Don’t do it, Maryland fans.
Don’t lie to yourselves about your favorite team’s act of self-sabotage Thursday, the night the Terrapins suffered a 68-63 loss at Minnesota -- one of the worst teams in college basketball. A team that lost its first 13 Big Ten games. A team that lost to South Dakota State and South Dakota on the same Williams Arena floor that buckled as Gophers fans stormed the court to support Richard Pitino’s first Big Ten victory of 2015-16. A team that dismissed its fourth-leading scorer, senior Carlos Morris, earlier this week.
Don’t ingest the soothing words Mark Turgeon might offer in the wake of the worst Maryland loss of the season. And don’t blame this on the absence of Diamond Stone, the suspended future pro who missed this game after he dropped a Ronda Rousey-like face smash on Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown over the weekend.
Maryland failed, and it’s on the Terps now to show everyone that Thursday was just a bad night. That’s why we’re here, because we’re not sure they will. It’s easier to doubt everything we once believed about Maryland. Wonder if this Terps team will exit the tourney early and watch the Sweet 16 with the rest of us.
The Terps don’t deserve consideration for a top seed now. And the Terps don’t belong in the middle of your bracket because, it seems, they’re just the same ol' Terps.
The same program that hasn’t reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament since 2003. The same squad that has engineered postseason dreams and prematurely detonated most of them for the past decade. The heartbreakers. College basketball’s David Blaine: a walking illusion.
Everything about 2015-16 said the storyline would change. Turgeon added Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon. Turgeon won the Stone sweepstakes. Melo Trimble (3-for-11 on Thursday) returned. Jake Layman too.
Last week, the Terps were at 10-2 in the Big Ten. Then Wisconsin won its second road game in 22 tries against a top-two opponent – Maryland entered the game ranked No. 2 – when it traveled to College Park and secured a key victory on Saturday. Still, that unpleasant 40 minutes didn’t lead to any exaggerated projections because Wisconsin was on a hot streak.
But Thursday? Well, that was just an inconsistent Terrapins team that assumed it had won the game before it had started, and once the Terps had recognized the Fighting Richards would compete, Maryland ran.
Ran from the moment. Ran from the expectations.
Perhaps the Terps cannot handle the Final Four chatter or the weight that comes with it. Perhaps they’re overwhelmed by this. All of this.
Perhaps, sometime in March, they’ll collapse and prove the doubters right. Again.
The Terps own a roster most coaches would covet. They’re backed by size, experience and a couple of dynamic guards, Trimble and Sulaimon, who would start for most of the nation’s elite teams. Yet they’ve lacked the dominant performances that national champions often present as examples of their wealth.
Maryland’s overtime win over Northwestern (Jan. 19), the close call at Nebraska (Feb. 3) and Thursday’s loss in Minneapolis portend just a brief stay in March. Yeah, everyone loses on the road, especially this season. But true national title threats don’t lose to a 7-19 squad on the road.
Maryland might prove this entire theory wrong in the coming weeks. Yes, the Terps can still win the Big Ten title. And they have time to enhance their résumé with upcoming games at Purdue and Indiana. Plus, Thursday might be an anomaly, just the result of a desperate Minnesota team that played its best against a shorthanded Big Ten title contender. Maybe Stone’s absence disrupted the mojo. Maybe they’re just tired.
And maybe you’re just lying to yourself.
The Terps must realize a rough finish in Big Ten play and an early exit in March will be called a failure by most. Thursday’s loss won’t entice anyone to consider a different outcome. Some Terps haters and critics were once believers. But where would their faith come from these days?
Last season, Maryland surprised many with its success. When Trimble returned and the transfers and elite recruits arrived during the offseason, we all thought we knew what was coming in College Park.
But Thursday’s loss makes us wonder how soon after Selection Sunday they’ll be going.