What makes the NCAA Tournament so great is what also makes it so heartbreaking. Only one team gets to end the season with a win and cutting down the nets at the Final Four. If you're not that team, it means your season comes to an abrupt end, like someone pulling the plug on your television out of the wall. In the blink of an eye, the careers of players are over as that season's team leaves the court together one final time.
On Thursday, Maryland lost to Kansas in the Sweet 16, sending the Terps back to College Park after what was the most successful NCAA Tournament run for the school in over a decade. It had been 13 years since the Terps made it past the opening weekend, articulating both how hard it can be to make it past the round of 32 and how much the Maryland program had struggled recently.
Maryland's season began with some pretty lofty expectations, arguably the highest the program has seen since winning the National Title in 2002. A perfect storm of returning players, incoming players and transfers gave the Terps one of the best rosters in the country. The question was whether the new parts could mesh with the returning pieces to give the Terrapins a team able to make a Final Four run in March.
Unfortunately, things don't always go according to plan. People will debate for a while about whether Maryland’s season was a success or not but right now I want to take a look back on this season and say thanks for a number of really fun, great memories, and to the players who helped mark Maryland basketball relevant again.
There were a lot of really good and cool things that happened this year, some of which I'd forgotten about before taking a look back.
In November, the Terps hosted Georgetown in College Park as the two teams squared off in a scheduled regular season game for the first time since 1993. Maryland won the thriller, which also featured ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt hosting Sports Center from the Xfinity Center court after the game.
The renewed rivalry also gave us this amazing picture:
And these awesome throwback uniforms:
This season was also the final one for one of the most important players of the Mark Turgeon era thus far - Jake Layman (the others being Dez Wells and Melo Trimble, in my opinion). He is Turgeon's first four-year Terrapin player, one who improved year over year and stuck with Turgeon during the mass exodus of 2014. He was always willing to play wherever the team needed him most and did so without complaint.
To me, Layman will always seem synonymous with Turgeon at Maryland. It's going to be weird to not see him in a Terps' uniform next season.
Jake Layman (1,436 points) wraps up his career 18th on the #MarylandScoringList, between Derrick Lewis (1,458) and James Gist (1,414).— Patrick Stevens (@D1scourse) March 25, 2016
And of course, for those of you on Twitter, what is Jon Rothstein going to do now that Layman is gone?
So much Chandler Parsons in Jake Layman.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) December 21, 2014
We have to also bid farewell to Rasheed Sulaimon, who became a vocal leader for Maryland during his one year with the Terps, while also provided some amazing dunks:
Welcome to Maryland, Rasheed Sulaimon https://t.co/XvKnMVtgAc— Matt Ellentuck (@mellentuck) November 7, 2015
Following the injury to Dion Wiley, it's hard to imagine where Maryland would have been this season without Sulaimon.
And of course who can forget about Maryland's favorite walk-on, Varun Ram, who came back for one last year with the Terps:
We might have to say goodbye to some other players from this year's team, but for now, we'll just salute the ones who we know are departing.
Maryland didn't get as far was we all wanted them to this season. But for the first time in forever, Maryland basketball seemed relevant again, among Maryland fans and in the national media alike. We weren't clamoring for the Terps to climb back into the Top 25 each week, they were there all year. We weren't biting our nails on Selection Sunday, hoping that they did enough to be on the right side of the bubble. Instead, we got to worry about how high Maryland's seed would be rather than whether it would get a seed at all. They won at least two games in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Steve Blake and Drew Nicholas were still wearing a Maryland uniform. Picking Maryland to go all the way in your bracket could actually be somewhat justifiable and not seen as just a blind, homer's selection. Xfinity Center was once again filled with 17,950 passionate Maryland fans for almost every game.
Maryland didn't get to the Final Four, they didn't win the National Title and there were a lot of times when you felt like pulling your own hair out watching them. But despite all of this, it felt like Maryland basketball was finally back. And for that, I say thank you.