The regular season is done - thankfully, perhaps, given the way things finished down the stretch for Maryland - and the ACC Tournament, as exciting a four days of basketball as you'll find (this side of Chicago, at least) is on the horizon. To talk about it - and both subjects deserve discussion - we decided to bring back the Roundtable as Dave, Pete, and myself look back at the regular season and look ahead to the ACC Tournament - and, of course, reminisce about that miraculous 2004 run. Read on, then make sure to give us your own takes in the comments:
So the ACC regular season is over, and Maryland finished as the 7th seed with a sub-.500 record - their fourth in the past five years. Obviously, every fan in the world could talk at length about the season that was, which is something best saved for another day. But quickly: as you see it, what went wrong over the regular season? Are you disappointed by how things ultimately ended up?
Pete: I see it simply as a matter of not learning quick enough. We knew this was going to be a very young team, and the flashes of brilliance have definitely spoiled us. But the improvement from November to March was not nearly what Maryland fans would have hoped for, and the infuriating turnovers and struggles down the stretch were all too predictable by the time Virginia rolled around. So ultimately? Yeah, I'm disappointed - but only because it was easy to see how good this time could have been. I'm most certainly more excited for next year than I am disappointed in this one.
Dave: A little disappointed. I thought this team could do better, but I think ultimately we were probably putting too much pressure on a team that is made up of mostly sophomores and freshmen. I think their inexperience and youth really hurt them. Couple that with inconsistent point guard play and I think those are your two primary reasons why they struggled this season. But I see a lot of hope for next year.
Ben: I think I'm probably a bit more disappointed, because even while I don't necessarily view this as a harbinger of things to come, I honestly think things probably should've gone a little better this year than they did. The lack of a quality point guard and inexperience were killers, true - especially on the road - and when it comes to what didn't go right this year, it really does all have to start right there. But there was a lot of underachieving at the same time, both individually (Alex Len gets all the pub here, but Dez Wells, Nick Faust, and Pe`Shon Howard were disappointing, too) and on the bench. When you come in hyped up as having top-25 potential - through no fault of their own, obviously, but the point being that there really did seem to be the talent to do a lot of good things - it's darn tough to take a season like this on the chin. The back half of the year was a showcase of lingering issues. We (and everyone else) just underestimated how much the inexperience would set Maryland back - especially in combination with the rest of their issues (no go-to scorer, young or otherwise, and no point guard). The roster holes just came in the wrong set, and the Terps just never figured out how to fill them.
Mark Turgeon recently talked about how he wasn't concerned, at this point, with day-to-day results as much as he was about building a program - and that's probably the right path to take when it comes to assessing this season, too. Again, we could talk about this all day long, but in a paragraph or so: taking a bigger-picture view, how has this year changed the long-term prospect of Maryland basketball for you? Has it at all?
Pete: While people have (rightfully) questioned some of Turgeon's tactics, this season has only solidified my confidence in the long-term health of this program. When you think about the awful, awful team that Mark Turgeon inherited, it's a marvel to look at the talent there today. With only three upperclassmen on the squad - and those are likely the three least talented of the playing bunch - there is only room to grow for all on Maryland's roster. Len's departure will surely not help, but the combination of Mitchell, Cleare and Dodd inside with Layman and Smotrycz providing some extra size is one that inspires confidence. I've been impressed with the growth of both Faust and Wells down the stretch, and the only real question mark (and it's a big one) seems to be at point. Luckily, the Terps will have three options there, unless there's some transfer business.
Dave: It definitely has. I've been behind Turgeon from the day he was hired and continue to be today. There is a lot of talent on this team and I think next year they'll take another step forward, even if Len leaves. We should have a very solid front court, great wings, more experienced guards and a solid point guard in Roddy Peters. I know it's tough, but I really think we need to be patient. Take a step back and look at the program as a whole. Look at where it had fallen to and know that it's going to take a little time to build it back up how Turgeon wants to. You're seeing improvement, recruiting continues to be good, and I think they'll take another step next season.
Ben: I'm still a Turgeon fan in a lot of ways, but I can't say his reputation has come out unscathed for me this year. The roster wasn't as good as we thought - which isn't his fault, given how quickly he's overhauled it - but for the first time we've started to see some cracks show in his armor. Between the team not dealing with success, consistently coming out flat, and his substitution patterns - oh, those strange substitutions - it's fair to raise an eyebrow. There's still plenty of positives rolling forward - this was a young team on the bubble, after all, and should they improve as expected they'll be a tourney team next year. But for the first time since Turgeon's arrived, that success doesn't seem like a foregone conclusion to a segment of the fanbase, and while it's hardly the only way to view it, I find it tough to fault them. I don't think it's possible to view this season as anything other than the end of the honeymoon.
That's enough looking back. Moving forward, Maryland got a pretty killer draw in the ACC Tournament. Do they have any hope of getting past Duke on Friday?
Pete: Nope. Next question.
Dave: Only if Mark Turgeon can convince Alex Len that Mason Plumlee texted him and called him his little brother again. But seriously, do they have a shot? Sure. Is it likely? Probably not. Maryland has nothing to lose, but it would take a lot of things going right, coupled with things going wrong for Duke, for them to win. They did defeat the Blue Devils once this season, but it was at Comcast and with a Ryan Kelly-less Duke. The game is also in Greensboro, aka a Duke home game, but I'm sure fans of the other ten ACC teams there will be pulling for Maryland, so maybe they can feed off that support. Anything is possible, but I'm not holding my breath.
Ben: No. Maybe if it came on the final or at least the semis, where a few wins might've boosted Maryland's confidence. But this team looks like they're hitting a wall to me. They're not the same team that beat Duke a month ago. And Duke's gotten substantially better from that point.
Speaking of the Dukies, they're runaway favorites to win the whole thing come Sunday. Who are you picking to cut down the nets?
Pete: Duke. With Ryan Kelly back, they look just about unstoppable.
Dave: I'm picking Miami to win it all. I think Duke will probably make it to the finals, because that's what they do year in and year out, but I think the Hurricans reign supreme on Sunday.
Ben: Duke's the best team - by not one country mile but about seven - but it's March so what's supposed to happen is never what actually happens. I have a weird feeling that Virginia will come out of the top half of the bracket, but I'll take Carolina, for reasons even I don't really know.
And after all that dour talk, let's end with a dose of happiness: what's your all-time favorite (Maryland-related) ACC Tournament moment?
Pete: It's got to be everything John Gilchrist, right? It's hard to think of any (recent) moment that tops what he did in 2004.
Dave: For me, it was being at the 2004 ACC tournament with Maryland's pep band. Not only was it the last year of the nine team tournament, but Maryland had one of the most amazing tournament runs ever. They entered as a bubble team and on Friday they narrowly defeated Wake, the 3 seed. The next day, they faced Julius Hodge's NC State team and were down by 19 at the half. We all thought the game was over, but Maryland, on the back of John Gilchrist, scored 59 second half points and defeated State (never trust State) to set up a Sunday afternoon showdown with Duke. That game was also incredible, as the score went back and forth before Duke went up by 12 with just under five minutes left. Maryland cut the lead down to four with just under a minute left. Then Mike Jones nailed a three from the corner to cut the lead to one with 33 seconds left. The Terps fouled Deng, who made both and pushed Duke's lead back up to three. Then John Gilchrist drove to the basket for a layup, made it, and was fouled. He made the free throw to tie it and JJ Redick (who was 1-8 from beyond the arc that day) missed a three pointer, sending the game to OT, where Maryland eventually won. A. Maz. Ing.
Ben: I like to think Dave recited all of that from memory. But yes, that's the right answer - generally speaking. The specific moment? Always:
And I've always absolutely loved the extended Amen Chorus in '84, with Crying Duke Cheerleader as the forerunner to Crying Duke Kid. Bring it back, folks.
So what do you think? Does Maryland stand a chance against Duke? Is Turgeon's future just as bright as it was at the start of the year? Best tournament memory? Answer any (or all) in the comments, as always.