Maryland hires Kevin Willard as new men’s basketball coach

Willard compiled a 225-161 record at Seton Hall, and the 46-year-old has also served as the head coach at Iona for three seasons and as an assistant at Louisville. During Willard’s time at Seton Hall, the Pirates reached the NCAA tournament five times but advanced to the second round just once. This season, Seton Hall earned a No. 8 seed and exited early with a 69-42 loss against No. 9 TCU in the first round.

Willard’s best Seton Hall team lost its chance to make a run in the NCAA tournament, possibly as a No. 3 seed, when the 2020 postseason was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Seton Hall won the Big East tournament in 2016 and shared the regular season conference title in 2020. His Seton Hall teams finished with at least 20 wins seven times, including a 21-11 record this season. The Pirates faced Maryland in December 2018 and December 2019, and Willard’s teams won both times. Those games were part of nonconference slates that often included matchups with major-conference programs.

Even though Willard hasn’t led a team to a deep postseason run, Maryland presumably hopes that the greater resources at a Big Ten program and a fertile local recruiting area will allow him to do so in College Park.

Evans has said that the expectation at Maryland is to compete for Big Ten and national titles, which is what the fan base has craved since the retirement of Gary Williams. Turgeon led the Terps to a shared Big Ten regular season title but never further than the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament. That Sweet 16 appearance in 2016 — a season during which Maryland ascended as high as No. 2 in the Associated Press poll — is the only time the program has made it that far in the postseason since 2003, a year after Williams’s 2002 team won the national title.

Turgeon’s teams sometimes sparked buzz and generated lofty expectations, but the lone conference title and NCAA tournament runs that usually didn’t last beyond the event’s first weekend left Maryland fans wanting more.

Even as Turgeon agreed to a contract extension entering his 11th season with the Terrapins, the athletic department didn’t offer a strong endorsement of the coach, leaving his long-term future at Maryland in doubt. The new contract signed last offseason was structured in a way that wouldn’t strain Maryland as much financially if it wanted to move on from Turgeon.

The Terps’ disappointing 2021-22 season ended with a loss against Michigan State in their first game of the Big Ten tournament, sealing a losing record for the first time since 1993.

Even though the Terps (15-17, 7-13 Big Ten) struggled, Maryland still has talented players on its roster — particularly rising seniors Donta Scott and Hakim Hart, along with starting center Qudus Wahab and Julian Reese, a Baltimore native who just finished his freshman season. Coaching changes often coincide with significant roster turnover, but if these top players choose to stay at Maryland, they’ll be a significant boost in Willard’s rebuilding process. Otherwise, Willard will need to look for ready-to-play transfers.

Willard is known as a coach who can develop players. During his time at Seton Hall, Myles Powell and Sandro Mamukelashvili both turned into Big East players of the year. Willard didn’t bring in splashy recruiting classes, but he consistently built tournament teams. At Maryland, he should be able to attract players of a higher caliber, and he’ll need to recruit well to keep up with the talent in the Big Ten.

Given the odd timing of Turgeon’s departure, Evans had more than three months to enlist the help of a search firm to gauge the interest of candidates and identify the right coach. He landed on Willard, who will inevitably be given time to implement his vision for the program. But after that, he’ll need to rise to the expectations that haven’t been met here in two decades and lift Maryland back toward national prominence.

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