On the NIT:
It's never going to be anything other than a consolation prize, but I'm excited for some more games. I've seen some people say that Maryland hasn't done anything with its NIT chances, but that's not quite true. We've been invited 3 times in the last 10 years. Only once did we approach it with any degree of seriousness (2005). That year, we lost in the semifinals to South Carolina, the eventual champions. I'm disappointed not to be in the big dance, but I'm not one to spurn any opportunities for more basketball. Hopefully, Turgeon finds some time to let Padge get some quality minutes to send him off as well as developing Shaq and Chuck.
On Next year:
I'm optimistic, but not wildly so. I think that, worst case scenario, we'll be like we were this year minus the big wins (i.e. like FSU this year). That'd be pretty disappointing, IMO. Best case scenario, we put it all together and make a deep run in the tournament, maybe are a dark horse candidate for the championship.
My biggest concerns about next year are losing Len and potentially still not having a point guard.
Len has absolutely been frustrating this year, but we're going to miss him next year. Even when his offensive game didn't show up, teams still had to dedicate players to double him. His defense, as well, was hit-or-miss, but even when he was below average, he was still a 7-foot tree in the paint. That has an effect on teams. The saddest part, though, is that it looked like he was finally putting it together in the ACCT. He had a solid game against Wake, one of those smaller teams where he had previously disappeared. He had another solid game against Duke, pretty much neutralizing Plumlee the whole game. And finally, he absolutely dominated for long stretches of the UNC game. If we had pulled the upset there, the game ball would've belonged to him.
Even more encouraging/frustrating was the way the team finally seemed to figure out how to feed the post effectively. Again and again, I saw guys consistently feeding the post. On many of them, Len and/or Shaq would pass the ball back out for a good shot when the double came. On more than one occasion, I saw a big man pass it out only to get it back in a better position to score. That offense was so much more efficient than Len posting up 15 feet from the basket or trying to score with a contested jumpshot. Hopefully, the lessons can carry over to next year's frontcourt players.
All that said, I think we're actually in decent shape in the front court. Mitchell and Cleare have shown that they can be a fearsome front court duo, and I think they'll only get better with an entire off-season of conditioning and weight training. With Smo and Dodd, we'll still have quite a bit of depth. I'll miss Logan and Padge, but I think both of their contributions are replaceable (especially if Smo can hit the three as advertised). If we assume that the rest of the team can all make (at least) modest improvements over the summer, I think we'll have more overall talent next year than this year even without Len.
My biggest concern is what we still won't have next year: a reliable starting point guard. Pe'shon has shown glimpses lately, but I'm not ready to put my whole trust in him. Allen has looked good the last few games as well, but I'm doubtful that he'll be the steady point guard we need by the beginning of next season. I'm very excited about Peters, but again, it's hard to be super-confident that a freshman point guard is going to come in and set the world on fire.
That leaves us potentially in the same situation that we were in this year: a lot of talent, but limited execution. That really hurt us this year. We were just 2-5 in games decided by 3 points or less. Both of our wins were at home, and in both, we let our opponent come back from double digit leads in the second half to almost steal it. Our numbers look a little bit better if you look at games decided in single digits (8-6), but that's largely a mirage. Many of those semi-close games were games where we simply couldn't put teams away and let them stick around (e.g. Stony Brook, GMU, BC, @VT, etc.).
This team lost exactly one game by more than 11 points. We had the talent to win a lot more, we just couldn't put it together. A lot of that has to do with poor point guard play, and there's no guarantee next year will be better. Maybe Dez as a junior is good enough to put us just on the right side of the bubble next year, or maybe we're able to eke some consistent point guard play from at least one of our guys. In all likelihood, Pe'shon Howard (or maybe Roddy Peters) will be our most important player once again next year.