Maryland has lost three of four basketball games. They’ve all been close. Maryland entered two of them as the underdog. But losses are losses.
The Terps are 0-1 in the Big Ten after an 80-75 home defeat against Purdue on Friday night. They looked overwhelmed early, but settled in as the evening progressed. Maryland took the lead for all of 18 seconds in the second half, remained within reach the rest of the way and made a late charge that resulted in a chance to tie.
Maryland’s past four games have featured three nail-biters, all of which were close losses. If the Terps come away victorious in one of those games, fan criticisms at this point are much more measured. Impatience and small sample sizes don’t mesh.
The season started on Nov. 10. Exactly three weeks have elapsed, and Selection Sunday isn’t until mid-March. Over the last eight days, though, Maryland’s weaknesses have been exposed and capitalized on.
Against St. Bonaventure and Purdue, the Terps shot 42 and 35 percent, respectively. Before Friday night, the biggest concern was turnovers, as Maryland averaged 20 in its three-game stretch away from College Park (it had just seven in the conference opener). In all of their losses, the Terps have come out relatively sluggish; against Purdue, an early 14-point deficit was too much of a handicap.
Then there’s the continued slow start of Justin Jackson, who’s averaging just 8.7 points per game and shooting 34 percent from the floor and 23 percent from three. The sophomore is an NBA prospect and has perhaps the highest upside of anyone on the Maryland roster, so he’ll need to find a rhythm for this team to reach its full potential.
These are valid concerns. But it’s still far too early to conclude that the current problems will contunue to hold Maryland back all season.
This is a young team. Maryland’s three sophomores and two freshmen combined to play 158 of 200 minutes on Friday. The group took 54 of the Terps’ 63 shots and scored 65 of the team’s 75 points; seniors Michal Cekovsky and Jared Nickens added the other 10. Young teams almost never reach their potential by early December, so to expect such from Maryland is naïve at best.
It didn’t help that the Terps were playing perhaps the most veteran team in the league. Purdue’s starting lineup, which scored all 80 of the Boilermakers’ points, consists of four seniors, and Matt Painter’s team also has the benefit of competing in the World University Games (where the Boilermakers hung out mostly with Maryland women’s basketball, their fellow Team USA representatives).
Maryland has a conference road game Sunday night at Illinois, and while there are no “must-win” games in December, there’s a massive psychological difference between starting Big Ten play 1-1 and entering the new year 0-2. The Terps are favored, but it’ll be imperative to take care of business in Champaign. After that, five cupcakes sit between Maryland and the resumption of conference play, and Turgeon will have a better sense of which areas to work on in those games.
If the problems that have plagued Maryland over the past week are still doing so in January and February, there will be ample reason to worry. But we’re not there yet.