Former Maryland coach Gary Williams used to complain Terrapins fans were spoiled by an 11-year NCAA Tournament run. He was right.
As Maryland ends the regular season at Virginia on Sunday, the Terps are likely NIT-bound. Barring a surprising ACC tournament run beginning Thursday, Maryland's NCAA tournament prospects are done.
Being part of March Madness is everything. Maryland's 20-10 record looks good, but it's a bad season whenever you're not joining the NCAA's top 68 teams in postseason play. This will be the third straight miss for Maryland and the longer the Terps are on the outside, the harder it will be to recruit players that restore the program's historic success.
Which brings a slowly-nagging question -- can coach Mark Turgeon lead Maryland back to national contention?
Turgeon is 37-25 overall, 14-19 in the ACC as his second season ends, slightly better than Williams fared. But for all the excuses over Turgeon inheriting little talent, Williams was soon crippled by NCAA sanctions.
Turgeon is an excellent game coach. The problem is Turgeon can't play point guard himself anymore and never found one on this roster. The team was undermined by such sloppy play that even wins sometimes felt like losses.
Come late season, there's no excuse for that. Williams' greatness was developing modest teams into contenders over the final weeks and contenders into champions. Turgeon hasn't gained any steam with this group this season, only once winning consecutive ACC games.
Don't consider Turgeon's self-criticism as missing confidence. He just admits things all coaches think. Turgeon has built winners before so it's merely frustration leaking out.
As for recruiting, Williams rarely gained the shiniest recruit out there. That was predecessor Lefty Driesell, who even lured Moses Malone to campus, if only for one day. Williams' greatness was turning good prospects into pro players. Eighteen Terps went on to the NBA under Williams, including Joe Smith as the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1995.
Turgeon has the energy to eventually land a big recruit and genuinely cares about his players, unlike some meat factories. Maryland was second choice for twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison, who chose Kentucky. But Suitland High point guard Roddy Peters, a four-star prospect, and center Damonte Dodd of Massanutten Military Academy were nice pickups, especially Peters to run the offense. Turgeon now has two Top 25 classes.
The wild card is the Terps' move to the Big Ten in 2014. That has to change Turgeon's recruiting plan. The ACC was a big lure for many players given its historic relevance. But then, youngsters don't value history as much as alumni so it probably won't matter too much. Recruits want to know much TV exposure they'll receive and the coach's NCAA tournament resume. Will this coach get them to the NBA?
Turgeon has always looked like the right choice. But, the Terps need to return to the NCAAs next year or else fans will start to wonder.