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Mark Turgeon and Maryland basketball, 5 years later: Are the Terps better?

A five-year retrospective on Maryland's head basketball coach kicks off a series on his time in College Park.

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Five years go by pretty quickly, don't they?

I know this because it's been four years since I got to Maryland and started digging into Terrapins basketball, and it feels like it's been about five minutes. Five years can't feel like much longer, but that's exactly how long Mark Turgeon has been Maryland's head men's basketball coach. Turgeon announced he'd jump from Texas A&M to Maryland on May 9, 2011, replacing onetime national champion Gary Williams at the helm of a program in search of a fresh direction.

Turgeon's tenure at Maryland has been a tricky one to evaluate. His first three years were rocky, with Maryland missing the NCAA Tournament every season and going through a sustained stretch of transfer-related turmoil. His last two years have both resulted in Big Dance trips, although this past year was a rougher ride than fans wanted or expected.

Turgeon has been a fairly polarizing coach, with views of him split into two predominant camps: that he's a good recruiter who's building something good at Maryland, and that he's a good recruiter who can't actually coach. It'll be hard for us to settle that debate – for one thing, because Turgeon knows a lot more about basketball than you or me, and for another, because this sport in general is a lot less black-and-white than sportswriters like me sometimes pretend.

Something that is black-and-white: numbers. With Turgeon's Maryland career five years old and with three years left on his contract, it's very nearly time for Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson to consider Turgeon's future.

So, first, let's consider the past.

Turgeon's first season was Maryland's worst in a long time, but the Terps have been significantly better in every season since then.

Gary Williams' last 5 years and Mark Turgeon's first 5
Year Final KenPom Final AP
2007 10 18
2008 64
2009 48
2010 13 20
2011 55
2012 129
2013 48
2014 40
2015 32 12
2016 25 18

Maryland was bad in Tugeon's first season, 2011-12, but it wasn't entirely his fault.

The Terps lost a lot from Williams' 2010-11 team, and it's not easy to cobble together an immediate-impact recruiting class on short notice. Jordan Williams took his 17 points and 12 rebounds per game to the NBA after his sophomore season, and three of the team's other top-five scorers were graduating seniors: Cliff Tucker, Dino Gregory and Adrian Bowie. It was a hard situation to walk right into.

The Terps have made steady gains in every subsequent year. Based on underlying efficiency metrics, they were fairly close to a tournament-caliber team in both 2012-13 and 2013-14. Comparing their point differential and efficiency to their actual record over those two years (25-13 and then 17-15), Maryland had crumby luck in both seasons. That turned in a big way in 2014-15, and then Maryland was a no-frills top-25 team with pretty average luck this past season.

Maryland's quality of play has been worse in Turgeon's first five years than in Williams' last five, but it's complicated.

In total, Maryland's average Ken Pomeroy final ranking under Turgeon is 55th. In Williams' last five years, they averaged 38th. The Terps have managed two top-25 final AP Poll rankings in each period, with Williams making three NCAA Tournaments and Turgeon making two in the commensurate timeframe. Turgeon has made one Sweet 16, which Williams didn't do in any of his last eight seasons in College Park.

It's completely fair to say, based on these points, that Williams put a better product on the court in his final five seasons than Turgeon did in his first five. Based on the numbers (analytic or otherwise), it's downright true, even.

But Turgeon's profile is still anchored down quite a bit by his first year, when Maryland put together a lousy and often non-competitive team. Turgeon's overall KenPom average might be a No. 55 ranking, but in the last four years, it's been No. 36 – two spots ahead of Williams' five-year average, or basically the same.

You could cherry-pick Turgeon's last two seasons and say that Maryland's averaged a No. 15 AP Poll finish and No. 28.5 KenPom finish, better than any two-year stretch under Williams in the last decade. That would be true, if very arbitrary.

At best, Turgeon's first five years have been about equal to Williams' last five, and even that's a generous interpretation. What's next?

Coach tenures – at least the successful ones – tend to last longer than five years.

Williams has one major advantage in this comparison – not that it's a competition – in that he was at Maryland from 1989 onward. By the time his last five seasons came around, Williams had years of experience at Maryland that Turgeon doesn't have, and his rosters were completely stacked with his own recruits. Turgeon's were not, at least not off the bat.

In the next post in this series, we'll look at Turgeon's recruiting performance at Maryland, compared to both his time at Wichita State and Texas A&M and Williams' tenure at Maryland.

Spoiler: That article will look a lot better for Maryland's current head coach.