Maryland's Diamond Stone (33) dunks against Michigan State's Marvin Clark Jr. (15) and Michigan State's Matt Costello (10) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game during the semifinals of the Big Ten Conference tournament in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

Maryland’s Diamond Stone (33) will have to step his game up if Maryland wants to advance in the NCAA tournament. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

The mantra of any election year is of trending and projections.  That Maryland was projected as a Final Four candidate by many college basketball experts to open the season is now being offset by the inescapable reality that this team is not trending in the right direction.  They are an enigma wrapped inside a quandary heading into the NCAA Tournament starting March 18.

A 25-8 record and a number five seed in the big dance is not a failure.  However, for a team that was supposed to be the best team in America, according to ESPN the Magazine, and blessed with the nation’s top high school recruit, Diamond Stone, Maryland’s staggering finish in the B1G conference is perplexing.  The Terps are 5-5 over the last 10 games including the March 12 loss to Michigan State in the semifinals of the B1G Tournament.  They feasted on the weaker teams in their conference down the stretch but couldn’t get a victory against an NCAA Tournament team after February 21.

Maryland is a team that is built to make a deep run in the tournament.  Guards are the key to success in March and when Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon are on their games the Terps are a matchup nightmare for their opponents.  But for the last month of the regular season their inconsistency has personified the erratic conclusion to what has to be considered a troubling finish.

Their schizophrenic backcourt play manifested itself once again last weekend in Indianapolis.  Trimble and Sulaimon combined for 26 points 10 rebounds and 14 assists making five of their eight three point shots against Nebraska.  But Saturday in the semifinals – against a legitimate national championship contender from Michigan State – they made only three of 11 shots from long range in that three point loss.

“We haven’t played our best basketball yet but it’s coming,” said head coach Mark Turgeon after a senior night victory over an Illinois team that didn’t make the postseason.

Their window for coming together is now over.  If Maryland hopes to play into the second week of the tournament they’ve got to find a balance their perimeter players who have license to freelance and shoot indiscriminately -even when they are off – and their outstanding combination of Stone and Robert Carter, Jr. who can dominate in the frontcourt.

Turgeon was an outstanding college guard at Kansas and his philosophy is heavily predicated on the success of his backcourt.  However, this year he hasn’t done enough to create scoring opportunities for his big men.  Teams have been able to pack their defense inside the lane which has made it difficult for the guards to get to the basket and they still haven’t figured a way to get the ball into the paint.

Stone and Carter, Jr. will have to step up if Maryland is going to win two games and earn a spot in the Sweet 16.  However, if they remain innocent bystanders in Maryland’s offense leading to a premature exit from the tournament, his credibility in recruiting talented low post players will take a hit.  Former center Shaquille Clear was Turgeon’s first major recruit but flamed out quickly which may damage his reputation as a coach of big men.

There have been a few moments where the Terps have flirted with brilliance and at other times they have played as if they left the pier without an oar.  Brilliant performances against Georgetown and Iowa have been offset by horrific losses to Minnesota and Purdue.

Maryland is built for a run to the Final Four.  Winning four games to get there is another matter though.