College Park -- It didn't matter if the jerseys they wore were red or black, turned inside or out. In all three 40-minute preseason scrimmages, the only team Maryland was facing was itself.
And the Terps are tired of it.
Maryland will finally face its first opponent in today's 2 p.m. exhibition game against St. Francis Xavier, a team from Canada with a 6-2 record in three exhibition tournaments. The host Terps are less concerned about the Division II opponent than they are about finding their own identity. The game will give coach Gary Williams a chance to experiment with his lineup, and the players an opportunity to work their way into it before the Nov. 18 season opener with Fairleigh Dickinson.
"I'm not worried whether we play zone, man-to-man, what their personnel is like," Williams said. "We've got to play with a certain level of intensity. We won't be perfect in terms of running plays, but the intensity level's got to be getting close to what we need when we play Fairleigh Dickinson."
Williams said he has been enjoying the challenge of narrowing his choices for an eight- or nine-man rotation. Senior guard Chris McCray said Williams has mixed up the team every practice, and none of the players have been guaranteed a starting role.
"You never know what five he's going to put out there to start the game on Saturday," said McCray, who averaged 14.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and led the team with 58 steals as a junior. "He keeps everybody well-rounded in the head, don't let nobody think they're better than this person just because they're on the red team or the black team. Everyday it's a different combination.
"Every practice has been competitive," he said. "It gives us the opportunity to come together on Saturday, put on the same jersey and go out there and take our frustration out on everybody else."
Those within the program agree the team is better conditioned than at this time last year, and that is largely because the players did more running, and worked on transition drills that pushed them up and down the court.
Senior Nik Caner-Medley said the veteran team, which consists of 10 seniors and juniors, has learned more variations of basic plays, and has gotten into second, third and fourth options.
"We're at the point now where everybody knows the plays, so even when we're guarding each other we know what's about to happen," said Caner-Medley, who averaged 16 points a game last season. "So when you go against some guys who don't know your plays - especially exhibition because they didn't scout us - it will be a really good sign as how well we're running our plays.
"We should get a lot of good looks and shoot a high percentage from the floor if we run our plays well," he said. "It will be a good test to see where we're at."
Junior guard D.J. Strawberry, who missed the final 18 games of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, said he didn't like what he saw from the bench last season, and is hoping to help the team to a strong start today.
"I just want to see our team go out there and set the tone for this year," he said. "Last year, me just watching, I saw we didn't come ready to play every night. No matter who we play, we've got to be ready to play every day, every night, whenever we step on the court. That's what I want to see most out of our team, is how hard we play."
St. Francis Xavier@Maryland Exhibition, today, 2 p.m., 105.7 FM