The Terps; what can I say about this young talented team? They’re clearly the best in the Big Ten… but that’s besides the point. This is, by a long shot, the best Maryland team we’ve seen since they won “March Madness” in 2002!
Although the program has seen teams that have played at an acceptable level in recent years such as the Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone led team, they haven’t reached the athletic ability that the Anthony Cowan Jr. led team has exhibited. This is not only because of the talent and depth on the table, but also the coaching has improved drastically.
Last season Mark Turgeon was a disappointment with poor decisions on and off the court. There were small signs of improvement towards the end of the season, like when Maryland upset Purdue in a big win for the program. But in other situations he hurt the team, such as the technical foul he got in the conference tournament last year to Nebraska, which destroyed any chance of a comeback. Not knowing what to do and not knowing who to play was the main reason for the mediocre season from him and the team.
After Bruno Fernando declared for the NBA draft, the team was left on Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith’s shoulders. The Terps were given a high rank of No. 7 before preseason, and after seeing how they have been playing this season, they were well deserving of this rank.
In their recent games, they have shown their great capabilities on the defensive side of the ball – and a large part of this is because of Mark Turgeon’s coaching. So far, he is the only coach who has been able to lock down Marquette’s team led by Markus Howard. This season, Howard, who has been averaging 26 ppg (the most in the NCAA), was shut down to 6 points when he played Maryland, with the Junior, Daryll Morsell, locking him up most of the game. After winning the Orlando Invitational, in which they won all games by seven or more, they beat Temple, Harvard and then a great Marquette team! All was topped off by Anthony Cowan winning the tournament MVP, having a career high of 30 points against Temple!
Maryland has amazing depth; so much so that Turgeon has the ability to start nine different players depending on the night. This depth is the reason for the great second half performances; where they have outscored their opponents every night. This is also the reason for huge comebacks by Maryland like in their game against Temple.
Now comes the question: what about the rest of the Big Ten?
First off, Michigan State, the number one team going into the season, lost their opening night game to Kentucky, only by a couple points. After this, Michigan State went to the Maui Invitational and lost in the first round to Virginia Tech, which was a huge surprise. They played Duke last night at home, and lost, which also set them back. Unfortunately for MSU, it was a blow out from the start. Their three losses – compared to Maryland who has none – is not so great no matter how highly touted they were going into the year. Their poor start could be due to the loss of Zachary Winston, Cassius Winston’s brother. The death of Zachary has unfortunately impacted not only Cassius – their best player and leader – but the rest of the team as well.
Then, there is Michigan, the team who had the hot hand. They were on fire beating two top 10 teams, and jumping from an unranked spot all the way to No. 4 in the nation. After these wins, they played No. 1 Louisville, in a low scoring game where Louisville bested Michigan. Michigan made only 25% of their shots from the field. This was a very underwhelming performance for such a talked about team going into the game.
Finally, Ohio State, who started the year at the eighteenth spot and haven’t looked back yet. With a key win over No. 10 Villanova, they’ve seemed unstoppable so far this season. The undefeated Buckeyes took down UNC in Chapel Hill, and will likely keep rolling. A notable game for the Buckeyes is Kentucky later in the month, which will be a great test. Even still, there are many reasons that this Maryland team is the better; most notably the Terps’ depth and coaching. A strength of Ohio state is their depth as well, but Maryland prevails having some of the best backup players in college basketball.
Where the Terps need to improve:
There’s only one bad thing that comes to mind when talking about this Terps team, and it’s that they have trouble getting off to an early lead (which is usually taken care of by their elite bench squad). There were signs of improvement of their early game determination when they lead at halftime in the last game against Marquette. The first half of that game is where they played their best basketball. They were able to move the ball around with ease and make smart shots.
Overall, this Maryland team is amazing and the best in the Big Ten – if I had to make the decision. This is due to the massive program-wide improvements, including the coaching, depth, and their overall talent. If they can become more consistent with their early first half play, they can even win it all for their second “March Madness” win ever!
(Photo Credit: NCAA)