The Maryland Terrapins had made so much progress in the postseason, going from disappointing and frustrating to a dynamic, young team on the up. But when they faced their toughest test since playing North Carolina in Greensboro, the Terps that showed up looked more like the endlessly-vexing squad of midseason, not the assured, maturing group of the past few weeks.
Maryland, troubled by inconsistent defense, sloppy play, and a host of stereotypically mind-boggling turnovers, proved overmatched by the Iowa Hawkeyes' well-drilled, smarter, steadier basketball. The Terps turned it over 18 times and trailed for virtually the entire game, making occasional runs to shorten the lead to as little as 4 in the second half, but never made it a one-possession game. After twice squandering opportunities with the lead at just 6 late in the game, Iowa's Zach McCabe made them pay with a late three-pointer to seal the Hawkeyes' eventual 71-60 win.
And thus ends a rollercoaster year. I'm not seriously worried by how the year ended; only two (or three, or four, or however many it is now) teams end the season with a win, after all. But it goes to show that even a team making progress and improving is prone to fall back to old ways, especially when faced with solid competition.
That's exactly what happened, too. This team looked like the one that played against Miami, or Boston College on the road, or even Georgia Tech. They were unbearably sloppy, seemingly forgot how to pass, and looked mentally two or three steps behind the entire game. It took until the final five minutes to show any real intensity or energy, before which it seemed as if they were sleepwalking. Honestly, every problem that fans have complained about all year long reared its ugly head one last time.
Of course, some credit should go out to Iowa, which is a genuinely good team. Maryland was longer and more athletic, but the Hawkeyes have some ballers - especially the fantastic Roy Devyn Marble, whom I won't be sad to see leave the B1G a year before Maryland gets there - and Fran McCaffery has them playing great basketball. They're disciplined, they hustle, and they're smart, and you combine with that solid talent and you have a tough team to beat. Still, the Terps have lost games to good teams this year where you feel okay afterwards; this was not one of those games.
But that doesn't mean Maryland's "regressed." After six solid games of good results and obvious improvement in performances, one poor game doesn't mean everything is undone and the Terps are even worse than when they started. Instead, it just goes to show that their inexperience hasn't gone away, and that the product of that inexperience - inconsistency - is still there. And inconsistency implies exactly that: that they are not consistent. A few good games doesn't mean it's gone with; it means it's being improved. There will be games like this next year, too, and they'll be frustrating, too. But the goal is to get them to be fewer and fewer, to the point where Maryland can contend and make the tournament and then keep building. A loss to a good team on a neutral floor doesn't invalidate that plan, even if it's hardly encouraging.
As far as individuals go, mostly no one showed up, but a shoutout has to go to Alex Len in probably his last ever game for Maryland. He was, in a word, imperious: 16 points, 9 boards, and (I believe) 6 blocks. While he probably should've been even more active, he was the best player on the floor for Maryland by a comfortable margin, and tonight was an example of why he'll be missed next year.
We'll have more on the year as a whole, including individual recaps, in time. For now, though, well, the season's over: drink it in.