Reporting David Elfin
Maryland basketball fans are spoiled. It has been so long since the Terps were losers – 19 years to be exact – that there’s some handwringing going on in College Park because Maryland had to hold on to beat Cornell 70-62 on Tuesday in its final pre-ACC tuneup.
Lighten up people! The Terps are 10-3 and have won seven straight. Admittedly, other than Notre Dame, against whom the streak started, Maryland’s victims haven’t exactly been Murderer’s Row, but Mount St. Mary’s did defeat AU and Florida International did beat George Mason.
Don’t forget that new coach Mark Turgeon inherited a pretty bare cupboard when he took over in May after longtime coach Gary Williams’ surprising retirement that followed 2010-11 focal point Jordan Williams’ unexpectedly early departure for the NBA.
Before point guard Pe’Shon Howard returned from a broken foot and Ukrainian big man Alex Len became eligible in late December, Turgeon’s Terps had just seven scholarship players.
Sunday’s ACC opener at NC State (11-4), which has upset Texas and played No. 1 Syracuse, No. 18 Vanderbilt and Indiana tough, could be rough. But then come home games against Georgia Tech (7-7) and Wake Forest (9-5) before Maryland really gets into the heart of its conference schedule against the likes of No. 3 North Carolina, No. 5 Duke, No. 21 Virginia and Florida State.
If the Terps beat the Yellow Jackets and Demon Deacons, they’ll have twice as many ACC victories as they recorded during their two down years under Williams’ predecessor, Bob Wade, and they’ll have matched the total of Williams’ nearly as poor 1992-93 campaign.
I’m not saying that Turgeon is going to lead Maryland back to the NCAA Tournament or even win ACC Coach of the Year honors, but the former Texas A&M bench boss is doing a fine job even though sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin (21.2 points per game) and freshman center Len (14.0, 8.0 rebounds) are the Terps’ only serious talents.
Maryland doesn’t shoot that well from the field (.444) or the foul line (.649) and turns the ball over too often (13.2 per game), but Turgeon has a squad with seven freshmen and sophomores (not counting the walk-ons) playing hard and playing together much in the manner of a Williams team.
The fiery Williams motivated the Terps to 14 NCAA Tournaments from 1994-2010, including seven trips to the Sweet 16, two Final Four berths and the 2002 national championship, the only title in school history. Only legends Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and Dean Smith of North Carolina won more ACC games than Williams, who averaged a 10-6 finish in the conference during his final 15 seasons in College Park despite almost always being the underdog to the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels.
Turgeon overcame similar circumstances at Texas A&M, becoming the only coach in Big 12 history to win at least 24 games in each of his four seasons and leading the Aggies to four straight NCAA appearances in a conference that included Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma.
Turgeon’s Terps are young and not very deep, but in a seemingly down year for the ACC — Duke lost to Temple on Wednesday and Florida State fell to Harvard in December – they could sweep Georgia Tech, and beat Wake, Boston College and Miami at home.
Given what he faced when he was hired, a 15-15 overall regular season record and a 5-11 mark in the ACC would be a successful start for Turgeon, one similar to Lefty Driesell’s 1969-70 start to his terrific 17-year run that established Maryland basketball as a force.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.