During the summer of 2013, Maryland fans were buzzing about the potential for the 2013-2014 men's basketball season. Following the 2012-2013 campaign, when they won 25 games (including a trip to the NIT semi-finals), expectations for this season were high. Head coach Mark Turgeon confirmed what every Maryland fan wanted to believe; a return to the NCAA tournament was what fans should expect this year. Instead, the only thing fans have been able to expect this year is consistently falling just short in close games.
With a record of 15-14 and 7-9 in the ACC, Maryland will likely end up with the same conference record as last season, 8-10, assuming they beat Virginia Tech Tuesday and lose their final ACC regular season game on Sunday, when they host conference champion Virginia. The biggest difference between last year and this year is the out of conference schedule, with Maryland going 9-5 this year and 13-1 last season. Had Maryland gone 13-1 in the out of conference portion of their schedule, they'd be sitting at 19-10 and likely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Even a 12-2 mark would at least have Maryland in the conversation. But starting the season without Seth Allen really hurt Maryland -- had he been available from day one, you could make the argument that Maryland likely would have beaten UConn to start the year, as well as Oregon State, George Washington and Boston University.
Maryland's margin of error in conference play became very thin as a result of those early losses. If they wanted to be considered for an at-large berth, they were going to have to beat some good teams in the ACC. What's frustrating for Maryland fans is that the Terps found themselves in a position, numerous times, to defeat the elite teams in the conference. They lost by two to both Duke and Syracuse. They had opportunities to defeat Virginia and UNC, but faded down the stretch. But the reason fans are so frustrated goes beyond coming up just short against elite competition; it's why they keep dropping those close games.
This season, Maryland is turning the ball over on 19% of their possessions. That ranks 223rd nationally, according to KenPom. As a team, their free throw percentage sits at just 66.8%, which ranks 275th. Those are two issues that, from a fan perspective, can and should be correctable and are easy things to point to after a close loss and say "if only we'd made two more free throws" or "if we only turned the ball over one less time." Some of that blame falls on Mark Turgeon, but at the same time, to think that he isn't trying to improve on those things is foolish. That being said, this has been an issue for Maryland over the last two seasons and many fans find themselves pulling their hair out while watching games because they keep seeing the same mistakes made over and over. It makes you want to scream at the top of your lungs from the rafters of the Comcast Center. You almost feel like Charlie Brown, lining up to kick that football, just hoping that Lucy doesn't pull it away at the last second. And then you find yourself lying on your back, looking up at the sky and wondering how fell for it yet again.
For me, the disappointment of this season is amplified even further because it's Maryland's last one in the ACC. I wanted nothing more than to stick it to this conference in our final season. Instead, we have to constantly hear chants of "A-C-C! A-C-C!" after and during every road game, and maybe that's putting a lot of pressure on the players. When they're on the road, ACC fans certainly aren't putting out the welcome mat or lining up to give out goodbye hugs. Instead, they get to hear about why schools are glad they're leaving, as if they somehow had any say in the decision.
I don't think there is a silver bullet explanation for why this season fell so short of expectations. We can certainly point to a number of things (Allen's injury, Shaq Cleare's regression, losing Dalonte Hill mid-season, turnovers), but at the end of the day, Maryland fans find themselves once again not caring about March basketball. And while I think there is reason for hope and optimism next season, that doesn't change the fact that it's been 1,078 days since Maryland last appeared in the NCAA Tournament or that it will almost certainly be another 365+ before that number resets to zero. Hopefully this time next year we'll be worried about seeding in the Big Dance and not lamenting about another season of under achieving expectations.