When a coach as iconic as Gary Williams retires, his successor is inevitably in for a rough time. Mark Turgeon has some serious shoes to fill in College Park, and he’s not off to a world-beating start: his first Terrapins team is under .500 in ACC play with just six games left in the regular season.
The NCAA tournament is clearly out of reach for Turgeon’s debut, and even the NIT is likely a stretch. However, as badly as things have gone at times for Maryland this season, Turgeon has actually given fans plenty of reasons to feel good about their new coach.
In the first place, it’s just not reasonable to compare this team to the prime of Williams’ coaching career, when he won a national title and ran off 11 straight NCAA tournament appearances. Since that streak ended in 2005, the Terrapins have actually missed the Big Dance more often than they’ve made it, so Turgeon’s inability to get the team back to that level in a single season is far from a damning indictment.
Secondly, expectations for this particular roster were particularly low. Jordan Williams’ departure for the NBA removed the best player from a team that had gone 19-14 with him (7-9 in conference) and missed out on postseason play.
The situation was made even worse when Turgeon’s only legitimate point guard, Pe’Shon Howard, missed half the year with injuries. Given some extremely limited personnel, Turgeon has gotten the most out of high-volume shooter Terrell Stoglin and kept the Terps competitive despite a lot of flaws.
He’s also off to a fine start as a recruiter, having convinced SG Nick Faust not to jump ship after Williams retired. Even bigger was his success in reeling in seven-foot center Alex Len, who (now that his eligibility issues have been resolved) has shown loads of promise as the kind of low-post anchor Turgeon needs to rebuild the Maryland defense.
None of this is to say that Turgeon deserves to win any awards for his performance this season—he’s probably looking at 18 or 19 wins at the outside, and that’s not a great number for an ACC team. Still, given what he had to work with and the fact that he’s adjusting to a new roster and a new conference, he’s off to a perfectly respectable start to his Maryland career.