News 4 days ago

Terps out of fumes in tired end

Cumberland Times-News — Mike Burke Cumberland Times-News, Md.

March 19--When opportunity knocks for University of Maryland men's basketball, fear of failure inevitably sits in the air like bad cigarette smoke.

Admit it, wherever you were two Friday afternoons ago, if you are a Maryland fan, you found yourself thinking or saying to somebody that the opportunity was rife for failure when the Terps would take on Northwestern that evening in the Big Ten quarterfinals just nine miles down the road from their home in Washington's Verizon Center. And once more, in essentially turning its nose to a gift-wrapped homecourt advantage for the tournament, the Terps piddled it away as Terps teams before them have done the few times the ACC agreed to hold its tournament in Maryland's backyard.

It is remarkable how even a new and exciting team, that exceeded everybody's expectations this season, can follow suit on its basketball program's legacy of disappointment, and lay such a big fat doughnut hole of an egg the way it did two Fridays ago in what was a quite winnable game against a very hot opponent.

That, of course, was merely a prelude to the disappointment to come, which came on Thursday night in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, when the Terps bellied up to Xavier, again looking a gift-horse of a No. 6 seed directly in the mouth.

(Speaking of wrongful seeding, ask the folks at Villanova if they don't think the mopes on the selection committee grossly under-seeded Wisconsin ...)

With this team, though, who's to say? Perhaps if the Big Ten had played its tournament on Purdue's homecourt, Maryland would have diced through the opposition as it pretty much did in road games throughout the reguar season, having gone 7-2 in Big Ten road games and 5-4 at home.

Just as there is rarely a way to determine what the Terps are doing with their offense, there is no way to determine why, other than in their 63-60 home win over Michigan State, they seemed so mentally and emotionally disjointed before their largest and most supportive home crowds. One would think it would play the other way around, but this team was so confouding in that it played against all logic or common sense.

For instance, did anybody here really believe in November that this young Maryland team would finish the season in the NCAA Tournament with a 24-9 record? The NCAA part was a reasonable hope, but 24 wins?

Conversely, when the Terps were sitting at a school-record 20-2 on Jan. 31, did anybody really believe they would lose seven of their last 11 games, and appear to be only mildly interested in being there through many of them?

Particularly in the home losses to Minnesota and Iowa the Terps gave the appearance that they had just remembered they left the bathtub water running. Because, frankly, they didn't appear to be very interested in what they were doing in either loss.

In part, we could explain the 24 wins by calling the Big Ten just what it was this season -- not very good, which did work in Maryland's favor. Yet the Terps did have good wins early against eventual NCAA-tournament teams Richmond, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. What we believed would be a quality win over Georgetown turned into what used to be a Georgetown win over St. Leo, given how the Hoyas situation proceeded to go beyond unseemly.

Maryland did and does play good defense under Coach Mark Turgeon, and though there never seems to be rhyme nor reason to anything they do offensively, the bottom fell out on the Terps when Michal Cekovsky went down and out for the season in the 71-60 loss at Wisconsin.

Cekovsky, a 7-foot-1 junior from Slovakia, played in 17 games this season with a career-high 7.6 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. He had 10 points against Wisconsin before leaving the game with less than four minutes left. He had set a career-high with 18 points and matched a career-best eight rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench on Nov. 26 against Kansas State.

Cekovsky was Maryland's only inside offensive threat in dividing time with Damonte Dodd and Ivan Bender. Bender has pretty good hands, a decent touch and some form of an offensive game. In all other areas his game resembles that of former CONTROL agent Hymie the Robot.

Dodd's forte was inside defense. His weakness is having a basketball in hands. Thus, Maryland had very little offense as well as five less fouls to give from the post in the final six games -- four of which they lost.

Then there are the freshmen -- guards Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter, and forward Justin Jackson. All three were season-long starters and all three provided Maryland with excellent seasons as well as great promise for what could be. Somewhere after the 20-game mark, though, they became exactly what they are -- freshmen.

Huerter would leave witness protection after a few games and contributed down the stretch. It's not that Cowan and Jackson didn't contribute, but they made less and less impact as January turned to February and February became March.

Then, of course, there is junior guard Melo Trimble, around whom the entire drink is stirred. Trimble again turned in a fine season and provided Maryland with great moments and performances. Yet his role never seemed to be clearly defined. Obviously it was, yet there were too many games this season when it appeared he had too little to do with things.

Whether or not Trimble leaves Maryland for the NBA remains to be seen. He does things and makes plays off the dribble that you rarely see. Yet from this vantage point, it doesn't appear that anything he does is a fit for the NBA game.

Clearly, this vantage point has been clouded before, but the feeling here is Trimble should follow the pleas of his faithful flock and stay in College Park for his senior season. With the returning nucleus of this team, and with the talent Turgeon continues to bring to College Park, the possibilities could be endless.

Maryland basketball appears to be on the doorstep of the most opportune period of Turgeon's time in College Park. It will be interesting to see if the Terps in the coming seasons will be better equipped and more willing to embrace it.


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