MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

What a difference a year makes, huh? For Maryland and West Virginia men’s basketball.

At this time last year, both Maryland and West Virginia, while on their way to being bumped from their respective conference tournaments, were still flying sky-high knowing they were sure-fire locks to make it to March Madness. And they both did, with Maryland defeating the Mountaineers in a tense first-round NCAA Tournament game that would cap off very successful seasons for both programs.

Under Hall of Fame coach Bob Huggins, the Mountaineers, while facing the task of having to replace many talented players from last year’s roster, knew they would be just fine because old Hugs had done this a million times before and was surely prepared to do it again. Except he wasn’t.

Under veteran coach Kevin Willard, completing his first year at Maryland to rave reviews, the sky appeared to be the limit for the Terps. Except it isn’t.

This season, which mercifully concluded this week, ended up being perfectly dreadful seasons for both West Virginia and for Maryland. Different degrees of dreadful? Yes, they were, until Maryland lost nine of its last 12 games and seemed to completely phone in its final effort on Thursday afternoon in a 31-point loss to Wisconsin in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.

And the 31-point difference offers no validity to just how badly Wisconsin beat the Terps, or to how little the Terps seemed to care. It was almost as though Rutgers purposely allowed Maryland to beat them on Wednesday (they did not), just so Maryland would have to play again on Thursday.

That is how it appeared on Thursday, as Maryland, perhaps feeling the effects of playing an afternoon game right after playing an (early) evening game, seemed listless, disinterested, whatever you want to call it, as its effort on defense, with the Badgers barely missing wide-open 3-point attempts throughout the game, did nothing to behoove the reputation of one of the best defensive college basketball teams in the country, which Maryland had been up to that point.

Rather, it projected the effort of a group of players who just wanted to get away from each other as soon as they possibly could.

That is what happens when, as a team, you are incapable of hitting water should you happen to fall out of a boat. In this case, the boat was the Titanic (yes, I know that was a ship), as this year’s Maryland team could not even semi-consistently put the ball into the basket beginning the very first game of the season.

Kevin Willard, this time last year the toast of Town Hall (which, fittingly for this analogy, is being torn down any day now to make room for more student housing), woefully overestimated his incoming freshman class, not to mention underestimated two very important players who were instrumental to last year’s success, who transferred out because … well, who knows why they transferred out?

Whatever the reason, it falls on Willard to fix, because he was the one behind the wheel when it all suddenly became broken. You take the good with the bad, and while it was very good and very uplifting at this time last season, it is very bad and every bit the downer at this current time.

Securing consensus high-school All-American center Derik Queen has been a great start to fixing this. But now Willard has to hope Queen brings some players with him who can score, and that he concerns himself with securing the few players on the current roster who are A.) worth selling the notion of coming back, and B.) can’t take the first bus out of College Park fast enough.

Thursday’s embarrassing Maryland experience in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament was the stuff of the Bob Wade years. Not the loss, mind you, but the very visible perception of a team that couldn’t be done with itself soon enough. And what is it they say about perception?

And speaking of Bob Wade, West Virginia had itself a legitimate Bob Wade nightmare season, though no fault of anyone who represented the university this season, as Bob Huggins put it all in motion (or in the ditch), almost guaranteeing it with his self-indulgent behavior last summer.

The less said about Huggins at this point, the better. More cannot be said, however, about former interim head coach Josh Eilert, who should be granted lifetime Mountaineer status for being able to keep this basketball team together to compete and complete one of the worst basketball seasons in WVU history.

West Virginia announced on Wednesday it is starting with a clean slate, as it has to do. Maryland is not to that point yet, we hope, but after this dreadful season, and particularly after Thursday’s embarrassing performance, there is every bit as much work to be done in College Park, Maryland as there is in Morgantown, West Virginia.

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]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT