This Year's Terps -- And ACC -- Still Mysteries
By Todd McElwee
Where does Maryland fit in the Atlantic Coast Conference? Are the Terps front-runners or bottom feeders?
The truth is, nobody is really sure, because when it comes to the Terps, their league and this season, there are more questions than answers.
"Just in all areas, guys are coming," coach Mark Turgeon said. "Guys play harder, because they know they're not going to play as long. They practice harder, because there is more competition. It's a lot more fun for me. We're getting better, but we can get a lot better."
Riding a seven-game winning streak, Maryland opened its conference slate Jan. 8 at North Carolina State. The Terps played from behind for most of the contest, and the Wolfpack snapped Maryland's month-long streak of prosperity, 79-74.
The Terps' loss in Raleigh might have been more telling than its previous winning streak. Aside from a 78-71 win against Notre Dame during the BB&T Classic at the Verizon Center, each of Maryland's seven victories came at the Comcast Center against mid-majors, none of which could match the size or talent of even a middle-of-the-pack ACC squad.
More than anything, N.C. State exposed how the young Terps are playing with a much smaller margin of error than the ACC's more seasoned outfits. N.C. State wasn't markedly better than Maryland, but was able to execute at critical junctions.
The Wolfpack roughed up their guests down low, beating the Terps on the boards, 25-21, while producing 38 points in the paint to Maryland's 28. During their winning streak, the Terps had outrebounded their victims by a combined margin of 265-199. Maryland also shot a dismal 13-for-21 from the free-throw line, while the Wolfpack converted an efficient 21 of 24 attempts.
Aside from a Jan. 21 trip to Temple, Maryland plays only ACC contests from here on out. The Terps' early schedule didn't produce a headline victory, but thanks to Pe'Shon Howard's broken left foot and Alex Len's 10-game suspension, it made them a deeper team for their conference slate.
"We know we have to get better as a team in practice," senior guard Sean Mosley said. "It's a matter of just taking it one game at a time, not looking ahead or past any team, no matter what's written across their jersey."
Thankfully for Maryland, the ACC is a crapshoot. North Carolina and Duke are the league's only sure things; barring an unimaginable set of circumstances, the Tar Heels, ranked third in the Jan. 9 AP Top 25, and the eighth-ranked Blue Devils will be NCAA Tournament teams.
As of Jan. 12, Boston College was the only ACC team with losing a record. And aside from the Tobacco Road juggernauts and possibly 14-1 Virginia, no team has distinguished itself yet. The Terps can benefit from playing in such a wide-open league, and maybe, just maybe, if they can tap into their potential, think about dancing in March.
"We don't know as a group what it takes to win at a high level and be a part of the NCAA tournament," Turgeon said. "We're still trying to figure it out. I keep telling the guys we're setting ourselves up to fail if we don't practice a little bit better. Hopefully we will and continue to grow."
Issue 169: January 2012