MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

After 12 years, 225 victories, six NCAA Tournaments and two Big East titles at Seton Hall, Kevin Willard will see how it plays in the Big Ten and the DMV as he was announced on Monday morning to be the ninth men’s basketball coach in University of Maryland history.

“We are thrilled to welcome Kevin to the Terrapin family,” Maryland athletic director Damon Evans said in a press release. “We are excited about the future of Maryland basketball with Kevin leading the way. Known for his gritty, hard-working teams, Kevin has had tremendous success, winning conference championships and leading his teams to NCAA Tournaments. He has made a habit of scheduling challenging opponents and winning in those games as evidenced by his record against Big Ten teams in recent years.”

That record against Big Ten teams includes two Seton Hall wins over Maryland and its former coach, Mark Turgeon.

Willard was the Seton Hall coach for 12 seasons and succeeds Turgeon, who resigned eight games into his 11th season as the Terps head coach, and Danny Manning, who did the best job anyone could expect in finishing the past season as the interim head coach.

Willard is said to have been the favorite since Turgeon resigned on Dec. 3. He is 46 years old and has agreed to a five-year $22-million deal. He will be introduced at a Maryland press conference on Tuesday.

The Pirates were a mere Jersey Turnpike joke when Willard took over, but have finished in the top three of the Big East standings in five of the past seven seasons, including a regular-season championship in 2019-2020 that, like Maryland’s shared Big Ten title that year (which proved to be the finest, yet most telling hour of Turgeon’s time at Maryland all at once), was left incomplete by the cancelation of the NCAA Tournament.

This season, Willard guided an undermanned Seton Hall team, from which not much was expected, to a 21-11 record and a fifth NCAA Tournament berth in the past six seasons, which would have been the sixth in seven seasons if not for the canceled tournament.

His teams have gone 1-5 in the NCAA Tournament following a blowout loss to TCU on Friday. This, of course, is not lost on the entitled Maryland fan base, but understand this (and if you don’t already, you’re not really paying attention): There is an enormous difference in not winning in March at Seton Hall and not winning in March at Maryland.

I’m not in the habit of criticizing anybody for their performance doing something I’ve never done or have known anything about, but Willard is a better coach than is Turgeon. Will he be a better recruiter? Given Turgeon’s performance the past few years in that department, it’s hard to believe he won’t be, and recruiting is at the heart of the issue here, as Evans said it would be when he began the coaching search.

Getting talent is always the biggest factor in college basketball and, particularly at Maryland, which is located in the heart of the DMV, the most talent-rich high-school basketball area in the country, the Terps being able to make a dent in all of the players Jay Wright is swifting away to Villanova is at the heart of what matters the most to the fortunes and the future of Maryland basketball.

For Willard, Maryland and the Big Ten will be enormous steps up from Seton Hall and the Big East, both in the competition he will face and the resources he will be provided. At Maryland, he won’t have to face the huge differences he faced with the haves of the Big East as the have-not he was in charge of at Seton Hall.

Maryland has the facilities (which are about to improve even more), the budget (which will be larger after the upcoming Big Ten television contract) and the fertile recruiting area right outside the front (and back) door that he did not enjoy at Seton Hall. First and foremost, Willard must take advantage of this to keep the local talent home, which Turgeon seemed to shy away from doing a handful of years ago.

Willard helped to develop two Big East conference players of the year at Seton Hall, guard Myles Powell, Seton Hall’s first NCAA consensus first-team All-American since 1953, and big man Sandro Mamukelashvili.

Willard has the history of making things better; he has the history of building up players and programs to be better than they were before he came along. This is what he must do for Maryland.

It is time to move on for Maryland basketball, and as Damon Evans is going to do it with Kevin Willard, I think he has made a good choice. He had better have, as this hire will remain with Evans always as his most important hire as the Maryland AD.

Clearly Willard knows what he’s facing better than you or I do (and even both of us combined), so it will be interesting to see who he brings onto his staff who can recruit the DMV and who he lands in the transfer portal to replenish a roster that is going to need to be replenished top to bottom.

Maryland basketball must be, at the very least, competitive and interesting to help restore the blahed and entitled Maryland fan base until Willard is able have the pieces in place to begin to make Maryland basketball matter again.

It took Gary Williams a few years to do when there was no transfer portal. Not saying Willard has to do it sooner than that, but it would be nice if he did.

From all I’ve been able to determine, Willard is a very good basketball coach, and he had better be. It will be on him to clean up the mess of insignificance that currently exists in College Park.

As his predecessors (and Naismith Hall of Famers) Lefty Driesell and Gary Williams did, it is up to Kevin Willard to not only make Maryland basketball significant again, it will be up to Kevin Willard to once again make Maryland basketball matter.

In a town, in an area, in a state and in a region of the country where basketball matters most of all.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT