Prior to the start of the 2013-2014 season, head coach Mark Turgeon articulated that returning to the NCAA tournament was the next step for his basketball team in his third season in College Park. But after their first 10 games, his players haven't played at the level of a team trying to get back to the big dance for the first time since 2010. But is it time to hit the panic button yet?
Fans have become extremely frustrated with several aspects of this year's team, especially their tendency to have dreadful first half performances that leave them facing a large second half deficit. They've struggled at times on defense, made poor shot selections and frequently turn the ball over. While that paints a very bleak picture, does that mean this team is doomed? No, for a number of reasons. Many of the issues impacting Maryland can be corrected, Seth Allen should be a huge boost to the team's performance, and despite what we've seen to date, Maryland is actually playing better than we think.
Surprisingly, Maryland might not be as bad on offensive as many perceive them to be so far this season. According to KemPom, Maryland ranks 83rd nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Also surprising is that they're 40th when it comes to adjusted defensive efficiency. That's one of the main reasons why Maryland remains a top 50 team according in KenPom's rankings. The Terps' biggest trouble areas remain in their turnover percentage, where they rank 278 nationally and in free throw shooting, where they rank 314th. Furthermore, Maryland isn't getting that many steals per game (10.6 per game, which is 288th nationally), which minimizes their opportunity to take advantage of easy transition baskets. The good news is that a lot of those issues can be corrected. The team's play on defense is probably the best example of that ability. Their performance at the Paradise Jam was immensely improved over how they played in their game against Oregon State.
Many people forget this, but the 2009-2010 Maryland team had a similar start to this season's team (and before anyone accuses me of it, I'm not saying that this season's team is on par with that team). In 2009, Maryland started their season with high expectations as they began Greivis Vasquez's senior season. But the team struggled in the early going, losing back to back games to Cincinnati and Wisconsin, as well as letting a lead slip away in a loss to Villanova. Their best win to that point was a victory over Indiana, who won just 11 games that season.The Terps then lost at home to William and Mary and suffered a blowout loss at Duke by 21 points. But they still ended up going 13-3 in the ACC and could have potentially made a run to the Final 4 that season, had it not been for a rather unfortunate Michigan State three pointer in the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament. So while Maryland certainly has a lot to work on,we shouldn't count them out in early December.
Additionally, removing the Ohio State loss, Maryland's average margin of defeat has been 3.33 points. A few less turnovers (or perhaps Seth Allen running point) and those are likely wins. But that doesn't excuse losing a game to George Washington or some of the decision making, by players and coaches, that put Maryland into a situation where the games they lost were close in the first place. Is Seth Allen's loss hurting them? Absolutely. Perhaps some players are trying to do too much to compensate for that. Players are playing somewhat out of position at time. But that doesn't explain a lack of any offensive flow in the first half of games or forcing shots.
"We're just missing some shots that we need to make," Mark Turgeon said following his team's loss to George Washington on Sunday. "In the first half I thought we took a lot of bad shots."
Maryland has already missed their opportunities to secure marque out of conference wins for their NCAA tournament profile. Their best win to date is against Providence, who KenPom has as the 61st best team. The ACC schedule will certainly provide them with numerous opportunities to secure additional top 100 wins, but those games are obviously going to be a challenge.
So don't give up on the season just yet. This team has the potential to be much better than the results they've shown on the court so far this season. Getting Seth Allen back into the rotation will certainly help with that. But Mark Turgeon still has seven more games without his starting point guard in the mix and he's going to have to try to find ways to get his players to play and execute better. Otherwise, Maryland's last season in the ACC could prove to be one we'll all want to forget.