A lot of teams are disappointed when they find themselves in the NIT. For Maryland, this could be the best thing for program.
The National Invitation Tournament is reserved for those that are not included in the NCAA tournament. While the top teams compete for a national title, the second-tier squads are fighting simply for pride.
However, these games are a great way to set up for the future.
Maryland finished the regular season with a 20-11 record, including an 8-10 mark in the ACC. After a run to the semifinals in the ACC tournament, the Terrapins fell to North Carolina by three points. Unfortunately, this was not enough to get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
While this leaves plenty of fans disappointed, it is important to remember how much of an improvement this is from the years before.
Legendary coach Gary Williams retired after the Terps missed out on a bid to the NIT after the 2010-11 season. The team's best player, Jordan Williams, declared for the NBA draft after that season as well.
When Mark Turgeon took over as the new coach, the roster was barren. Going 17-15 the next season and once again missing out on postseason play was not at all surprising.
This season, however, came with higher expectations. Alex Len improved a lot and made himself into a potential NBA lottery pick. Dez Wells transferred from Xavier and brought with him plenty of experience. Still, it is important to remember how young this team really is.
Of the squad's 10 scholarship players, seven of them are underclassmen. Neither senior on the roster played more than 17 minutes per game. The top four scorers were either freshmen or sophomores.
With youth comes mistakes and inconsistency, and that is what the Terps dealt with this season. They were last in the ACC with an average of 14.8 turnovers per game. After beating Duke, they lost to Boston College in the next game.
The team took a long time to mature, but something seemed to have clicked in the ACC tournament. The victories over Wake Forest and Duke were probably the best Maryland has looked all season. The squad was making shots, playing defense and holding onto the basketball.
Even the loss to North Carolina was an impressive performance from beginning to end.
With some extra games in the NIT, Maryland can continue to improve and start gaining confidence heading into next season. Playing Niagara and then the winner of Denver and Ohio should certainly be much easier than facing Duke and North Carolina.
Next season, the Terrapins will return plenty of talent. Even if Len goes pro, Wells, Seth Allen and Nick Faust should all be better heading into next year. Plus, the frontcourt of Jake Layman, Shaq Cleare and Charles Mitchell will be impressive as well.
More weeks of practice and games will make them even better.
Many squads have shown the ability to use the NIT as a launching pad for a good year in the next season. North Carolina went to the Elite Eight after finishing second in the NIT in 2010. Wichita State won the NIT in 2011 and then went 27-6 the next season.
If Maryland keeps its focus for the postseason and takes this run seriously, it has a very good chance of having success in the 2013-14 season.
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