Two days later, it still stings a bit.
Not that the Maryland Terrapins particularly embarrassed themselves in their season-ending loss to Iowa; nor is it a particular shame to see this season, an up-and-down one that ended up in the NIT, finally come to a close. But no one enjoys losing, especially when there's no chance to be redeemed later. That's the cruelty, of course, of college basketball's postseason: every team but one ends the year unhappily.
Such is life, though. While the Hawkeyes prepare for the NIT Championship game tonight against Baylor (go Iowan brethren), the Terps are back home in College Park, with a very different focus. For most of the team, the target now turns to the offseason, improving their game with the aim of being a tournament team next year - a goal that, quite frankly, really does need to be achieved next year (and should be). Nick Faust will work on his handles; Pe`Shon Howard on his shot; Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell on their conditioning.
For others, like Alex Len, it's decision-making time. Len ended his Maryland career fittingly: two disappointing games against Niagara and Denver followed by two absolutely dominant performances against Alabama and Iowa, showings that will remind NBA scouts why they love him so much (and reminds fans just how valuable he can be). He's no longer the can't-miss prospect he was earlier in the year, dropping out of the top-10 for most, but still a lotto pick almost without question. The ever-reputable DX has him at #11; Jeff Goodman has him at #8; others put him at anywhere between those two points. Regardless of whether you think Len is "ready" - which is something largely besides the point, since there isn't a single person in the world who thinks he is - NBA teams clearly think the unready Ukrainian is worth the gamble. (After all, Mason Plumlee is a borderline lotto pick this year. You think Len doesn't have a better shot at becoming an impact player in the league than the Middle Son of Perky?) Falling out of the top five picks means the decision to leave is no longer a no-brainer, but it'd still force him to leave at least $2.5mil a year on the table - a plan that doesn't always work so well (ask Terrence Morris and John Gilchrist).
If Len does the vastly improbable and returns to College Park for one more year, Maryland will be an ACC frontrunner. If not, there'll be a 7-1 Ukrainian-sized hole in their starting lineup. Shaq Cleare is promising but raw and unproven, seeing his minutes get cut drastically late in the year; Damonte Dodd isn't likely to be ready for major minutes; neither Evan Smotrycz nor Chuck are 5-men. Maryland's guard situation is unsettled, but their post situation may be an even bigger problem, if left unaddressed, unless Cleare takes a quantum leap in the offseason (possible, but unlikely). Mark Turgeon will have three scholarships available to him next year, should Len vacate his, and you shouldn't be surprised to see him put those to good use, on either a big man or a quality point guard (or both).
Turgeon, after all, has proven to be the king of clever, late, and unexpected additions. He took Alex Len onboard in his first year; last year, he pursued Logan Aronhalt, Dez Wells, and Smotrycz. Late decommitments like Jaren Sina could be of interest; more likely, though, Turgeon will find someone more unexpected. Jason Jordan, USA Today's high school basketball writer, has been teasing major recruiting news after the year for the Terps, which to me sounds like a JuCo or transfer addition (after all, if it was a regular recruit he could just commit as per usual). I have no idea if that "news" is legit, but either way I'd be surprised if there was no incoming movement between now and the start of next year.
The bigger focus, though, will turn to 2014 recruiting, a class that's shaping up to be a big one. Maryland already has Romelo Trimble committed, a heady scoring point guard; they've cast a wide net, looking for a backcourt mate that can shoot (Dion Wiley) and at least one more big. Outside of Wiley, it's unclear who Maryland's priorities are in the 2014 class, if they even have any at all. That's a process that will begin to take shape in the coming months, as spring AAU tournaments kick off and Turgeon and his staff can do more scouting. Names like Grayson Allen, Obi Enechionyia, Goodluck Okonoboh, or Phil Booth could transform from names on the fringe of Maryland's periphery to front-and-center, honest-to-goodness possibilities.
This is a big offseason for Maryland in more ways than one. The bedding-in period for Mark Turgeon is over, and next year results will be expected. A solid team will take the court next year, and there's infrastructure in place in recruiting for big classes down the road. Should things break right over the next few months, as Turgeon continues building and planning the program, this offseason has the potential to be a jumping-off point for the future of Maryland basketball.
We'll of course be covering all of it over the relatively dreary next few months, as the Terps find more recruiting options, deal with any staff shake-ups (will Scott Spinelli finally get his head coach gig?), and react to the Alex Len news, whichever way it breaks, to go along with the regularly-scheduled season-in-review. (Preview: so, that was a bit of a wild ride, huh?) If Turgeon's shown anything, though, it's that he certainly keeps off-seasons lively.