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NIT snub might be better for Maryland, Turgeon than NIT flub

The bashing of Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon and his team probably won’t end with Sunday’s snub from the National Invitation Tournament.

Those unhappy with the way the 19-13 Terps faded down the stretch for the second straight season will keep voicing their displeasure about the fact that Turgeon has five years left on his contract at $2.7 million annually — with no buyout.

Those who look at the fact that this is the first time in four years that Maryland is not playing in the NCAA tournament, with a potential top-five recruiting class on its way to College Park, will keep defending the job Turgeon has done and look toward a brighter future.

But here is something to consider: It’s probably best for all parties that the Terps are done until they start practicing this summer in preparation for their trip to Italy in early August. It should make his returning players a little hungrier, and it should give Turgeon more time to retool his roster.

In reality, the NIT was a no-win situation for Turgeon and his team.

Not getting into the 32-team, second-tier tournament might be better for the suddenly embattled coach than losing a first- or second-round game on the road, which, given the way the Terps struggled this season away from Xfinity Center, was certainly going to happen.

A team that had one two-game winning streak in the past 2½ months was not suddenly going to reel off three, four or five straight victories. While the extra practices and a few more games might have helped the team’s freshmen, it wasn’t going to do that much for anyone else.

Turgeon now can concentrate on solidifying his rotation for next season, starting with trying to convince freshman center Bruno Fernando how it’s in his best interest to return for at least another year. He appears to have an outside shot at getting sophomore forward Justin Jackson back, too.

Perhaps the most important thing Turgeon needs to do in the coming weeks is getting sophomore point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. to understand that he needs to play differently next season for the Terps to be successful.

Cowan had a terrific season, improved in almost every area and was very deserving to be named third-team All-Big Ten. But just as Melo Trimble struggled at times to find the right balance between scoring himself and trusting his teammates to score, so did Cowan.

The combination of Cowan and fellow sophomore guard Kevin Huerter could be the best backcourt in the Big Ten next season. But the offense has to run more through Huerter than it did this season, which means some sacrifice on Cowan’s part.

It will also be interesting to see whether Turgeon makes any changes on his coaching staff, which he did the last time the Terps failed to play in a postseason tournament. As loyal as Turgeon appears to be toward his staff, he has to realize how critical next season has already become.

Since there is no permanent athletic director pushing Turgeon — and with AD-in-exile Kevin Anderson’s “professional development sabbatical” nearing its end in the next month — this will have to be Turgeon’s call. It won’t be easy, but something he must seriously consider doing.

There’s also the cloud of the messy situation with former Terp Diamond Stone hovering overhead. Two weeks into the university’s self-review into how Stone allegedly was paid more than $14,000 by agent Andy Miller, there is still no closure.

The quicker acting athletic director Damon Evans announces that there were no improprieties by Turgeon or his assistants — which Turgeon said quite forcefully at a postgame news conference Feb. 24 was the case — the faster the Terps can plan for the future.

The NCAA tournament begins this week with UMBC as the only local entry in the 68-team field.

The NIT begins this week without Maryland.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Turgeon or his team.

 

 

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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