When Mark Turgeon was hired by Maryland to replace the retiring Gary Williams in May of 2011, many were hopeful that the Texas A&M coach, who had successfully turned numerous program around in previous coaching stops, would bring Maryland basketball back among the college basketball elite. At his introductory press conference, when asked about his style of play, Turgeon quickly won over fans by answering "My style of play is winning." But the winning wouldn't come as fast and as easy as many hoped and expected.
The first half of Turgeon's contract at Maryland has been a roller coaster of highs and lows. In the Spring of 2014, Turgeon was very much on the hot seat of fans and pundits, who began wondering if his days in College Park were numbered. His name was frequently appearing on various preseason coaching "hot seat" lists following a five-player exodus and disappointing 2013-2014 campaign. But just a year later, Turgeon has assembled a team that could potentially begin the 2015-2016 season atop of the preseason polls and listed as one of the preseason favorites to win the 2015-2016 national title.. Four years after taking the job, the fruits of his labor are finally showing why having patience in the former Kansas guard was worthwhile.
When Turgeon took over in 2011, he inherited a roster that certainly needed an infusion of talent. The previous season, Maryland finished with a 19-14 record, missed the NCAA Tournament, and was somewhat surprisingly left out of the 32-team NIT field, ending the Terrapins' 17-year streak of participating in postseason play. Entering the 2011-2012 season, Turgeon began with a roster that lost seniors Adrian Bowie, Dino Gregory, and Cliff Tucker, as well as star center Jordan Williams, who elected to turn pro following his sophomore campaign. Those four combined to account for 57.6% of Maryland's offense and 61.5% of their total rebounds the previous season.
While Maryland lost a lot of production, Gary Williams had secured the commitments of several talented players in both the 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes to account for that lost productivity. The 2011 class was anchored by the top player in the state of Maryland, 4-star guard/wing Nick Faust from Baltimore. Joining Faust was 3-star guard Sterling Gibbs and 3-star power forward Martin Breunig. Williams had also secured a verbal commitment for the 2012 recruiting class from the No. 2 player in Maryland and 51st overall, Montrose Christian small forward Justin Anderson.
But when Williams announced his retirement, there were immediately rumblings about whether the three 2011 players would ask for a release from their signed National Letters of Intent and whether Justin Anderson would reopen his commitment. Once Turgeon was hired, his first order of business as a head coach was convincing those players to stay at Maryland. He was able to get Nick Faust to honor his NLI after initially deciding to reopen his commitment, but both Gibbs and Breunig decided to ask for and were granted a release from Maryland.
Turgeon would later add 7'2" center Alex Len to his 2011 class, securing the commitment from the Ukrainian center who was first pursued by Gary Williams and his staff. Len had to sit out the first ten games of the season due to an NCAA ruling.
Maryland finished the season with a 17-15 record, including a 6-10 mark in ACC play and for the second consecutive year, didn't participate in a post-season tournament.
The following year, Turgeon continued his makeover of Maryland's roster. He secured the commitment of six freshman and three transfers. Maryland's 2012 class was ranked 14th nationally by 247sports and included freshmen Seth Allen, Shaq Cleare, Charles Mitchell, Jake Layman, Damonte Dodd and Sam Cassell, Jr. Turgeon also added transfers Evan Smotrycz, Logan Aronhalt and Dez Wells. Dodd ended up going to prep school for a year and Cassell was ruled ineligible by the NCAA and elected to go enroll at a Junior College.
While Turgeon had to do without Dodd or Cassell, Dez Wells was declared immediately eligible after a controversial expulsion from Xavier. Despite being just a sophomore on a new team at a new school, Wells immediately assumed a leadership role for Turgeon, a role that would prove to be almost as important as Wells' abilities on the court.
But before the season could get underway, a shockwave hit the Maryland campus; the University of Maryland announced plans to leave the Atlantic Coast Conference and become a member of the Big Ten Conference, effective on July 1, 2014. It was a stunning move that meant Maryland would only have two more seasons in the conference they helped found. It also meant that Turgeon would have to navigate his team through a difficult transition away from the familiar rivalries of Tobacco Road.
Fortunately for Turgeon, Dez Wells and sophomore center Alex Len helped guide Maryland to a 25-13 record during the 2012-2013 season. The Terps hadn't won that many games since their 2006-2007 campaign, when they went 25-9. But despite a somewhat successful season, Maryland was still on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday. Despite their 22-12 record, which included two wins against Duke, Maryland didn't do enough to earn an at-large bid and missed out on the Big Dance for the third straight season.
Maryland settled for an NIT berth, making it to the finals at Madison Square Garden, where they fell to soon to be conference foe Iowa, 71-60. While many would have enjoyed Maryland playing in the NCAA Tournament, the NIT offered an opportunity for a young team to compete in more games than they likely would have as a double-digit seed in the Big Dance, where they likely would have played in at most two games.
Following the season, sophomore center Alex Len elected to declare for the NBA draft, where he was selected No. 5 overall by the Phoenix Suns. Len's departure, while great for showcasing how Maryland could develop big men for the NBA, meant Turgeon would have to rely heavily on freshman Damonte Dodd and sophomore Charles Mitchell in the Terps' final season as a member of the ACC.
The ACC farewell tour
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports
One of the ugliest aspects of conference realignment manifests itself when a schools plays their final season as a member of the conference they're leaving behind. Players are subjected to chants, taunts and other ridiculous actions from opposing fans, as if they had any say in the decision to jump ship. For Maryland, it was especially hard considering the university was a founding member of the ACC.
During each conference road game, players had to listen to the A-C-C! chants from opposing fans. They had to look at signs like the ones above, as students from Miami to Boston unified in an all out hatred of the University of Maryland. Even university officials from ACC schools were getting in on the Maryland bashing (note - Mr. Groves has since deleted the tweet below).:
The ACC schedule makers certainly didn't do Maryland any favors in their final season as a member of the conference. Maryland had to make trips to Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State while none of those schools had to travel to College Park.
ACC schools that won't visit College Park for football or men's hoops this year: Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State. Couldn't make that up.— Patrick Stevens (@D1scourse) April 23, 2013
Turgeon and his squad began the season with the unfortunate news that sophomore Seth Allen, who was expected to spend a lot of time at point guard, suffered a preseason injury that forced him to miss the beginning of Maryland's season. Without Allen, Dez Wells stepped up to play point guard for the Terps, but they struggled in the early going, compiling a 7-5 record as Allen recovered.
Maryland finished the season with a 17-15 record and for the second time during Turgeon's tenure in College Park, failed to participate in a post-season tournament. Despite Dez Wells averaging just under 15 points per game, the emergence of Seth Allen as a scoring threat after returning from injury, and the continued development of Jake Layman, Maryland struggled with consistency, especially in ACC play. The Terps finished their final ACC campaign with a 9-9 record. They only won back to back ACC games three times and went just 2-7 in ACC road games. The highlight of the season came on March 9, 2014. Maryland's final regular season ACC basketball game was a win over No. 5 Virginia in front of electric, sold out crowd.
While Maryland was able to win their last regular season game, they lost their last ACC Tournament game four days later in Greensboro. The Terps lost to Florida State on a last second dunk by Boris Bojanovsky, a reserve center who averaged just 5.9 points per game that season, but had 12 points and 12 rebounds against Maryland. The play in a lot of ways was a fitting end for Maryland as a member of the ACC: It was another early exit from a Tobacco Road tournament; It was a loss to a middle of the road conference team; and it highlighted one of Maryland's best weaknesses that season - the lack of a solid rim defender.
And just like that, Maryland basketball played their final minutes as a member of the ACC, the final chapter in a storied 61 years of college basketball.
But before the dust settled on a disappointing season and the end of life in the ACC, five players from the team decided to transfer, taking with them 51% of Maryland's scoring from the previous year 64% of their assists and 41% of their rebounds. Maryland fans and people around the country began wondering what was going on in College Park? Mark Turgeon's name was frequently included on hot seat lists. Headed into their first season as a member of the Big Ten, Maryland seemed to have more questions than answers.
Fortunately for Maryland, Turgeon and his staff had the 14th best 2014 recruiting class, headlined by local star Melo Trimble.
A year after that firestorm of an off-season, it's amazing to think about everything Maryland was able to accomplish during their first Big Ten season considering how much production they lost from those five transfers. Mark Turgeon did an incredible job balancing and blending new talent with the remaining roster, all while playing in a new conference for the first time. The excellent play of Trimble, who quickly emerged into a star during his freshman year, coupled with contributions from Jared Nickens, Dion Wiley, and Michal Cekovsky all helped the Terps make up for the lost productivity of their five transfers The end result was.Maryland finally returning to the NCAA Tournament, once again being a regular among the AP Top 25, and finishing 2nd in their inaugural Big Ten campaign.
Building on that great season, Turgeon pulled stud five-star center Diamond Stone out of Wisconsin, convinced star Melo Trimble and forward Jake Layman to come back for another year, and brought in former Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon. It all adds up to Maryland being an early preseason No. 1 candidate.
Turgeon has taken this program from what seemed to be rock bottom last summer and clawed his way back to the top. After patiently waiting 51 months since his hiring, Maryland fans will finally be able to see Turgeon fully implement his style of play - winning.