learning experiences like this will help.
There were some positives, especially in that second half. Dez Wells is the biggest of them: he was shockingly good, going for 21 points on 8-11 shooting and nearly reviving Maryland's hopes all by himself. Turgeon's learning a lot about this team, you feel - something that should've happened in the non-conference slate, but that's a different discussion - and in addition to shortening the rotation, one potential necessary change could be getting Wells more involved in the offense. He became more of a primary ballhandler in the second half and much more aggressive, and the results were obvious. Maryland needs scorers, and Wells may just be one.
But I start with the positive mostly because the negatives were so clear, and this game reinforced a lot of them.: Maryland's young. They're inconsistent. They're poor on offense all the time and downright anemic when they're cold. They're sloppy and jittery. They have no point guard. Their coach isn't the wizard that some had hyped him up to be, and continues to make odd in-game decisions.
We aware of much of this already, but the assumption that the N.C. State game forced upon us was that their defense and intensity were good enough to make up for it. North Carolina has shown that that's simply not true: when they're out-matched in talent, experience, or athleticism, or when they're placed in a hostile environment, those flaws are going to be very tough to overcome, especially if their defense ever decides to not show up, either.
And so once again we're forced to reassess this squad. I wasn't sold on them being an NCAA Tournament team after the N.C. State game, and I'm certainly not sold on it now. But the second half was encouraging, and it's a reminder that this team, like many young ones, is a little bipolar. The ACC schedule will see more highs, probably at home, and it'll see more lows. If they get hot late, as the schedule allows, they might make a run in the ACC Tournament and find themselves on the bubble. But I'd be wary right now of expecting anything more than that.