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Maryland basketball and Mark Turgeon enter a potential defining season in 2019-20

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State of the Program moves to Maryland’s most high-profile team.

Michigan v Maryland Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Maryland sports offseason is here, and it was a wild year for Terrapin athletics. There were national championships in men’s soccer and women’s lacrosse, and a trip to the title game in field hockey. Maryland athletes won some of the highest honors in their sports. But there were also some lows, both on and off the field.

This summer, we’ve been taking an in-depth look at each of Maryland’s varsity programs, exploring where they’ve been and where they’re going. We’ve gone through every fall sport — football, women’s soccer, men’s soccer, field hockey volleyball — and dived into the winter programs last week, starting with women’s basketball and gymnastics. Now we’ll get into the biggest of them all, men’s basketball.

Maryland basketball

Established: 1910
All-time record: 1,569-1,072
Championships: 2002
Last 5 years: 121-49, 59-33 Big Ten
The coach: Mark Turgeon (entering ninth season)
Last winter: 23-11, 13-7 Big Ten; lost in the second round of NCAA Tournament

Where it’s been

Men’s basketball has been the university’s most high-profile sport for more than half a century, with 28 NCAA Tournament appearances stretching across six different decades. The program has produced 19 first-round NBA draft picks, including two No. 1 selections (John Lucas, Joe Smith) and two No. 2 picks (Len Bias, Steve Francis).

Lefty Driesell took the team to two Elite Eight showings and was named the ACC Coach of the Year twice. He coached the Terps for 17 seasons before resigning amid the fallout from Bias’ death. Three years later, Gary Williams returned to his alma mater and had a Hall of Fame tenure of his own, reaching 14 NCAA Tournaments in his 22 years.

Maryland’s shining moment still remains its national championship run in 2002, led by Juan Dixon, Steve Blake, Lonny Baxter and Chris Wilcox. The Terps also reached a Final Four in 2001, advanced to nine Sweet 16s and won three ACC regular-season titles under Williams.

Since Mark Turgeon was hired in 2011, the Terps have made the Tournament four times (all in the last five years) and reached the Sweet 16 once. Turgeon has never made it past the semifinals of a conference tournament at Maryland, and while he’s recruited well, a handful of NBA departures have kept the Terps from keeping a core together for long.

Where it’s going

There’s a lot of hype surrounding Maryland going into 2019-20, with every major site ranking the team in its preseason top 10.

Maryland basketball preseason rankings

Outlet Ranking
Outlet Ranking
CBS Sports No. 6
Andy Katz / NCAA.com No. 5
NBC Sports No. 7
ESPN No. 9
Sports Illustrated No. 7
Seth Davis / The Athletic No. 4

While so many are buying into the Terps, though, plenty of fans have reservations centering on Turgeon’s track record. Maryland has had several seasons that started with high hopes but fizzled down the stretch and ended with a disappointing postseason. Even in the Sweet 16 run three years ago, Maryland was No. 2 in the country in January but finished just 27-9. And under the same coach, fans worry the same will happen again.

Turgeon said on a podcast with Andy Katz earlier this month that because of the returning pieces, he’s had more time to plan out plays and strategy this offseason than in past years. But it isn’t a question of talent with this year’s team; it’s a question of whether the team has the right coaching and leadership to make a deep tournament run.

And while reaching the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend is no easy feat, Maryland will have to go farther if it hopes to prove itself as a dominant basketball program. This season might not be make-or-break, but it could set the tone for several years to come.

Names to know

Maryland returns seven of its eight leading scorers from last season, giving Turgeon as much depth as he’s ever had. Losing Bruno Fernando does create some questions down low, but the team has options in Jalen Smith and incoming freshmen to fill that spot.

Anthony Cowan Jr. enters his senior season with a chip on his shoulder after not receiving an invitation to the G-League or NBA combine. As the oldest player in the starting lineup, he’ll look to show people he has what it takes to lead this team on a run.

And he has quite the team to do so. Smith is projected as a first-round pick and will look to build off his freshman season, in which he averaged 11.7 points and 6.8 rebounds and showed a more dominant side come the postseason. Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala both had impressive freshman seasons as well, and provide the team great options behind the arc. Darryl Morsell continued to progress last season and could see a larger role this year as well.

The Terps also have some intriguing options with a five-player freshman class which includes 6’9 twins Makhi and Makhel Mitchell, 6’7 wing Donta Scott, 6’5 guard Hakim Hart and 7’2 center Chol Marial.

Makhi Mitchell is the only four-star recruit of the group, though Scott was a borderline four-star, and listed as one by ESPN. Marial has a 7’11 wingspan and is the tallest player to ever play for Maryland, according to online records. He’s coming off a foot injury, but could develop into a strong option for the team down low. And according to Jon Rothstein, the coaching staff is high on Scott, who’s made a strong impression so far and looks like at least a solid rotation piece.

The mission

Coming into the season with such high expectations, the mission for Maryland is to live up to them. At Maryland, Turgeon hasn’t led his team to an Elite Eight, a Big Ten title game or a top-three seed in the NCAA Tournament, and a successful season probably includes one, if not more, of those things. Making the program’s first Final Four since 2002 won’t be easy, but that’s surely a goal this team has in mind.

Results in recent years may have met the standards of another school, but this program is capable of more, and fans expect more. The 2019-20 team could just be the one that shows whether Turgeon is capable of bringing Maryland basketball back into another golden era.