Talking Terps: What to make of Maryland basketball and their NCAA Tournament hopes

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

How important is Monday's game against the Wolfpack? Pete and FlaTerp discuss in an e-mail exchange.

FlaTerp: In the span of just three days, Maryland fans suffered through one of the uglier conference losses I can remember against FSU, then were pulled out of those doldrums by a feel-good comeback win against Notre Dame. This basketball season has been frustratingly unpredictable and maddeningly inconsistent, but hey, Maryland's 3-2 in the ACC. That's good, right? I'll quote the great philosopher, Forrest Gump, and say that this Terps team "is like a box of chocolates -- you never know what you're gonna get."

Which resonated with you more in the last week, Pete, the good times or the bad times?

Pete: The bad times definitely resonated more, as I think they were lower than the good times were high. But the win against Notre Dame did lend some perspective -- for me, at least. This season is young enough that we're not entirely sure what kind of team Maryland is, or what kind of teams Pittsburgh and Florida State are. The Seminoles and the Panthers certainly looked very good against the Terrapins, but I think it's hard to fully understand what kind of losses those were until we get further on into the year.

Ultimately, a 3-2 start is hard to complain too much about -- the losses were heavy, but they were against teams that certainly have impressed in the young season. And hey, when Maryland is above all four Carolina teams in the ACC standings? Definitely hard to complain about that.

What about you, FlaTerp? Did either of these results change your opinion on Mark Turgeon? Did both?

FlaTerp: I'll be clear: I don't care for the heat Mark Turgeon is feeling. I get it, but I don't like it. It's too soon. This is dissimilar to the football dynamic, where the coach made a choice to clean house and reboot the program when he got to College Park. Turgeon didn't inherit any building blocks unless you want to count Terrell Stoglin (I don't). As a result, he's working with a team full of sophomores, juniors and transfers, none of whom were even close to being thought of as early-entry NBA candidates back when they were recruits. Fans that have turned on Turgeon are certainly entitled to their opinion. In fact, I'll even concede that there's a compelling case to be made against him if you really want to look through that lens.

For me, when I watch these Terps, I see a tight-knit group that truly cares about the laundry they're wearing. Despite some foundational flaws -- such as the fact that there are no seniors and, ahem, there's no true point guard -- I like rooting for these players. I want to get behind them and see them develop together and I want this team and this coach to succeed together, if not this year then next.

So I guess my answer to your question is that my opinion on Turgeon didn't shift, one way or the other, because I never really grew uneasy about him, even though I do recognize that many Maryland fans did and still are. Where do you stand on Turgeon right now?

Pete: I'm very much in the same camp as you there, but I'm more inclined towards being patient with coaches. I think four years really should be the minimum for either sport (especially football), barring something drastic happening -- and I think it's hard to categorize anything that's happened in Year Three of either coach's tenure as truly drastic. It takes time to build a program, and I do believe that neither the football or basketball teams were in a position to win consistently from that point forward when Edsall and Turgeon took over. Are they now? It's hard to say, but I'm hopeful, as there is certainly important progress on the recruiting trail for both programs.

So I'm strictly in a holding pattern -- the team certainly hasn't lived up to my expectations this season, but I feel uncomfortable laying judgment this early. There have been things that we can certainly discuss, such as the recent rotational shifts in the win over Notre Dame. Notably, true freshmen Roddy Peters (eight minutes) and Damonte Dodd (zero minutes) saw a sharp decrease in playing time (mostly Peters, as Dodd hasn't really played consistently), with Seth Allen, Shaq Cleare and Chuck Mitchell all playing more. What do you think of this move? Do you view it as short term or long term?

FlaTerp: I think we need to break that one into two questions and two answers. At guard, it became pretty clear against Notre Dame that Turgeon wants to hand the reins to Seth Allen, and that's OK I guess. Peters faded into the background against the Irish, but I think he'll continue to get his chances and when he gives the team a boost, he'll play more. I also like the idea of Peters playing off the ball a little more, not just being a backup point guard. The kid can explode to the rim, he can score, he can light up the crowd and turn momentum. Let's see some of that from the wing. If Layman or Smotrycz aren't shooting well on a given night, stick Peters on the wing and it'll change the complexion of the offense away from its reliance on the 3-pointer.

The situation in the paint is a little different. I'm not so sure anyone has won a lion's share of the minutes down there in the same way that Allen has in the backcourt. But you know, I'm not so sure that hasn't happened either. Could it be based purely on matchups? Like when Maryland needs big men who can run, Graham and Dodd play more, but when the Terps need big men who can bang, it's Shaq & Mitchell? Or is it simply a case of Turgeon handing the keys to his two most skilled bigs, who are Cleare and Mitchell? At some point, you have to pick a rotation and roll with it. Is that what just happened?

Pete: I do think it's an issue of matchups for the big men, but that obviously hasn't worked out so well in some of the tougher situations. That being said, I don't think we can say enough how fantastic Cleare was against Notre Dame. He scored a bit better than usual, sure, and that one move is something we'll likely remember for a long time, but most importantly? He shut down Garrick Sherman. Combine that with Nick Faust's complete denial of Pat Connaughton in the second half, and it's no wonder why Maryland was able to run away with it -- they stopped two of the Irish's three consistent offensive options.

I agree 100% on Peters, and it makes me wonder -- was this what Turgeon had envisioned all along, with a healthy Seth Allen? Having Peters be a role player off the bench, a sparkplug on both ends of the floor? If so, all credit to Peters for playing decently well in the larger role he had earlier. He could be one heck of a sparkplug.

FlaTerp: You know what's been especially un-fun this season? Falling behind by double-digits in the first half every game. Turgeon critics can point to that -- how the team stumbles out of the starting gate so often -- as a coaching issue and I really can't offer up a good counter-argument, to be honest. What's up with all the slow starts, any idea?

Pete: I think all of us are tied for second behind Mark Turgeon as the people who want to know the answer to that question most. It may be something as simple as matchup problems, or pre-game preparation or a lack of senior leadership on the team -- or as complicated as all of those issues. Whatever it is, we can all be a bit thankful that the Terps were able to turn it around in the second half of a must-win game. The only hope is that the Terps can carry that to Raleigh on Monday.

So, about that Raleigh game -- how important is it for Maryland to beat NC State? They're a solid 34 places below the Terps in the KenPom rankings -- is this another must-win game? Is there such a thing as a non-must-win game at this point?

FlaTerp: I definitely think there are non-must-winsTM (copyright, Pete Volk, 1/18/14). Do the Terps have to win at Duke and vs. Syracuse? I'd say they don't, but I've moved past looking at this season as a NCAA Tournament-or-bust endeavor so I guess it's a matter of perspective.

What I really want to see in those games, and in Raleigh for that matter, is just two halves of good basketball. I want to see Maryland play a strong first 5 minutes. I want to see Shaq stringing good games together and Layman grabbing rebounds and attacking the basket again. I want to see signs that Seth Allen could in fact be the longterm answer at point guard for what I hope will be a top-15 team at some point during his Terps career.

If Maryland plays good basketball and loses to a good team, I would still view that as a step forward, albeit a painful one. Losing to N.C. State would obviously be harder to stomach than losing to Syracuse, but then, beating N.C. State wouldn't do much for the Terps' resume anyway. Maryland could easily play another choppy, uneven game but still win in Raleigh and it wouldn't make me like their big-picture chances any better. Right now, Maryland simply needs to become a consistently good basketball team. If they achieve that, the wins will follow and there's enough talent to get on a roll and be a force to contend with against better teams than N.C. State as well as at the ACC Tourney.

So we'll ask you guys, how do you rate Maryland's game against the Wolfpack?

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