In the five years Maryland has played in the Big Ten, the men’s basketball team has typically fared better when it was picked lower in preseason polls.
If the unofficial poll of 28 media representatives compiled by Brendan Quinn of The Athletic is an indication, it could be a pretty good year for the Terps.
Coming off a disappointing 19-13 season in which Maryland failed to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years, Mark Turgeon’s team was picked Wednesday to finish seventh in the 14-team Big Ten.
The reality of the voting is 10 of the 28 voters had the Terps either sixth (5) or seventh (5). They were voted as high as third in the eyes of three voters and as low as 11th, according to Lansing State Journal columnist Graham Couch.
According to Quinn, Maryland is predicted between fourth and 11th in the media poll. History says the former is more likely. The Terps averaged 12.7 wins and didn’t finish lower than fourth in their first three years in the Big Ten. Turgeon had nothing but success in the league before last year’s 8-10 finish. Maybe the safe bet is to cast aside 2017-18 as an aberration.
From where I’m sitting, though, this feels like a situation swinging the other way. Anthony Cowan Jr., Bruno Fernando and Darryl Morsell represent a talented trio, but it’s a trio back from a team that I often saw as being inherently flawed a year ago. There was something off about that team, and I’m not so sure one offseason and a highly touted incoming freshman class will change that.
Also, Kevin Huerter, one of the few bright spots last season, is now on the Atlanta Hawks. There’s also the matter of some surrounding fog around the Maryland program. The Terps should be wary of the unmarked van parked in front of Xfinity Center. The FBI might be listening.
The Baltimore Sun did not vote in the unofficial poll this year, but many seem to be overlooking the fact that Cowan was third-team All-Big Ten and on the league’s All-Defensive team last season, while Fernando was on the league’s All-Freshmen team and played the early portion of the season on a pair of sprained ankles.
The arrival of the nation’s No. 10 high school player in Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) was virtually ignored by the voters, all of whom picked Indiana’s Romeo Langford to be the Freshman of the Year, as was the fact that Maryland had the highest rated recruiting class (No. 7 nationally) of any Big Ten team.
While there is a clear separation from the top seven teams in the league and the bottom seven — Maryland received 240 votes at No. 7, while Ohio State garnered just 177 at No. 8 — the Terps seem to be well behind the top tier teams such as Michigan State (386), Michigan (360), Indiana (305) and Nebraska (293).
The Terps are closer to Purdue (269), which lost four starters from a Sweet 16 team but will be counting on junior guard Carsen Edwards, who was an overwhelming Player of the Year choice (23 of 28 votes), to keep the Boilermakers relevant. Even Wisconsin (260), which finished right behind the Terps last year and beat them in the Big Ten tournament, is picked one spot ahead of Maryland even though the Badgers will again rely heavily on fifth-year senior Ethan Happ.
Much like his predecessor, Turgeon enjoys when he believes the media is disrespecting his team. The most uncomfortable Turgeon has been made to feel at Maryland, before last season, was when the Terps were picked to win the Big Ten in 2015-16 and wound up tied for third. This could be one of those years that Maryland is a lot better than where it was picked. If not, it could be a long, cold winter in College Park for the team’s already embattled coach.