There are certain Maryland losses that hurt because the Terrapins play below their level, like they did against Miami (though that game has recently been given some context) and Florida State. Other losses, like the loss to Kentucky, are of the encouraging variety, because Maryland plays well against superior opposition and look like a team on the rise.
The Terps' 84-64 loss to Duke? It was neither. Oh, it hurt. But it didn't hurt because Maryland played well below their level. It hurt because they did play fairly well, at least for a half, and yet still lost by 20. It hurt because it serves as a reminder that, while progress has perhaps been made, Maryland's still a very, very long way away from where they want to be.
The first half was a fairly well-balanced affair, with Maryland missing a few opportunities but also flexing their strengths on occasion, with Alex Len dropping an immense reverse slam and Dez Wells running the show. A complete and total inability to guard Rasheed Sulaimon, plus those few aforementioned missed opportunities, had the Terps trailing by eight at the break, but it was very much a ballgame.
Sadly, the second half was not so encouraging.
Duke's offense put a clinic on the Terrapins' all game, but it was especially pronounced in the second half, in which they quickly pushed their lead out to double-digits and left a discomposed and young Maryland team chasing. Around the 13:00 mark in the second half, the Terps had cut the lead back down to eight, and had two possessions with the deficit at that manageable mark. The first was a chucked three-pointer from Dez Wells; the second was a turnover. Duke turned that into a layup at the other end, went on a quick little 10-4 run, and never looked back. The final margin was 20; the Blue Devils probably could've just about picked their score.
That's just the way it goes when you visit Cameron Indoor with a young roster full of holes, lacking a top-level point guard or any experienced offensive output. It's frustrating and demoralizing to see it as a fan, especially as it reminds you of all the work to be done. But Maryland's just not yet up to the task of seriously competing in that sort of game.
We saw that proven in any number of ways. There was the surreal job Maryland's defense did in guarding Sulaimon, who finished with 25 points on 9-13 shooting and had an absurd number of open looks. There were the consistently-too-high turnover numbers, once again: Maryland had 14 to Duke's 4. There was the inability to hit a shot, seemingly any shot: the Terps were 41% from the field, 56% from the stripe, and 27% from three. And there was the infuriating shot selection and decision-making, which killed so many Terrapin runs.
Two things are obvious at this point. The first is that Maryland's roster just isn't that good, certainly not as good as we had hoped it'd be. That was obvious after the Miami game, too, but now it's a fact that's smacking you in the face. There's very little balance, no leadership, less experience, and the biggest players - Len, Wells, Faust - all come and go throughout games, making a great play and following it up with a boneheaded one or, worse, complete invisibility. It's a roster that's probably good enough to make the NCAA Tournament, most years. But it's not a roster good enough to compete in the ACC, and it's not close.
The second is that things will get better. How much better? Better enough to be at the level Maryland ultimately wants to be at? I don't know. Nor do I know the pace it'll happen at. But Dez Wells will be here next year, as will Nick Faust, as will Seth Allen, as will Charles Mitchell, as will Jake Layman - hell, Alex Len might even still be around. And they'll all be a year older and much more experienced, not the wide-eyed youngsters they seemed today. Evan Smotrycz will be eligible. Roddy Peters will be available. The roster in a year's time will look a hell of a lot better than it does today.
Does that make me feel better right now? No. Any loss to Duke stings. Any loss to Duke like this stings like hell. And any loss by 20 when it seems like Maryland's otherwise building something? Demoralizing. Especially because, yet again, you're left questioning what to make of this team in the short term, and what that means for the long term.
That's all a discussion for another day, with clearer heads and cooler hearts. But the questions are there.
Before I leave you, a quick note on Mark Turgeon. I've remarked off-handedly a few times (usually when defending my Sean Miller man-crush, which has nothing to do with this point) that many fans had bought into Mark Turgeon so vigorously that I wondered if perhaps their desire for a winning program, and the promise of it that Turgeon seemed to represent, had clouded their larger judgment. Turgeon is wonderful at a lot of things. He's a good teacher, by all accounts. He's a dogged recruiter. He's an extraordinary juge of talent. He's surrounded himself with a staff that would rival any in college basketball (which I say as a compliment, not an indictment). He's creative. He is, most of all, a good basketball coach.
But there are many things he is also not good at. He's not a great in-game coach. His substitution and timeout patterns remain jarring and confusing. The jury is still out on his offense. He makes very few, if any, tactical judgments to counter what the opposition is doing well or giving Maryland, something even Mark Gottfried's used this year to some success. None of this is meant to come across as criticism: it's simply an objective analysis of Turgeon's strengths and weaknesses as a coach. He's not K or Izzo in their primes; he may not even be Gary in his prime, at least when it comes to in-game coaching.
He's a good coach. Not a bad coach; not, it would seem right now, a fantastic coach, either. He wasn't the Coach of the Year after beating Boston College, and he didn't forget how to coach a basketball game now that he's lost to Duke by 20. He's the same Turgeon he's always been, better than you're probably willing to admit right now but not as good as people had thought previously. And that's okay, even if that increasing realization does contribute, at least for some, to the demoralization felt from this type of loss.
But enough of that. This game had plenty of issues to go through, including some that will likely have an impact on the rest of Maryland's year. We'll have more on it and what comes later, probably tomorrow.