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3 takeaways after Maryland men’s basketball season ends in the second round of the NCAA tournament

Alabama made 16 three-pointers for the game and lead by as much as 23, while the Terps' had no answer for the Tides' long-range shots.

INDIANAPOLIS — Mark Turgeon has been a college basketball head coach for 23 seasons. He’s fielded two teams that have reached the Sweet Sixteen and another in 2019 that was widely considered capable of appearing in the Final Four before the NCAA tournament was canceled.

Lifelong bonds and memories are created in any environment in which you devote as much time as Turgeon and his Maryland team have over the past eight months. But it’s this year’s group, a mismatched roster that was knocked out in the second round, that Turgeon said he will be especially fond of as time passes.

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“I think this team’s going to be remembered for just unbelievable grit, unbelievable fight, unbelievable sacrifice,” he said Monday night.

Here are three takeaways after the Maryland men’s basketball team’s season ended with a 96-77 loss to Alabama in the Round of 32:

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Maryland’s roster flaws were painfully exposed in the final game of the season.

As Maryland’s second-round game quickly got out of hand, with the Crimson Tide’s lead ballooning to 23 early in the second half, the Terps looked helpless. A thin rotation that was too tired couldn’t match its opponent shot for shot.

There was a bit of cruel irony to the manner in which Maryland’s season ended at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Throughout the season, the Terps’ morphed their style of play to a small-ball approach that took advantage of their players’ athleticism and required a defensive effort — devoid of a shot-blocking big man — to be relentless in its man-to-man defense and switches.

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The pivot masked clear deficiencies on the roster: the absence of a true center or point guard and a bench with few options. The changes were good enough for Maryland to overcome a 1-5 start in its Big Ten Conference schedule and remain competitive in a league with some of the best big men in the country, culminating in a win over Connecticut in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

However, the Crimson Tide aren’t built like a typical Big Ten team and were able to knock out the Terps with a sort of blitzkrieg they’ve rarely experienced this season.

As Alabama players made 3s, blew by Maryland defenders and coach Nate Oats brought in substitutes without skipping a beat — while the Terps’ short-lived lead evaporated as soon as Turgeon brought in all three of subs at the same time — the roster shortcomings couldn’t have been more clear.

Maryland's Hakim Hart is defended by Connecticut's James Bouknight during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA tournament Saturday at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.
Maryland's Hakim Hart is defended by Connecticut's James Bouknight during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA tournament Saturday at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind. (Robert Franklin / AP)

Turgeon might have maximized his 2020 team, but he has to raise the ceiling of next season’s squad.

After Maryland’s win over UConn, Turgeon said his team “overachieved.” And for much of his close to 30-minute postgame news conference Monday night, he shared similar sentiments.

“I think we maximized this team extremely well,” Turgeon said. “And that’s what I told them. I said you guys need to walk out of this building with your head up and proud of what you accomplished because a lot of teams would kill to be where we were.”

Said senior guard Darryl Morsell: “Coach Turgeon did a phenomenal job this year, with this group of guys. He made us better. And he brought the best out of every single one of us. And that’s all I’m going to always remember about this team.”

Both statements can be true, but with Maryland entering the offseason after another early exit, it’s fair to turn full attention to the construction of a roster that struggled to maintain consistency on offense and had to rely so much on its defense for much of the season.

From 2014 to 2020, the Terps have had an all-conference-level point guard, whether that be Melo Trimble or Anthony Cowan Jr. Freshmen Marcus Dockery and Aquan Smart weren’t expected to carry the mantle of those two great guards in their first season, but both players were fazed out of the rotation by February. This forced Hakim Hart into point-guard duties, which he handled well at times but wasn’t why he was brought to College Park.

The same situation played out in the frontcourt; transfers over the past year and a failure to land a suitable replacement for NBA lottery pick Jalen Smith brought 6-foot-7 forward Donta Scott to the center position, where he competed admirably with the Luka Garzas and Kofi Cockburns of the world but played out of position all season.

These issues were magnified on a team that had just one scoring option off the bench in junior forward Jairus Hamilton, himself a transfer from Boston College.

Turgeon has acknowledged that he had to make less-than-desirable changes this season. He and his staff also seem to be in the works of trying to rectify the mistakes; Maryland is reportedly pursuing several 2021 recruits with its final open scholarship and has reached out to transfers seeking a new home.

The presence of the transfer portal makes turnover in college athletics inevitable, and Maryland is no exception. The Terps might not experience the exodus of last season, when five transfers departed for different schools, but it would be no surprise to see a player or two who spent the season on the bench search for a better opportunity while Turgeon and his staff retool and try to add more pieces.

Morsell could return for a fifth year of eligibility, which would be a tremendous boost to a team that took on the toughness and grit of the Baltimore native and Mount Saint Joseph graduate. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that junior guard Aaron Wiggins, who played his best basketball over the final month of the season, takes a peek at his pro prospects.

Regardless of who returns, Turgeon has a lot of work to do in the coming months.

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon sits on the bench as his team plays against Michigan State during a game at the Big Ten Conference tournament in Indianapolis on March 11, 2021.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon sits on the bench as his team plays against Michigan State during a game at the Big Ten Conference tournament in Indianapolis on March 11, 2021. (Michael Conroy)

In an offseason that could include more significant turnover, Turgeon’s future will take center stage.

After a 2015-16 season in which the Terps advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2003, then-athletic director Kevin Anderson rewarded Turgeon, who had three years left on his contract, with a four-year extension through the 2022-23 season.

As Turgeon heads into his 11th season in College Park, just two years remain on that extension. Current athletic director Damon Evans has received questions on Turgeon’s future in several radio show appearances during the season. In each one, Evans was noncommittal on either side, saying that the topic would be addressed at the correct time.

Now appears to be that time. Another extension would be a show of support for Turgeon, but a polarizing move for a coach that has only advanced his team to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament once. The decision to not extend him could also impact the program and recruiting for prospects who perceive Turgeon’s contract situation to be a sign of instability. Not to mention it would make for a potential lame-duck situation with Turgeon.

However the athletic department decides to act, a swift resolution is necessary.

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