Maryland was the biggest bust of the college basketball season, by far

There’s no shame in Maryland losing its Sweet 16 matchup to Kansas, a team on a 17-game winning streak and the top overall seed in the 2016 NCAA tournament. True, the Terps didn’t take advantage of a poor KU first half and went to halftime down two instead of up eight like they should have been. And it would have been nice to not completely collapse down the stretch, when they had the ball three time down seven points and failed to convert once, a drought that allowed Kansas to quickly put the game away.

No, the story of Maryland’s season wasn’t written on a court in Louisville against a good, but not great, Kansas team. It was written in the late-season swoon that put them on that floor, seeded fifth and playing the top team in the country one round too early. From a title favorite at the start the year to the No. 2 team in the country one month before the tournament to a team making a meek weeknight tournament exit, the Maryland Terrapins were the bust of the NCAA basketball season.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

There was much hype in the D.C. area when ESPN ranked Maryland No. 1 in the preseason, thus revving College Park and Terps fans into a frenzy. The Terps opened the year No. 3 in the AP poll and spent three weeks at No. 2, including as recently as Valentine’s Day. With the season winding down, there was every reason to think "Fear the Turtle" could be a Final Four catchphrase once again.

And then it all fell apart. On Feb. 12, Maryland was 22-3 with a No. 1 seed in play. Then Mark Turgeon’s team lost four of six to close the regular season, including a seed-killing loss to No. 222 Minnesota. They went 1-1 in the Big Ten tournament, neither hurting nor improving their seed. So it was that one month after being the second-ranked team in the country, Maryland got a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. 

(Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images)

What happened? It was a combination of things: Freshman star Diamond Stone grew fatigued down the stretch, averaging 10 points against ranked teams. Melo Trimble, the Terrapins’ star, was as brilliant as he was erratic. (In his last two games against ranked teams, he was 2 for 14 from beyond the arc.) Mark Turgeon seemed to make the wrong adjustments more than the right ones, as the second half on Thursday night demonstrated. Overall though, this was a team that had wins that looked impressive at the time (UConn, Wisconsin, Georgetown) only to be rendered mediocre after those teams disappointed. The Terps’ best wins were over Purdue (No. 5 seed, first-round exit), Iowa (No. 7 seed, second-round exit) and Wisconsin, a team that was 9-7 en route to 9-8 at the time, but recovered nicely down the stretch. Maybe Maryland was never all that good?

The loss continues a somewhat historic streak (the wrong kind) for the Terps, who are in the midst of one of the worst stretches ever for a team that’s won a 64-team tournament. Since winning it all 14 years ago (a run that included a win over KU in the Final Four), Maryland has made the tournament only seven times. In those tournaments they have just two Sweet 16 appearances, including this year, posting a 9-7 record overall. 

Juan Dixon and Maryland, in happier times. (Doug Pensinger/ Getty Images)

In the 14 years after their title, Arkansas was 10-9 with two Sweet 16s, but one Final Four. You have to go back to the 1990 UNLV squad (a team that had its coach forced out two years later) and the surprise 1985 champion Villanova to find teams that were worse after winning titles.

Turgeon has righted the ship in College Park. Things are going in the right direction. But this year, the Terps were a victim of high expectations, not of their own making. But if Trimble, a sophomore, and Stone, a highly-touted freshman who was just OK this year, return to school, then Maryland doubtlessly will be a top-five team next year and, who knows, maybe they’ll live up to the hype.

(Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images)