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Observations following Maryland's loss to Syracuse

Some additional observations following Maryland's loss to Syracuse Monday evening.

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

It was another wild night at the office in this roller coaster ride that is the 2013-2014 Maryland men's basketball season. Staying true to recent form, the Terps were game, gave a very good team a great run for their money, then couldn't close the deal. Here are a few take-aways. And since some controversy has erupted from the post-game press conferences, as laid out thoughtfully by Dave in his game notes and observations, I'll give the requisite disclaimer that these are just my opinions and not meant to be cast down from above as anything bigger than that.

1. The referees did not cost Maryland this game.
After a spirited late run, the Terps found an opening to take the lead that Nick Faust tried -- and ultimately failed -- to exploit. There was contact. The refs let it go. In general, I approve of referees that, within reason, let the players decide the game. I think this particular play fell in the "within reason" category. It's too bad for the Terps, who got legitimately and indisputably hosed by the officials against Duke last week, but the two situations are completely different. So call it a run of bad luck, but don't put it on the referees. As Jim Boeheim not-so-eloquently pointed out postgame, the Terps have plenty of other places to look (turnovers, missed free throws, field-goal shooting, interior offense) if they want to find a scapegoat for this loss.

2. Speaking of Jim Boeheim ...
The legendary Syracuse coach was not exactly Maryland-friendly (or media-friendly) in his post-game presser. Boeheim was dismayed by a question about the game-saving non-call, and interrupted the questioner to steer the conversation his own way. He pointed out Maryland's turnover issues (legit) and the fact that his team got to the line six times compared to Maryland's 27 (also legit, and something that would draw the ire of 1000% of the world's population of basketball coaches). Boeheim doesn't do himself any favors by whining about the refs after a victory -- especially when the biggest (non) call of the night went his way -- but this writer finds the points he made to be defendable. 27-6 is a really bad imbalance of FT shots that Maryland fans would be screaming to the rooftops about if it were the other way around. I can excuse Boeheim for not wanting to hear about how the refs bailed him out after such a huge win for his team, which came in on a two-game losing streak and on short rest. Both teams faced adversity during the game. Maryland didn't get a late call, but Syracuse also felt like it wasn't getting calls and, on top of that, lost key player (Grant) to injury and still got a big slump-busting road win. Boeheim didn't like the premise that the refs are why his team won. Can't say I blame him for that. Did he have to take the opportunity to point out Maryland's turnover count? No - maybe that was a tad over-defensive, but I don't see a huge controversy from the press conferences. It was just two coaches defending their teams.

3. Maryland isn't great, but Maryland isn't horrible, either.
There's no need for fury or insults toward Maryland's coaches or players after close losses to Syracuse, Duke, Virginia, or (gulp) even a T.J. Warren-less N.C. State team on the road. The Terps play a strength-of-schedule as good as anyone's and are a 15-13 mid-pack ACC team. That's not bad. Not good, but not bad either. In general, with a couple exceptions, they beat who they're supposed to beat and lose to the teams who are supposed to beat them. The Terps have lost to Syracuse (#4), Duke (#6) and UConn (#26) by 5 points combined. Maryland is a tough team, and a tough out, but they're young and not quite ready for prime time. It's plain to see, though, that they're getting closer. Can they make a big run in the ACC Tourney? That's really difficult to do, but you can't rule it out. Keep the faith and stay tuned.

4. About that timeout that didn't happen ....
After a C.J. Fair missed jumper, Dez Wells corralled a rebound and the Terps had an opportunity to call a timeout with about 15 seconds left, trailing by one. Mark Turgeon didn't take the opportunity, and what ensued was a fast break, Nick Faust finding a lane from the wing, and you know the rest. I find this to be sort of like Randy Edsall's icing-the-kicker incident in last fall's loss to BC. When it works, you're a genius; when it doesn't, you're a goat. But in reality, I'd say neither is actually true. The goal in that possession is to get a good lane or a good look at the basket, which Nick Faust did. If Turge calls a timeout, Syracuse, a notably good defensive team, gets to set up its defense. The transition situation that resulted from not calling the timeout was palatable, it just didn't work out. Those are the breaks. Some coaches (famously, Phil Jackson, but please don't accuse me of drawing a parallel) like to withhold timeouts as teaching moments. Maryland was hot and had momentum on its side. Turge let the Terps run the court and go for the throat in the heat of the moment. He went for it, Dez went for it, Faust went for it, then it didn't work out. That's the way it goes sometimes.

5. Maryland got 2 total points from its entire cast of big men.
I mean, c'mon. I know Syracuse plays a zone and plays it really well, but 2 points? It's not excusable. Emerging but undersized center Charles Mitchell just isn't a good matchup against a zone team. Someone else has to rise to the occasion. Mitchell, Dodd and Cleare (2 minutes!) combined for 1-for-5 FG shooting and six rebounds. It's just not good enough production from the paint.