Coach Mark Turgeon and the Maryland men’s basketball team could be preparing to fly to Kansas City this weekend for a four-team tournament against Texas Tech, USC and Missouri State, which would’ve presented the most significant challenge of the team’s schedule thus far.
Instead, the Terps will welcome Hofstra and Mount St. Mary’s to College Park over the weekend, as the carousel of uninspiring nonconference opponents continues.
Maryland responded to the sleepy start to the year by yawning through its first two wins before waking up and routing North Carolina A&T. Without a high-major team on the Terps’ schedule until the Nov. 28 matchup with Virginia, Turgeon said he looks beyond the win-loss record to assess his team.
The eighth-year head coach has come under fire for playing soft nonconference teams throughout his tenure, but this season’s cupcakes were more borne of necessity due to his young team, he said, and he’s been pleased with its progression against its own benchmarks, even if the level of competition can make those improvements hard for outsiders to spot.
“We played Lynn [in an exhibition game Oct. 30 and] we weren’t getting enough guys to offensive rebound,” Turgeon said. “They were standing and being lazy. As the games have progressed … guys are developing habits.”
Turgeon made sure they have time to work on those fundamentals.
Maryland was going to play in the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City this year — which would have bolstered its schedule — until the Big Ten elected to add two games to the conference slate.
Knowing he would be heavily reliant on freshmen this season, Turgeon nixed the tournament plan in favor of a couple extra easier games early in the campaign.
“We’ll be a lot further along than if we were getting beat up playing against a tougher schedule,” Turgeon said.
And after the uneven performances of the first couple of games, the readjustment from Turgeon seems to have been prescient.
The Terps let Delaware back into the game in the second half, couldn’t pull away from Navy until the final 10 minutes and finally got a truly easy win against A&T.
The youth has certainly played a factor: Freshman Jalen Smith has started every game, rookies Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins have both earned starts and some of the first players off the bench have also been rookies.
“The first game, I remember them just being so excited to get on the court,” sophomore Darryl Morsell said. “Eric dropping the ball, turning the ball over in fast breaks. Aaron shooting airballs and stuff like that. They were just excited to get out here and be a part of Maryland basketball.”
Now, Ayala said, the group of newcomers is getting settled.
“We’re not so eager to make the first play or the first highlight play,” Ayala said. “We’re starting to play within the offense, within our coaching [and] within ourselves.”
But the first true highlights of the season aren’t likely to come until the end of the month, when the Cavaliers come to Xfinity Center.
Until then, jitters or no jitters, the Terps are likely to remain undefeated. It might not be the most exciting start to the season or sell many tickets, but Turgeon created the schedule with growth in mind, he said, and the first couple of games showed why.
“It helps you bring along a young team,” Turgeon said. “And thank God.”