Maryland men’s basketball’s Big Ten opener marks the beginning of a new, strange season

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Plenty has gone wrong this season. And plenty more can go wrong as the Big Ten schedule begins.

Nothing Maryland men’s basketball has shown on the court through eight games should warrant panic, but there’s certainly enough bad to justify moderate concern. Add Mark Turgeon’s departure as head coach, and there might be just enough dysfunction off the court to entirely derail any opportunity to salvage the season. 

The Terps already had plenty to figure out when they came to carving out roles for its newcomers. Six of the nine players in Maryland’s rotation are brand new, and the collective unfamiliarity of the idiosyncrasies of Maryland basketball were far too bold on the court and the stat sheet. But the uninspired half court sets, high turnover mark and perhaps the historically bad three-point percentage, have ripe potential for improvement. Most of it is a matter of chemistry and time. 

Depending on how well interim head coach Danny Manning and the rest of his coaching staff are at steadying the ship, this season’s start could get significantly worse or the beginnings of something more promising could reveal itself as the Big Ten season begins. 

“We are fortunate that Coach Turgeon has surrounded himself with an outstanding group of coaches,” Maryland Athletic Director Damon Evans said in a press release. “Coach Manning has been a head coach at the highest level and we have the utmost confidence in his abilities to lead this program.”

This year’s Big Ten opener takes on an added significance. It marks the beginning of a brand new season. It’ll test the flexibility of the coaching staff, who lost a valuable young asset in James Graham III and Turgeon in the same week. It will also test the resilience of a veteran squad wading in unfamiliar, and likely emotional, territory. 

But this is a Terp team with competitive ambitions. The off-court misgivings shouldn’t preclude Maryland from at least surviving the Big Ten and making the NCAA Tournament as it did last year — the pieces are there. 

This is a squad that began the season ranked as the No. 21 team in the nation with heralded additions to the roster and award watchlist recognitions to boot. 

Eric Ayala and Fatts Russell can be a formidable backcourt duo, Qudus Wahab can forge a reasonable role for himself — especially under the tutelage of a big-man whisperer of Manning’s acumen — and Maryland can still find its identity this year while in search of its new head coach. It just needs time and proper grooming.

The clock starts against Northwestern on Sunday.

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