Four years ago, Maryland Athletics officially joined the Big Ten. To mark this, we’re taking a look back at Maryland’s time so far in the conference. We started with a top-10 moments list on Monday, and today we’re taking a look at the football and men’s basketball programs.
In the summer of 2014, both Maryland football and men’s basketball were in a period of uncertainty. For football, going to the Big Ten meant adjusting to a smashmouth style from the more athletic and flashy ACC. Men’s basketball was coming off a 17-15 season and an offseason of significant upheaval, so expectations were low in a crucial year for Mark Turgeon.
Fast forward four years, and both teams are once again facing pivotal seasons. How both teams got there couldn’t be more different.
Let’s start with football.
When Maryland joined the Big Ten, the consensus was the Terps would struggle to compete. So far, that prediction has mostly been right. After finishing a surprising 7-6 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten in 2014, Maryland has regressed to 13-24 overall and 6-20 in the conference the past three seasons.
Looking back, the 2014 season looks like an anomaly. Maryland won at Penn State and Michigan that year, but that was less about Maryland and more about its opponents. The Nittany Lions were still dealing with scholarship reductions from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, and Jim Harbaugh and his khakis were still in San Francisco and not Ann Arbor.
Both teams have returned to their more traditional roles since, making the gap between Maryland and the top teams in the Big Ten that much more obvious. The Terps have gone 0-14 against ranked conference opponents since joining the Big Ten, losing those contests by an average of 31 points.
Being in the second tier of a conference is something Maryland was used to in its final years in the ACC. What it wasn’t used to was the bigger first tier of the Big Ten. The Terps play in the same division as Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State, who have all been ranked in the top 10 since Maryland joined the conference. In the ACC, the Terps only had to worry about Florida State and Clemson, with games against consistently mediocre teams like NC State, Wake Forest and Virginia to even out the blowouts.
Maryland could afford a slip-up in ACC play and still be bowl-eligible. That’s much harder in the Big 10, where half of its divisional foes expect to compete for a New Year’s Six bowl at minimum every year.
Basketball has been better.
In 2014, the immediate prognosis wasn’t good for Maryland’s other revenue sport either. After losing five players to transfer, including almost all of Mark Turgeon’s first full recruiting class, the Terps were projected to finish 10th in the Big Ten.
Thanks to the dazzling play of Melo Trimble and the emotional leadership of Dez Wells, Maryland blew those expectations out of the water. The Terps finished 2014-15 with a 28-7 record and a 14-4 mark in Big Ten play, and Turgeon was voted Big Ten Coach of the Year by the media. They followed that up with 27 wins and a Sweet 16 appearance in 2015-16 and 24 wins and another postseason appearance the next year. Maryland also finished no lower than third in the regular season standings, the only team in the conference to do so.
If you told a Maryland fan in 2014 that the Terps would go 79-25 over the next three years and be one of the top teams in the Big Ten, most would’ve been ecstatic. However, that would ignore some of the details that laid the seeds of discontent that multiplied among the fan base over the past year.
After a surprising 2014-15 season, the 2015-16 group had national championship expectations. That team never felt right, eking out wins against lower competition before falling out of the national picture late in the season and losing to Kansas in the Sweet 16. The next year, a team led by Trimble and three freshman started 20-2 before going 4-7 to end the season. Maryland went winless in the postseason during the slump, falling to Northwestern in the conference tournament in front of hometown crowd in Washington DC and Xavier in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Trimble declared for the NBA Draft a few weeks later, and his loss along with multiple injuries caused the Terps to limp to an 19-12 record and another winless postseason.
Even with differing levels of success, the future is cloudy for both teams.
DJ Durkin looked to have Maryland moving forward last fall, only for the ACL gods to intervene. Now, the Terps are facing another tough schedule and still have more questions than answers. A bowl game is possible, but that may not be enough to convince fans and potential recruits that the team is on the right track. If Maryland gets demolished by the top teams in the conference again, some fans will wonder if Durkin is the right coach and the area’s top recruits will continue to look elsewhere.
There’s also the external investigation into offensive lineman Jordan McNair’s death, the repurcussions of which are currently unknown. The team released some more details last week, but there are still a lot of unknowns that could have a big impact on Durkin and the program as a whole.
For Mark Turgeon, the problem isn’t that he hasn’t won games at Maryland. The problem is that he hasn’t won enough. In the nine years for Gary Williams following the national championship, Maryland went 187-109 (.632) went to five NCAA Tournaments and won the 2004 ACC Conference Tournament and 2009-10 regular season title. Turgeon has a 157-80 record (.662), three NCAA Tournament appearances and no conference titles in seven seasons.
Both records are similar, which is the problem. The post-title years were not the norm for Williams. Most Maryland fans were used to a top-25 team on a year-to-year basis, something Turgeon hasn’t been able to produce. It looked like he had the program going that way until last season, but then the Terps couldn’t even get a bid to the NIT.
With falling attendance and the ongoing fallout of the FBI investigation, an NCAA Tournament appearance would go a long way for Turgeon. With Anthony Cowan and Bruno Fernando back, one of the top recruiting classes in the country, and a Big Ten with no true favorite, that should happen. Of course, a good season likely means roster turnover as well—both Fernando and incoming freshman Jalen Smith have received serious attention from NBA scouts. This type of turnover is inevitable in the one-and-done era, so Turgeon will have to continue to retool his roster and develop talent going forward.
A year from now, we could be laughing at this column, scolding the notion that Durkin and Turgeon can’t lead their respective programs into an era of prosperity. It’s equally likely that the question marks linger and Maryland at least seriously considers moving in some new directions.