SNIDER: Fear the turtle has returned at Maryland

Rick Snider
January 15, 2019 - 10:00 am
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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

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Maryland has the makings of a Final Four team.

The No. 19 Terrapins have one of the nation’s top players in Bruno Fernando. A sure top-5 NBA pick in June. But, he's not carrying the Terps because they have a handful of good players.

They also play defense, something so unusual for coach Mark Turgeon's past teams of divas. An offense that for years just stood around the perimeter praying for a miracle is now running the ball.

And here's the craziest part – they're getting better. Maryland (15-3) beat rival Wisconsin 64-60 on Monday. Instead of falling apart after losing an 18-point lead while Fernando sat on the bench with four fouls, the Terps steadied themselves, when recent years would have surely seen them lose.

What is going on?

Turgeon is a great recruiter. As good as legendary Terps coach Lefty Driesell, better than the immortal Gary Williams. But Turgeon has never come close to being the game coach that Williams was. Past years saw the Terps freefall come February, with Turgeon powerless to stop it.

After seven years, it was frustrating to watch the Terps knowing Turgeon would get outcoached. But that has stopped this season. Now Turgeon is the one with new wrinkles. The offense moves better than ever without needing the best player to touch the ball regularly.

But the next two months is all about learning to win without Fernando being great, because come March Madness teams will focus on him. They'll try to get Fernando in early foul trouble, so the Terps must be able to counterpunch without him. Maybe then teams will be forced to play fairly, and Fernando will then truly lead the Terps on a Final Four run.

Beating Wisconsin was exhibit A, when Anthony Cowan did his best Melo Trimble impression with a game-winning three-pointer.

Stopped inside, Fernando kicked it out to Cowan at the top of the key for the winner. That’s how to win NCAA Tournament games.

The Terps future is not only reliant on Fernando, but in the hands of Eric Ayala shooting three-pointers, Jalen Smith helping on the boards, Darryl Morsell adding some points and Cowan breaking zones while steadying the offense.

This team has real chemistry, something Turgeon hasn't been able to tap into over recent years. But, the coach is once again showing why the Terps chose him to succeed Williams. That first year in 2012 under Turgeon was magical as a team everybody expected would be awful was a respectable 17-14. The next season was even better at 25-13. By 2015, the Terps won 28 games and then 27 the next year.

Those great teams never punched through to an Elite Eight, though. Last year was beyond frustrating at 19-13. It seemed Turgeon was on the downside, unable to get the most out of top recruits.

But that's changed this season as Turgeon is showing why he has won 422 games at Jacksonville State, Wichita State, Texas A&M and now Maryland. His 172 victories in College Park may soon not need an asterisk denoting no real postseason success.

This team isn't afraid to succeed. Come March, it will be madness not to have Maryland going deep in your bracket.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks

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