COLLEGE PARK — — Mark Turgeon knows his Maryland basketball team is generating a lot of buzz.
He knows that with four key players returning, a Top 15 recruiting class and the addition of talented Xavier transfer Dez Wells, people are talking up the Terps as a team to watch this season.
And it's not like he wants to be a kill-joy or anything. But there are times when it looks like he wants to scream over the out-sized expectations.
"Everybody expects us to be great right away," the Terps coach said after Maryland's 83-74 win over out-manned Lafayette on Tuesday night at Comcast Center. "Or maybe they don't. I don't read what people think. But this is a process for us. We got a lot of young players."
Turgeon is right, of course, even if he took a shot at the infallible fraternity of sportswriters in the process. No matter how giddy students and alumni are about the Terps this season, the reality is this is a team that added nine new players after going 17-15 in Turgeon's first year in College Park.
Here's the bottom line: it's way too early to know how good these Terps are.
Sure, they gave No. 3 Kentucky all it could handle before losing 72-69 in the season-opener at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
That was a game in which Maryland shook off a dreadful shooting slump in the first half to show flashes of the team Turgeon hopes they can become.
That was the game in which Alex Len, the 7-1 sophomore center from Ukraine, looked like Pau Gasol at times to finish with 23 points and 12 rebounds, both career highs.
But since then, Maryland has beat up on the usual succession of cupcakes — Morehead State, LIU-Brooklyn, Lafayette — that big-name schools trot out early in the season to make themselves feel better.
And you can't tell much about a team when it's beating up on cupcakes, even with another one (Georgia Southern) visiting Comcast Center on Saturday night.
"Once we get in ACC play, we'll see where we are," said Wells, the 6-5 sophomore swingman. "Right now these teams are really good that we're playing. But they're not the caliber of talent we'll play in the ACC. I think we all know that."
Yes, Wells was being charitable calling any of those weak sisters good. Or else he was being delusional.
But there have been times since the season opener when we've seen real promise from these Terps no matter who they played.
Len has bulked up considerably and figures to be a much more dominating presence on both ends of the floor. He's even developed an impressive Division I scowl, which I'm sure will go over big with the folks back home in Antratsit, Ukraine.
All in all, he looks much more comfortable than he did last season when, because of the language barrier, he spent much of his time trying to figure out what the heck Turgeon was saying in the huddle.
Sophomore guard Nick Faust (City) is finally slashing to the basket the way he did in high school. Senior forward James Padgett is relentless on the boards. Junior guard Pe'Shon Howard has recovered from a torn ACL and looks smooth running the offense.
Freshman three-star prospect Seth Allen is projected to be a big-time shooter along with Albany transfer Logan Aronhalt. And Wells will be the best player on the floor for Maryland, explosive on offense and a great defender.
Then there are four-star prospects Jake Layman and Shaquille Cleare, the 6-9, 245-pound center who's built along the lines of a fireplace and reportedly once benched 185 pounds 29 times.
"That was crazy!" said forward Charles Mitchell, a three-star prospect who's no delicate flower himself at 6-8 and 260 pounds. "He's probably the strongest player in college basketball. ... Just to know it's mostly muscle is crazy."
Wells, who already seems comfortable as a team leader, says the Terps understand why so many people are excited about their chances this season.
"They saw the fight in us when we played Kentucky," Wells said. "And they know it's a high ceiling for this team. But what people don't understand is that every day, there's something that we have to get better at.
"The freshmen that we have, they don't know the college game yet. So they have a long way to go. ... [But] I feel like the team that you see in November is not the team you'll see in February."
Turgeon, the most brutally-candid coach I've ever been around, puts it a different way.
"It's gonna be like this," he said, tracing the soaring and dipping ride of a rollercoaster with one hand.
But his hand seemed to linger on the high points. And as the new season dawns on a school that has seen more than its share of controversy the past few days, that has to give Maryland fans hope.
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