While the odds of Maryland’s men’s hoops team repeating the women’s feat of winning the ACC Tournament are about as long as those of Ron Paul capturing the Republican presidential nomination, the Terps are favored to beat Wake Forest in today’s opener.
And that would be an accomplishment for rookie coach Mark Turgeon and his thin, inexperienced squad who never figured to have a 16-14 record with just eight healthy scholarship players, five of whom are freshmen or sophomores.
Maryland’s glorious moments under Turgeon’s predecessor Gary Williams, topped by the first trip to the Final Four in 2001 and the program’s only national championship the following spring, have overshadowed the Terps’ struggles in March since John Gilchrist led a sixth-seeded team to a shocking ACC title in 2004.
Williams and Co. were just 4-7 in the fabled conference tournament over the seven subsequent seasons, winning openers as the sixth seed in 2006 and the seventh seed in 2011 and taking two games before pushing Duke to the limit in 2009. However, Maryland also lost its debut as the favorite in 2005 at then-MCI Center, in 2007 and 2008, and, most egregiously, as the second seed in 2010.
In short, the Terps have almost always been a bust or a non-factor in the ACC come tournament time since their current freshmen were in fifth grade and Turgeon had just climbed over the .500 mark for his career in his sixth season as a college head coach.
If Maryland prevails today to guarantee a 19th straight winning season, its reward will be a quarterfinal matchup tomorrow against top-seeded and third-ranked North Carolina, which crushed the visitors 88-64 just eight days ago. That came 25 days after the host Terps led the Tar Heels by nine points early in the second half before fading and losing 83-74.
Maryland did get by Wake 70-64 on Jan. 11 at Comcast Center for its first ACC victory as sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin, who would lead the ACC in scoring, and senior guard Sean Mosley combined for 35 points.
While Mosley has been a rock for Turgeon, on and off the court, the free-spirited Stoglin has certainly added to the growing gray in the coach’s hair with his 498 shots – more than twice as many as teammate has attempted.
Freshman center Alex Len is a 7-foot-1 package of potential who disappears for way-too-long stretches during games and needs to really bulk up during the offseason to hold his own in the paint next year.
With Pe’Shon Howard hurt, freshman Nick Faust has been forced to start at point guard where he has more turnovers than assists and joins Stoglin, Mosley and Howard as a wayward shooter. In fact, junior James Padgett and fellow big men Berend Weijs and Ashton Pankey are the only Terps who make even 43 percent of their attempts from the field.
Fortunately for Turgeon, Maryland’s opponents have been similarly woeful, allowing the Terps to win six ACC games and only get blown out four times – once each by the tournament’s top four seeds: Carolina, Duke, Florida State and Virginia — since a shaky November.
This will be the 11th ACC tournament played outside of the Tar Heel State since it first left there back in 1976. Only two of those 10 championships were won by non-North Carolina teams (Virginia in 1976 at the Capital Centre and Georgia Tech in a virtual home game at the Omni in 1985), but that’s a higher percentage than the four-of-26 success rate in Greensboro or Charlotte.
So this week’s Georgia Dome location should give Florida State and Virginia hope that one of them can follow the 2004 Terps as the only team to break the Duke-Carolina ACC Tournament stranglehold that dates to 1997.
As for Maryland, beating Wake today and putting up a decent fight tomorrow against the Tar Heels is all a Terps fan can ask. That and an NIT berth, something that eluded last year’s more talented squad. And then Turgeon and his staff can hit the recruiting trail hard to help ensure that just making the ACC Tournament quarterfinals won’t again make for a satisfying season in College Park.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. 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 the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March.