With this year's basketball season coming to a close following Maryland's NCAA Tournament loss to West Virginia on Sunday, we can take a step back and examine the Terps' 2014-15 campaign, reflecting on how much Mark Turgeon and his Terrapins accomplished this season.
We begin our journey in Spring 2014, when five players announced they were transferring from Maryland following a frustrating 17-win season. The Terps not only missed the NCAA Tournament but didn't receive an invite to the NIT, either. Things looked bleak in College Park, as the five players transferring represented 51 percent of the team's scoring and 42 percent of its rebounds. Turgeon had a great recruiting class coming in, ranked 15th nationally by 247Sports' composite rankings and headlined by point guard Melo Trimble. The Terrapins would also add graduate transfer Richaud Pack, who played the two previous season at North Carolina A&T. But could Turgeon successfully blend the returning veterans and new blood into a successful team and finally return to the NCAA Tournament for this first time since taking over at Maryland?
Most people weren't optimistic about Maryland's chances to be successful this season, its first as a member of the Big Ten Conference. The Terrapins were picked to finish 10th in the preseason Big Ten media poll. Few had faith in Turgeon being able to successfully navigate Maryland's first season as a member of its new conference, especially after losing five players to transfer and having to rely so much on the incoming freshman.
Fourteen conference wins later, Mark Turgeon and his Terrapins proved everyone wrong, as Maryland finished in second place in the Big Ten and went undefeated at home in conference play, which included a win over B1G champion Wisconsin. Turgeon was later named the media's Coach of the Year in the Big Ten.
Not only did Turgeon shine, but so did several of Maryland's players. Trimble exceeded even the wildest of expectations, leading the team with 16.2 points per game, earning first and second team All-Big Ten honors and third team All-American honors. He broke Maryland's freshman record for three-pointers made in a season, and was one of the best players in the country at getting to and making shots from the free throw line. Senior Dez Wells capped off his Maryland career by leading his team to heights the Maryland basketball program hasn't seen in over a decade, earning first and second team All-Big Ten honors in the process, all while battling injuries throughout the season. Junior Jake Layman continued his year-over-year improvement, showing a new ability and willingness to get to the rim and attack the basket, earning third-team All-Big Ten honors in the process.
While Maryland was amassing its 14 conference wins, it was also increasing its regular season win total in the process. When the regular season concluded with a win against Nebraska on March 8, Maryland had 26 regular season wins, setting a new school record.
What happens when you win 26 regular season games? You return to Top 25 in both the AP and USA Today Coaches poll. On Dec. 1, 2014, Maryland returned to the AP Top 25 for the first time since the 2009-10 season. The Terps climbed as high as No. 8 in the AP poll, their highest ranking since the 2002-03 season. They finished the season ranked No. 12, their highest finish in the poll since they were No. 4 at the end of the 2001-02 season.
Prior to the season, most Maryland fans just wanted the Terps to be invited to the NCAA Tournament when March rolled around. But as the season progressed, the focus shifted from whether Maryland would make the NCAA Tournament to how high it'd been seeded. When Selection Sunday arrived, Maryland was a four-seed. Many were disappointed that the Terps weren't seeded higher, which articulates just how drastically expectations shifted from the beginning of the season to the end.
While losing to West Virginia in the round of 32 was a disappointment, looking beyond that loss paints a much brighter picture for the Maryland basketball program. The Terps not only made a return to the NCAA Tournament, but they brought their basketball program back to the standards we were accustomed to in the late 1990s and early 2000s. And while this season is over, the future remains bright in College Park. Only 205 days until Maryland Madness...