Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - This is an important year for the Maryland athletics program as it transitions from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten Conference.
When the Big Ten made the agreement that brought Maryland into the fold, along with Rutgers, one of the most appealing teams the league was bringing in was Maryland men's basketball. With an already outstanding lineup of basketball powers like Michigan State and Indiana in the fold, the addition of Maryland would bring further prestige to an already lauded conference.
Maryland is a school with a proud and successful basketball tradition, especially over the course of the last 40 years. The Terps have been to the NCAA Tournament 22 times in those 40 seasons, including its run to a national championship in 2002 when they were led by Steve Blake and Juan Dixon.
Those two are just a few of the legendary players who have pulled on the Maryland uniform over the years. Steve Francis, Len Elmore and the late Len Bias are also former stars who played their college ball in College Park.
Unfortunately, the good times have not been as frequent in recent seasons. After Gary Williams retired in May 2011, finishing with a national title, two Final Four appearances and more wins than any Maryland head coach before him (461), the Terps found themselves entering a new era.
Guiding them through these last three years following Williams' retirement has been Mark Turgeon. Before taking over for the Terps, Turgeon was a head coach at Jacksonville State, Wichita State and Texas A&M as well as a player in the mid-1980s for Kansas.
Such experience and pedigree has not helped Turgeon produce much more than a mediocre product on the floor during his stay in Maryland. In three seasons, the Terps have gone a lackluster 59-43 and failed to make an NCAA Tournament appearance. Their 25-win 2012-13 season was helped by a deep run in the National Invitation Tournament.
Just this past season, the Terps managed only a 17-15 record, including a middling 9-9 mark against the ACC. Granted, the ACC is one of the premier basketball conferences in the country, but fighting to the middle of the pack is not what Maryland fans had come to expect under Williams, who won three regular-season ACC crowns and led the team to the title in the ACC Tournament during the 2003-04 season.
The slow start to the Turgeon regime is just a portion of the problems Maryland is dealing with right now. Even more troubling is the fact that players are abandoning ship at an alarming rate, causing concerns that the "S.S. Turgeon" may be sinking even faster than it already appears.
Over the weekend, reports surfaced that starting point guard Seth Allen would be transferring to Virginia Tech, the news coming less than a month after Allen shocked many by asking for his release.
The loss of Allen further compounded the departure of guard Nick Faust, who also made the decision to transfer out of the program. The backcourt duo combined to score 22.8 points per game and hand out five assists per game. Turgeon's philosophy is built on the play he gets from his guards, so losing two of his most important players at the position from last year's attack is certainly not going to help him resurrect the program.
Allen and Faust are just two of many players who have announced their intention to transfer, with Shaquille Cleare, Roddy Peters and A.J. Metz all joining in as well.
There also have been rumblings that key big man Charles Mitchell (6.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game) requested his release and was considering transferring.
To his credit, Turgeon is not pointing fingers at anyone besides himself for the poor play on the court and the mass exodus of players from his roster, telling the Baltimore Sun that he will "take total blame" for the startling number of transferring players.
"You don't lose four guys and say, 'Oh, it can't be me,'" Turgeon said to the Baltimore Sun. "I've got to take a look at everything, I've got to take a look at myself and everything on this deal. I've got to make sure this doesn't happen in the future."
While it may seem as if Turgeon doesn't have many friends left, there are still some players who are doubling down on their devotion to their head coach.
Starting forward Evan Smotrycz, who will be a senior next season, took to Twitter to voice his support earlier this month.
"We couldn't be more excited about the direction our program is going. We have a great group of guys who want to work and do something special here at Maryland," Smotrycz wrote on May 2. "We are all behind Coach Turgeon. We are working hard to make sure Maryland is at the top of the Big Ten next year."
Accomplishing that goal will take some doing, but may be necessary for Turgeon to bolster his job security and for Maryland's reputation as a basketball power to remain intact, or at least keep it from being tarnished any further.