Even after transfers, the future is still bright for Maryland basketball

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Seth Allen is gone, but that doesn't mean Maryland's 2014-2015 hopes are gone with him

Before I go all sunshine & roses here, I'll acknowledge the obvious: These are hard times for us Terp fans.

Since athletic director Kevin Anderson arrived and installed new head coaches for both major revenue programs, Maryland has been in sports jail, so to speak.

We can talk about potential, we can talk about direction, we can talk about foundation, we can speculate until sunset, we can argue best-case and worst-case scenarios until we're blue in the face. And frankly, we do all those things pretty much all the time here at Testudo Times.

But as Bill Parcells famously said, in the curmudgeonly way Bill Parcells says things, "you are what your record says you are."

Well, since Randy Edsall arrived Maryland's record in football is 13-24 with one bowl appearance -- a double-digit loss to a mid-major. Meanwhile, the Mark Turgeon basketball era has averaged 14+ losses per season with zero NCAA Tournament appearances.

Those records pretty much speak for themselves, and neither passes anybody's litmus test of acceptability for our great institution. The University of Maryland, a big and healthy land-grant school in the heart of a vibrant and resourceful state that also happens to be fertile recruiting ground for football and basketball talent, is in the midst of a giant two-sport slump. Regardless of circumstance, Maryland and its fans deserve better. That just has to be said.

It had been the football program under the magnifying glass most often since Anderson made his two coaching choices, but things appear to be on an upswing on the gridiron now coming off Edsall's first winning season. This fall's edition of the football Terps should have a nice combination of returning talent and exciting youth. The transfers and defections that were prevalent early in the Edsall era have all but halted and the wins have slowly increased. There's genuine reason for hope heading into this fall's B1G debut.

There's genuine reason for hope heading into this fall's Big Ten football debut. Basketball, well, not so much.
Basketball, well, not so much.

The 2013-2014 season was supposed to be the start of a new and exciting chapter, but suddenly -- after an underwhelming campaign and now a wave of transfers -- it feels like the end of a disappointing chapter instead.

When Nick Faust, Shaq Cleare and Roddy Peters jumped ship a few weeks ago, we fans weren't thrilled but we weren't exactly shocked or saddened either. Each, in his own way, was in some stage of underachieving in the eyes of Maryland fans.

Faust was supposed to be the program savior and a bridge between the Gary Williams and Mark Turgeon tenures. He never became that.

Shaq projected to be a wide-bodied banger with soft hands who could churn out double-doubles like Jordan Williams did. Instead he averaged about 3.5 points and 2.5 boards despite being handed heavy minutes over two seasons.

Peters, we hoped, was the point guard Maryland badly needed, but his one season with the Terps was plagued by poor decisions, poor shooting and a tendency for turnovers.

We wish those guys well, but were we going miss them? We didn't think so.

Then came last Friday's bombshell.

So long, Seth

There was nothing disappointing or underachieving about Seth Allen. A young and flashy combo guard who is equal parts slasher and shooter, Allen was a feel-good story and an unheralded recruit who Mark Turgeon practically discovered.

Allen was an immediate-impact guy who's value to the team was immeasurable. His return to the lineup from injury last year was the plain-to-see divider between the hugely underwhelming early portion of the season and team's late-season emergence into a game, dangerous opponent for all comers.

Even with the influx of perimeter talent (Romelo Trimble, Dion Wiley, Jared Nickens) coming to College Park in the fall of 2014, Allen remained at the epicenter of Maryland's future plans.

Then, out of nowhere, he was gone. And gone along with Allen was the narrative that the wave of Maryland transfers was little more than a housecleaning of spare parts. Allen was no spare part, he was an engine.

A change in perception

Even the most ardent supporters of Mark Turgeon were taken aback by the news of Allen's release and the rampant rumors that forward Charles Mitchell -- another vital piece of the program -- might also be leaving.

Has this been a housecleaning or has it been a mutiny? Suddenly it's a fair question.

And if it was fair a month ago to respond to the transfer news by questioning the competence of Nick Faust or Shaq Cleare, then it's just as fair now to ask those same questions about Mark Turgeon, the architect of this blown up roster and the man who brought in all these players that now want out.

Say what you will about the 24 guys who defected during Randy Edsall's first year -- I myself have said plenty -- but those weren't Edsall's guys. Edsall's guys are almost unanimously still at Maryland and fully on board with the program. If you were an Edsall supporter from the beginning, you can still trace your finger along the road map he laid out from Day 1. You can follow the dots. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Turgeon's transfers reveal something different. There's now a big, glaring disconnect between the beginning of Turgeon's tenure and the program he's running today. The early attrition -- Terrell Stoglin, Haukur Palsson, Ashton Pankey, Pe'Shon Howard -- was the type of turnover that accompanies many coaching changes and could be likened to Edsall's first year.

But in this second wave of attrition -- Faust, Cleare, Peters, Allen and maybe Mitchell -- the common denominator is Turgeon and nobody else. He admitted as much to the Baltimore Sun by taking "total blame."

He's right. The blame, or at least the accountability, does -- and should -- fall at Turgeon's feet. He knows it, we know it, the administration definitely knows it. Turgeon isn't new anymore. It's his program and those were his guys.

Just based on wins and losses, Turgeon already had his share of critics before the transfers happened and those voices are going to get louder now. There's only two explanations for 4-5 scholarship transfers. Either it was Turgeon's wrong decision to bring them here in the first place, or else something went wrong under Turgeon's watch after they got here. Pick your poison.

Further, we have no idea what the view of Turgeon from within the athletic department is. The last 72 hours or so would've been a decent time for Kevin Anderson to issue some kind of statement, one way or the other, to his stressed-out base of fans and alumni, but that hasn't happened. For all we know, the die is cast and Mark Turgeon is already a lame duck. Maybe he'll usher his celebrated 2014 recruiting class into the door and get them settled for one season, then be dismissed. You can't rule that out.

Now, here's something else you can't rule out. Even without Seth Allen, Maryland might be on the verge of blossoming into the team we've all been waiting for.

Oops, let's reboot

Remember way back up at the top of this story when I mentioned sunshine & roses? Well, some 1,000 words later, it's still raining and the flowers are dead. I sat down to write something uplifting and instead it reads like a gut-punch. Sorry about that. Let's try and brighten things up a little.

Take a deep breath and repeat after me: Maryland is going to be a better team next season.

Here's five reasons why.

1. Seth Allen is replaceable

I don't want to go negative on Seth. I like Seth, we all like Seth. However, as Andrew Emmer thoughtfully laid out in the excellent reaction piece he wrote after the news broke, there was a faction of the fanbase that wanted to see Allen move off the ball next season and play shooting guard. There are also unconfirmed rumors -- so please take them with a grain of salt -- that the coaching staff wanted the same thing: Romelo Trimble at the point and Allen playing on the wing along with Dez Wells, Jake Layman, Dion Wiley, Jared Nickens and a potential play-now transfer such as Ian Chiles, rumored to be deciding between Tennessee, Maryland and Auburn.

Here's why this is important. Seth Allen the returning point guard was not really replaceable -- if, that is, you believe Allen was going to remain the starting point guard for two more years. I, for one, was never that comfortable with the Allen-at-point-guard lineup. Call me old school (or maybe just call me old) but I prefer point guards who aren't scorers first. Scoring from the point guard is terrific -- as long as he is also running the offense, spacing the floor, distributing the ball and getting teammates involved. I always felt like Allen looked to score first and and run the offense second. Taking low-percentage shots too early in possessions is a no-no for all players, but for a point guard it's crippling. It kills momentum, it alienates other players from the action and it just hurts the overall flow of the team. You can make the case that both Allen and Faust were guilty of doing that, and now both of them are gone. Could that be a good thing for Maryland's offensive flow next season and beyond? I'm just asking.

If, instead, you believe Allen's future was as an off-the-ball scorer, then that version of Allen is, in fact, replaceable. Dez Wells can score from the wing. So can Jake Layman and Evan Smotrycz. Trimble, Wiley and Nickens all are projected to be good scorers who can play on the wing, too. Maryland had its share of issues last year but scoring wasn't one of them. The Terps averaged 70.9 PPG last season which falls squarely in the meaty part of the D-1 curve. Allen's 13.4 PPG will be missed, but the Terps can replace those points.

2. Romelo Trimble

Because Seth Allen transferred out and because Maryland didn't have another scholarship point guard on its roster last season, incoming freshman Romelo Trimble is poised to be one of the most important recruits in Maryland basketball history. Trimble, a 6-foot-3 point guard and consensus top-40 player out of Bishop O'Connell, has been all but anointed the starting role next season despite the fact that he hasn't even graduated high school yet.

That's a lot of pressure to put on a teenager, but as anyone following Trimble on Twitter can attest to, he isn't exactly shying away from it. Far from it, in fact. This is a kid who is wired to want both the ball and the spotlight -- and all the pressure that accompanies those two things.

It's a tall task asking a true freshman to run your offense while expecting immediate success, but look no further than Virginia's London Perrantes or Pitt's James Robinson as recent evidence that it can and does happen. Both of those guys were starters on very good teams from Day 1. Neither put up eye-popping numbers, but both were humble, team-first guys who functioned within the offense and made their teammates better. Perrantes and Virginia won the ACC championship, while Robinson's freshman season saw Pitt win 24 games and go two rounds deep in the tourney.

3. The Terps will be a more well-rounded team next season

Much of the frustration surrounding Maryland's team last year was roster-based, so why panic when the roster in question gets blown up? The 2013-14 Terps, it can be argued, had two guys who were ambiguously either point guards or scoring guards (Allen, Peters), two guys who were ambiguously either 2s or 3s (Faust, Dez), two guys who were ambiguously either 3s or 4s (Layman and Smotrycz), and four other guys who struggled to fit in neatly as either a 4 or 5 (Cleare, Mitchell, Graham, Dodd). It was a team without an obvious starting point guard, power forward or center. In other words, it was a badly flawed team.

This is a complete, experienced and deep team that has guys with clearly defined roles.
Next year's team should have much more defined roster balance. Here's my proposed depth chart, which includes Charles Mitchell for the time being, and also includes repeat references to those guys who can float between roles. I'm listing the incoming freshmen last for now with the exception of Trimble, for obvious reasons.

Point guard: Romelo Trimble, Transfer, Varun Ram
Shooting guard: Dez Wells, Dion Wiley, Jared Nickens
Small forward: Jake Layman, Wells, Evan Smotrycz, Nickens
Power forward: Smotrycz, Charles Mitchell, Jonathan Graham, Michal Cekovsky
Center: Damonte Dodd, Mitchell, Graham, Cekovsky, Trayvon Reed

Again, with the exception of the truckload of weight being placed on freshman Melo Trimble at point guard, this is a complete, experienced and deep team that has guys with clearly defined roles. The roster, the rotations and the roles make more sense than they did last season.

4. Maybe this isn't a Mark Turgeon issue

There have been a wave of recent stories that discuss a changing college basketball landscape in which transfers are becoming more prevalent than ever before.

Give this excellent January piece from Sports Illustrated a read. It makes many interesting points, but one major one is that that the uptick in transfers is kid-driven and actually can be rooted to the AAU and prep school circuit, which now sees kids jumping from program to program on an annual basis.

"The transfer culture begins in high schools, where transfer rules are especially lax at private schools, prep schools and the fly-by-night schools that appear and disappear from the landscape each season. It's not uncommon for a high school player to be thrown out of a school for disciplinary reasons and find himself in uniform for another school within 48 hours.

And there are no rules for AAU programs, where players change teams week by week, often depending on who can offer them more gear or perks. The lesson becomes obvious in high school: If you are tall and talented, there's always greener grass or a second chance.

'It's definitely out of control," said Chris Sparks, the coach at Wilbraham & Monson Academy, a prep school in Massachusetts. "I think transferring is at a point right now where it's condoned.' "

And then consider the comments ESPN analyst Jay Bilas told the Baltimore Sun shortly after the Allen news broke. (H/T to terpsontop for introducing this to us in a related fanpost).

Among them:

If you don’t play in a position, if you have to make a sacrifice, if you have the ball in your hands or don’t have the ball, now it’s more acceptable to transfer. You don’t want to overuse the word culture, [but] even players in AAU jump from one team to another with no rhyme or reason."

And:

"Sometimes when guys leave that are not happy, it improves things, " Bilas said. "It improves the situation for the guy that leaves and it improves the situation for the environment he leaves behind."

And that leads nicely into the final case I'll make for Maryland's improvement next season ...

5. Chemistry

Bilas said it perfectly. If Faust, Cleare, Peters, Allen, and possibly Mitchell don't want to be here, then it's better that they aren't. Good bye and good luck.

Meanwhile, we've seen some emphatic tweets from existing Maryland players and others around the program that are strongly supportive of Turgeon and the direction of the program. Apparently, Turgeon held an either-you're-in-or-out type of meeting, and the guys who are still in the program now are 100-percent in it. The 2014-2015 Terrapins are going to be a united bunch with a collective chip on their shoulders and a coach they believe needs vindication.

By all accounts, Maryland basketball is one more middling season away from blowing the whole thing up. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see how the Terps respond.

Am I more optimistic than most? Let's take the temperature with a poll.

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