COLLEGE PARK -- A week of serious practice is forthcoming for the Maryland men's basketball team before it dives headlong into 15 consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference showdowns, but first there is a game to play.
One of the 11 members of the states university system, Maryland-Eastern Shore visits Comcast Center tonight in the Terrapins' final tuneup before the real games begin.
Tip-off is 8 p.m. and the Maryland athletic department announced yesterday that tickets remain, with the students on holiday break.
"The largest factor [in determining the NCAA tournament field] is number of wins," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "Seven ACC teams think they have a chance, maybe eight. So, we need to be 9-3 going into the league season."
Eight more days will elapse before North Carolina visits College Park to launch the stretch that will determine if this young Maryland team returns to the big dance. Williams plans to use that stretch wisely.
"With a veteran team, a week off without a game wouldnt matter," he said. "But with our team, we can still use a lot of practice time. So tonight we'll try to get some guys in different situations and at the same time try to win."
There was ample opportunity to experiment on Saturday, when the Terps routed Mount St. Mary's, 89-56. The reserves got plenty of playing time, with freshman forward Ekene Ibekwe (nine points, 10 rebounds, four blocks in 22 minutes) and freshman guard Mike Jones (nine points in 13 minutes) taking full advantage.
UMES has not beaten Maryland in 14 meetings, the most recent a 105-53 romp by the Terps in 2000. Maryland has averaged nearly 105 points in their past four matchups.
The Fighting Hawks are 0-7 after last night's 70-50 loss to Howard at home, and all of the defeats have been by at least seven points.
"It doesn't really matter who you play, it's going to be a tough game especially after youve won a national championship. We're going to take everybody's best shot," Williams said. "Young players haven't been scared enough to realize anything can happen."
The coach said that afterward, the Terps face "the most" intense week of practice in terms of breaking things up. We can use the time.
"Sometimes, after a long layoff, you get beat; sometimes, you play great. There is no formula for that. We'll see."
Practice sessions will be extensive after a day off tomorrow.
"You can work on each individual thing and not worry about getting tired because you have a game," Williams said.
Maryland's primary problems so far have been poor free-throw shooting (56.4 percent) and helter-skelter play that has led to too many turnovers.
"You can write that off as being a little young," Williams said of the turnovers. "We get excited and the ball starts flying around."
The starting five of Nik Caner-Medley, Travis Garrison, Jamar Smith, Chris McCray and John Gilchrist will remain intact. That is an all-sophomore unit except for Smith, a senior.
UMES -- which attempts to avoid an 0-8 start for the second season in a row -- will be on the road for six straight games beginning tonight.
All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference guard Tee Trotter, son of coach Thomas Trotter, is the Hawks' top scorer and leader.
Matchup: UMES (0-7) vs. Maryland (8-3)
Site: Comcast Center, College Park
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)