Is Maryland's 10-3 record a true indicator?

January 04, 2012|By Don Markus

Mark Turgeon has spent the first two months of his inaugural season at Maryland talking honestly about his basketball team, more often than not criticizing his players for a lack of effort or understanding of what he was trying to teach at practice.

After the Terps held on to beat Cornell Tuesday night at Comcast Center after blowly nearly all of a 23-point first-half lead, Turgeon showed plenty of frustration but finally demonstrated a little restraint when I asked him if Maryland looked like a 10-3 team to him.

“I’m not going to tell you what I think,” Turgeon said, a response that drew laughter in the press room given his habit of telling reporters exactly what he is thinking. “I just know where we are, I know where we need to get to do. You guys can write what you want about it [the record].”

If you asked anyone who saw Maryland lose by 26 to Iona in Puerto Rico in November, or struggle to beat Mount St. Mary’s and a few other teams at home last month, few would believe that the Terps would be 10-3 going into their Atlantic Coast Conference opener Sunday night at North Carolina State.

Maryland’s marquee wins might have come against a rebuilding Colorado team in Puerto Rico and in the BB&T Classic over a Notre Dame team which lost its best player for the season, but the loss to Iona remains the only bad loss.

I think the Terps should be judged over the last three games when they were at full strength, with the return of sophomore guard Pe’Shon Howard and the arrival of 7-1 freshman center Alex Len, who along with senior guards Sean Mosley and Terrell Stoglin helped bail Maryland out against Cornell.

The first 10 minutes of the game when the Terps turned a 16-0 run at the start into their biggest lead of the season was as impressive as the first 11 minutes of the second half was frightening. That’s when Maryland failed to make a basket and looked as if they were going to blow their big lead and the momentum of what is now a seven-game winning streak.

Which part of the game is a true indication of what the ACC holds for Maryland?

Both, actually.

I think there are going to be nights when the Terps – more athletic than they’ve been for years – will run out to big leads against some equally or even more erratic ACC teams. There will also be nights when Maryland could get blown out by 30 – and not just against Duke or North Carolina – because of how fragile a team the Terps are in terms of individual confidence.

“I am very proud of how we’ve won close games,” Turgeon said of a team that has only won twice by double digits. “Especially when we haven’t had Alex or Pe’Shon because you can tell they’ve been a big boost for us. My concern is our inexperience and our commitment to doing it right every time. They’re looking at me like I’m absolutely crazy every day in practice about doing it right every time. I was hoping we could learn that from winning. We might have to get our tail kicked to figure that out. I hope I’m wrong.”

Going into the ACC opener, here are a few things to look at to assess where the Terps are headed:

* How Maryland is going to handle playing on the road. The Terps have played away from home this season, but three games were in a mostly empty arena in Puerto Rico and the other was against the Irish at Verizon Center, which was essentially a home game. North Carolina State fans have traditionally been among the most raucous in the league when the team is playing well, so the first test could be difficult.

* How Len is going to fare against stronger, more skilled players. The Terps have never had anyone this tall and athletic, but what has really been impressive has been Len’s basketball IQ. The little things he does like tipping rebounds to teammates and making back door passes are not always noticeable, but I think he and Turgeon are going to figure out pretty quickly how to make Len the team’s second – and sometimes first – scoring option.

* How Turgeon is going to use his bench. Turgeon admits that he’s not sure who’s going to start every game, but assume that he stays with the lineup he’s been using with Len, Stoglin, Howard, Mosely and James Padgett, that leaves a rotation off the bench that includes Nick Faust, Ashton Pankey, Mychal Parker and Berend Weijs. To me, the wild card is Faust, who can’t have any more 1-11 shooting nights like he had against Cornell for Maryland to be successful. He’s got to stop shooting at some point if he’s not hitting because you know Stoglin won’t. I also think Pankey has played better when he starts while it doesn’t seem to matter to Padgett.

* How bad is the ACC. I am currently working on a story for later this week on what kind of year it has been throughout the league, but Jay Bilas told me that it’s the worst the ACC has been – ever. That could bode well for teams picked toward the bottom, like Maryland, given that the Terps are probably better than expected because of Len. Some of the results so far have been mind-boggling, including Boston College losing to just about every Division I team in Massachusetts.

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