COLUMBUS, OHIO — For those Maryland fans whose glasses are half-empty, here’s a little recent history: The 2014-15 team that became Mark Turgeon’s first in College Park to go to the NCAA tournament suffered three double-digit Big Ten losses in January and early February, including a 24-point loss here at Ohio State.
For those Terp fans whose glasses are half-full, here’s a little dose of reality: Given the injuries that have depleted Maryland’s frontcourt depth and the relative inexperience of many being relied on, what transpired at Value City Arena on Thursday does not inspire much optimism about Turgeon’s team making the NCAA tournament.
For those who have a full complement of glassware with varying amounts filling it, here’s a down-the-middle prediction: As Turgeon stated last week, the Terps have little margin for error, whether that means getting hurt, getting sick or simply getting better. The margin is becoming smaller by the minute.
Here are some observations and opinions from Maryland’s 91-69 loss to the Buckeyes:
The value of Bruno Fernando can’t be understated.
The Terps got away early in Thursday’s game with the 6-10 freshman center not doing much except taking up space. But as the game went on, and something was clearly amiss with Fernando, Maryland quickly watched an early seven-point lead turn into a deficit and eventually into a blowout..
Just as Fernando’s early foul trouble in last week’s 30-point loss at Michigan State led to the Terps going from being competitive to being run over, his lack of energy from being sick the past few days contributed to Ohio State’s 22-4 run to close the first half and the 23-9 run to start the second half.
As much as the Buckeyes built their lead by burying a bunch of 3-point shots, the Terps had to go away from their game plan of taking advantage of a significant size difference because Fernando wasn’t himself. It also didn’t help that he wasn’t able to clean up the misses when others drove, as he had done so well against Iowa.
Senior Michal Cekovsky, who hit five straight shots to help Maryland twice build a seven-point lead early, did his best to keep the Terps competitive and finished with a career-high 18 points. But Fernando’s two-point, three-rebound performance hurt Maryland badly.
The zone defense Maryland threw at Ohio State early in the game worked for a few minutes. Keita Bates-Diop missed his first three shots. Andrew Dakich didn’t suddenly look like the second-coming of his former Michigan teammate, Spike Albrecht.
But shortly after first-year Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann called a timeout to get his team to settle down, Bates-Diop started looking like the Big Ten player of the year candidate that he has suddenly become. He and Dakich kept burying 3s, and the Terps with them.
Sophomore guard Kevin Huerter said that Maryland can’t afford to give opponents “rhythm” jumpers, meaning the Terps were allowing Bates-Diop, Dakich and others (including former Mount Saint Joseph standout Kam Williams) to take 3s without a hand in their face.
Opponents are shooting a ridiculous 44 of 78 the past three games from 3-point range, including 17 of 29 on 3s. If the Terps are going to play some zone, which Turgeon has steadfastly refused to do throughout his coaching career, they still need to have the ability to run shooters off the 3-point line.
The hardest part of Maryland’s schedule is nearly over.
Here’s a bonus take for those half-empty types: Maryland’s three Big Ten losses have come against the top three teams in the league right now and its next game is against probably the fourth-best team in the league Monday at Michigan.
If the Terps can find a way to win two of their next three games, they will finish the first half of the league at 5-4. While the second half of the schedule starts with a home game against Michigan State and a road game at Purdue, Maryland could still go 5-4 or 6-3 the second half.
A number of teams that the Terps will face the second half have even more significant problems than Maryland.
Minnesota, which visits College Park Thursday, is also down two significant frontcourt players in center Reggie Lynch, who is off the team and facing expulsion amid multiple sexual assault allegations, and forward Amir Coffey, who is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury.
Indiana, which Maryland visits on Jan. 22, lost fast-rising forward De’ron Davis with a season-ending torn Achilles. Under first-year coach Archie Miller, the Hoosiers have been erratic at best. If teams such as Indiana State and Indiana-Fort Wayne can win in Bloomington, so can the Terps.
Northwestern, which plays the Terps twice in a nine-day span in February, have perhaps been the Big Ten’s most disappointing team. Picked to be a dark horse to challenge Michigan State after making the NCAA tournament for the first time in history and bringing nearly everyone back, the Wildcats started the Big Ten 1-3 before beating Minnesota.
The Terps also play traditional bottom-feeders Penn State, Nebraska and Rutgers.
If the memory of last year’s loss to the Nittany Lions in State College isn’t enough to fire up Turgeon’s team, it probably doesn’t deserve to be in the NCAA tournament. So should the memory of last year’s home loss to the Cornhuskers, who outscored the Terps 14-0 down the stretch to win by one.
The Scarlet Knights appear to be much improved — based on their win earlier this season over then-No. 15 Seton Hall and taking now-No. 4 Michigan State into overtime this week — but with the game being played in College Park and not Piscataway, that appears to be a W for Maryland.
Perhaps it will come down to Senior Day at home against Michigan. Though the game might not have the same emotion as sending off a Dez Wells or a Jake Layman or possibly seeing Melo Trimble playing in his final game as a junior, it could be a huge opportunity for the Terps to secure a quality win before the Big Ten tournament in New York.