COLLEGE PARK — — Maryland coach Gary Williams was asked this week if his basketball team had the makings of something great.
Williams answered quickly.
"Not yet," he said. "It's way too early. We haven't done anything yet. I think you're measured by who you play."
By that definition, it will soon be easier to chart the progress of the Terrapins (3-0), who play No. 5 Pitt (3-0) Thursday night in the 2K Sports Classic benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer at New York's Madison Square Garden. It will be the first test for the Terps — who have six newcomers this season — against a ranked team.
On Friday night, the Terps will face either Illinois or Texas in the next round. Illinois is ranked No. 13 in the AP poll, while Texas is narrowly outside the top 25.
Pitt literally poses the biggest challenge. "This will be the biggest team and the best inside team we've played so far," Williams said.
The Panthers' starters include 6-foot-11 Gary McGhee (6.3 rebounds per game) and 6-foot-9 Talib Zanna (8.3 rebounds per game). Pitt — led in scoring by guards Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs — has outrebounded its opponents by an average of 21.3 rebounds.
With Pitt's inside strength, Maryland must find inside help for center Jordan Williams.
The 6-foot-10 Williams is averaging a team-leading 21 points and 13.7 rebounds. Maryland's next group of big men haven't proven themselves as scorers. Senior co-captain Dino Gregory (Mount St. Joseph) and sophomore James Padgett are each averaging 4.7 points. Transfer Berend Weijs is averaging 2.7 points.
Without more inside balance, defenses will be able to collapse on Williams inside. Already, the sophomore said he is growing accustomed to being double-teamed.
"In high school, I was double- and triple-teamed every night. I'm kind of used to the feeling and sensation of being surrounded by a lot of different players," Williams said. "It's just a challenge for me to expand my game whenever they're going to come double—turn around and face up a little bit. You can't really be worried about it."
But Gary Williams knows his team will be better if it can give defenses more to worry about in the low post.
"Anytime you have ways to go that are not just directed at one player, you're a much better basketball team," the coach said. "Last year's team, for example, if you tried to double-team [guard Greivis] Vasquez, we had Eric Hayes or Landon Milbourne, people like that, [or] Cliff Tucker, Adrian Bowie. Well, we have to have some inside players who can do that with Jordan this year."
Maryland enters the tournament hoping to reduce its turnovers. The Terps are averaging about 20 turnovers.
"Our ballhandling hasn't been good," the coach said. "It's pretty obvious when you look at the number of turnovers that that's got to come down."
Notes: Ashton Gibbs, Pitt's starting guard (19.3 points per game), is the brother of Sterling Gibbs, who recently signed to play for the Terps next season. … Pitt has won 12 of its last 17 games at Madison Square Garden, site of the Big East tournament. Maryland players were excited about playing there. "It's the biggest arena in basketball," said freshman Pe'Shon Howard, who has never played at the arena before.