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Reviewing Mark Turgeon's First Year at Maryland

March 4, 2012; College Park, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins head coach Mark Turgeon prior to the game against the Virginia Cavaliers at Comcast Center. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE
March 4, 2012; College Park, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins head coach Mark Turgeon prior to the game against the Virginia Cavaliers at Comcast Center. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE

We'll have some stuff on the season that was over the next few weeks, saving you from off-season boredom while waiting for recruiting to kick into high gear. But let's begin with the most wide-reaching and interesting review we can do: that of Mark Turgeon's opening season.

As I've found out over the past week or so, it's pretty tough to write an interesting, honest, compelling, and fair assessment of Turgeon's first year. Why? Because satisfying that "honest and fair" part makes things, frankly, a little boring.

See, basically everything that went wrong for Maryland and Turgeon this year - the wicked disparity in first- and second-half margin, free-throw shooting, forcing turnovers - can easily and rationally be blamed on roster makeup. I don't know for a fact that all of it should be, but c'mon: given the situation he walked into, blaming Turgeon is a little ... overly aggressive. A tad cynical, perhaps.

Let's be real: Maryland missed the NIT last year, then probably got worse in terms of personnel, got a new coach (ie, had no experience in the system), and, in terms of results, did just as well as they did the year prior. Did you really expect more? For every harrowing trend the Terrapins experienced, there's an easy-to-identify one-for-one relationship to roster deficiencies. Doing an average of four points worse in the second half than the first? Lack of depth. Inadequate three-point shooting? Lack of snipers.

And so on and so forth. It's all very monotonous.

In fact, if we're serious about this "season review" thing, we have to take a different, relatively narrow focus: did Maryland actually overachieve this year, does it matter if they didn't, and what does it mean for the future if they did?

Let's start with the middle question first, because it's the easiest: I don't particularly believe that anything that happened this year really matters in the big picture. Overachieving would be encouraging, true, but it's far from a guarantee; I'd consider underachieving basically immaterial. Turgeon was a long-term hire, with the ultimate goal of winning championships; what happens in his first year, with a depleted roster made up of non-Turgeon recruits, is more or less irrelevant to that goal. Many of the new generation's top-level coaches - Tom Crean, Sean Miller, Jay Wright, Matt Painter, Scott Drew, and Leonard Hamilton, to name a few - walked into bad situations, had bad first years, and built it up just fine.* Turgeon could've gone 10-23 instead of 17-16 and I don't think my opinion of him would change much at all.

Now, back to the first part: did Maryland in fact overachieve? To answer that sort of question, we have to ask: based on what? We could simply do it on expectations - like being picked ninth in the ACC media poll - but that's a bit of a copout. Let's go a step further, and look at the roster Maryland was working with, measuring talent, depth, and experience. The naked eye test tells you that the Terrapins are among the lowest in the ACC in all three measures. But let's dig deeper and see if that holds true.

First, let's look at talent and depth, which obviously effect winning a great deal. Unfortunately, there's no ready-made, unbiased, standardized, tempo-free, and accurate measure of a player's talent, at least not for college basketball. (Start calculating PER, guys.) The closest we come: recruiting rankings. Yes, everyone knows they're epically flawed, but it's the best we can do, at least for a quick-and-dirty calculation like this.**

We'll use Rivals' rankings, which I consider to be the "worst" of the big three, but which is the only one not to undergo a change in evaluation team in the timeframe we'll be analyzing. The method we'll use: a five-star player is worth 5, four-star worth 4, and so on; an unranked player gets 1, and a highly-recruited foreigner like Alex Len or Patrick Heckmann is worth 3. Add it up, and you get a very crude measure of a team's depth and talent. The results:

Avg Total
UNC 4.08 53
Duke 4.00 48
Florida St. 3.67 44
Miami 3.17 38
Clemson 3.27 36
Virginia Tech 3.40 34
N.C. State 2.82 31
Wake Forest 3.44 31
Maryland 3.11 28
Virginia 3.11 28
Ga. Tech 3.38 27
Boston College 2.67 24

Again, not perfect, but all we have. While it's clear Boston College is in last by a good margin, Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia Tech are all very close, with Tech having slightly less depth than Maryland or Virginia but a higher average ranking. The obvious takeaway: if you accept recruiting rankings as a way to measure talent, Maryland is clearly around the bottom of the ACC totem pole.

And for the other metric, experience, it's much more widely-tracked and so is a lot less work for me. I'll lift the numbers from KenPom, which tracks only "contributors" as opposed to everyone on the roster. End results:

Avg Yrs
Florida St. 2.37
N.C. State 1.95
Clemson 1.9
Miami 1.8
Virginia 1.71
Duke 1.51
UNC 1.43
Ga. Tech 1.39
Wake Forest 1.36
Virginia Tech 1.27
Maryland 1.25
Boston College 0.59

The moral of this story: it really, really sucks to be Boston College. Goodness. Also, no wonder Florida State and N.C. State finally made a run.

But it's also tough to be Maryland, which was simultaneously was third-to-last in talent/depth and second-to-last in experience. If I was dedicated enough to come up with an accurate way to combine these two, Maryland would almost certainly be in 11th, ahead of only lowly BC. Instead, they finished eighth.

(And yes, the easiest way to do that would indeed be multiplying "talent" by "experience," which you can see here. I have no idea how accurate it would be, but if that has any bearing, Maryland would've overachieved by three spots - only Virginia would've overachieved as much. Note that both teams are led by one of the best individual players in the conference and have coaches widely regarded as Xs and Os-types. Biggest underachievers: Clemson, Miami, and ... FSU.)

It's even more encouraging when you remember a few things about Maryland's season. First, they were two plays away from beating Miami on the road and Virginia at home, which would've landed them a .500 record in the conference. (They were also two plays away from losing to Notre Dame and Mt. St. Mary's, so don't take that too far.) And secondly, they did this with easily one of the most difficult ACC schedules, much more difficult than, say, N.C. State - a team with more talent and more experience.

In fact, I'd wager to say that if were you flip Maryland's and N.C. State's schedules, this team would be at least .500, with the UVA home loss likely turning into a Boston College road win and the Duke home loss likely turning into a Wake Forest road win. Meanwhile, State - a team I believe is in fact better than Maryland, for what it's worth - would have turned their easy wins over Wake and BC into likely losses to Duke and Virginia, making them 7-9. And this is to say nothing of the State-Maryland game being in College Park instead of Raleigh. Funny how this uneven scheduling stuff works out, huh?

But I'm starting to ramble. The end point here: if Maryland and Mark Turgeon did anything this year, they overachieved. (The more things change, right?) These are clumsy and flawed standards, for sure, but the eye test backs up what they say. I don't think Maryland had the eighth-best roster in the ACC, but they finished eighth pretty comfortably. While they could've finished higher with some better execution - equalling Clemson's 8-8 record was very possible - that they were even in that position is perhaps overachieving in and of itself.

Clearly, that's an encouraging sign, even if it isn't a particularly surprising one. Turgeon's coaching prowess - in practice, game prep, and Xs and Os - has long been considered his greatest asset, but getting reassurance on that matter is, well, reassuring. If Maryland has even talent and experience with teams like N.C. State and Virginia in the future, you have good reason to expect the Terrapins to be the better team.

Which brings me to the other major point: actually getting that talent, which is where Turgeon has arguably been most impressive given early expectations. His recruiting ability was always the big question when he came to College Park, but he answered it in a big way, assembling a killer staff and putting together a top-20 first class. This group, which is likely to still grow, is a first class every bit as good as Sean Miller's opening salvo at Arizona, and he's put in the base for 2013 to significantly outdo Miller's second group. This is notable, of course, because Miller is considered by many (like, say, me) to be the best recruiter in the game not named Calipari. I'm not sure Turgeon will reach that level, but this first showing is a very, very impressive haul.

No, it's not as good as Mark Gottfried's first class at N.C. State, which has three McDonald's All-Americans. But then Maryland doesn't have the natural geographic advantage State enjoyed in their 2012 class, where two of their commitments were from Raleigh and their third was from Statesville, NC, which they'd consider home turf. There were eight ESPNU100 players from Tobacco Road; there were only two from the DC-Baltimore corridor. That dynamic will change in the future.

Some will be uncertain about Turgeon's proclivity to offer under-the-radar types like Seth Allen and Damonte Dodd. But that's Turgeon's game. He's not offering these guys due to desperation; he's doing it because he has confidence in his scouting ability, much like old-school Gary Williams did, and he has no qualms in going after guys who he thinks fits his system. This is a case of rankings-be-damned; after all, recruiting is about winning games, not class rankings, and that's how classes ultimately should be judged.***

I'm less bullish - read: more realistic - about Turgeon's future at Maryland than many. I don't think think he'll win multiple titles, or even necessarily a single one, like many fans do. (There are just too many variables in the tournament to expect it, although I consider it to be a possibility.) But not a thing happened in Turgeon's first year to make you any less optimistic about his future than you were before the year started. In fact, I feel a good bit better about what's to come than I did when Turgeon was first hired.

Like all futures, Maryland's is uncertain. But at least from where I stand, it's a bright one.

*Meanwhile, Bruce Weber and Frank Haith walk into great teams and kill it. Let me know how that works out long-term, fellas.

**I'd also consider the flaws to be relatively evenly spread out, with few exceptions. While it's unfair to give Mychal Parker four stars when his impact (and perhaps talent) is significantly lower, you could argue that Terrell Stoglin being only a three-star when he's put up four- or-five-star level production cancels that out. And that's the case for a lot of teams.

**Gary Williams' best class was the Juan Dixon, national championship-winning class, which wasn't winning any plaudits in high school. His worst were the Travis Garrison-Mike Jones classes, which were generally considered among the best in the country at the time. Recruiting is a funny game.