Falling Maryland, Florida to collide in Brooklyn
An appropriate soundtrack for Sunday's layup line when No. 20 Florida faces Maryland in the Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational in Brooklyn, N.Y., would be Tom Petty's "Free Fallin.'"
Yes, the legendary musician grew up in Gainesville, Fla. But more to the point is his song as these teams are in parallel nosedives, anxious to put their once-promising seasons back on course.
Florida (7-2) opened this week with a shocking 69-54 loss at home to winless Texas Southern. According to ESPNStatsInfo, it was the first time in AP rankings history that a team from the Southwest Athletic Conference upset a ranked squad from the Southeastern Conference in 52 meetings.
Meanwhile at Maryland (5-4), the Terps are reeling after a weekend that saw the sudden departure of 11-year coach Mark Turgeon, followed two days later by their first-ever loss at home to Northwestern.
Maryland has taken the hardest fall. It also reached No. 20 this year, but a 2-4 mark in the past six games has purged the Terps from the rankings.
With seven days between games, interim coach Danny Manning has a chance to address the ills that have plagued the Terps.
Under Turgeon, Maryland always was solid defensively. But the offense often struggled in a stagnant, unimaginative, perimeter-oriented scheme. The woes became more apparent this year as the Terps shot 41 percent from the floor and 28.9 percent from beyond the arc, both among the lowest figures in the Big Ten.
"We're going to make a few changes but we have to massage them in. Change is hard. We like paint touches. We like when the ball is swung from side to side," Manning said. "We want to do a better job of taking care of the basketball, sharing the basketball."
Maryland's top scorers Eric Ayala (13.1 points per game) and Fatts Russell (12.1) form one of the most experienced backcourts in Division I, but they are shooting at a combined 34.7 percent clip.
Parallels can be drawn between Turgeon and Florida coach Mike White, who has guided the Gators to four NCAA Tournament appearances in his six years but had to fend off mounting criticism last year when the Gators were a No. 7 seed and lost to No. 15 seed Oral Roberts in the second round.
This season, Florida opened with six straight wins, including three over Power Five schools. But a 74-67 loss at Oklahoma brought a hangover that lingered all the way to Monday, according to White, as the Gators suffered their historic defeat.
"I don't know if we fully recovered from that road loss at OU until maybe (Tuesday) afternoon, unfortunately," White said. "It took us too long."
Florida rebounded by a small measure on Wednesday with a stress-free 85-55 victory over North Florida as it forced 28 turnovers and got 26 points and eight rebounds from Colin Castleton.
The Gators never trailed but dominating a 2-9 team from the Atlantic Sun will do little to get Florida feeling back on track. A neutral-site win over Maryland, however, would do the trick.
"We just had to find our identity back," Florida's Myreon Jones said after the North Florida win. "That's what we focused on the most, finding our identity and getting back to who we are."
--Field Level Media
Updated December 12, 2021