Ahead of the Maryland men’s basketball team’s toughest two-game stretch this season, a reporter asked coach Mark Turgeon if his players understood this week’s importance for postseason seeding. Turgeon collected his thoughts, began his answer with “yeah” and “you know” to fill the silence before comparing the young men to a bunch of grade-schoolers.
“These kids are smart,” Turgeon said. “You’re raising a 6-year-old and you try to keep things from them and they already know. These kids are 18 to 22. They know. They’ve been following basketball their whole lives.”
Road wins over Northwestern and No. 11 Wisconsin, two of the Big Ten’s premier teams, could propel the Terps to the top of the conference standings with four regular season games remaining. They’d have a legitimate chance to win their first Big Ten title since joining the league in 2014.
But after making the comparison, the sixth-year coach said the Terps aren’t worried about what might happen down the road. He’s insisted his team has taken a one-game-at-a time approach and doesn’t expect that to change when it travels to Evanston, Illinois.
With Northwestern (19-6, 8-4) slated to make their first NCAA Tournament since the event’s inception in 1939, Turgeon assured the media that the Wildcats “have our attention” heading into Wednesday night’s contest.
“All we’re focusing on right now is Northwestern,” guard Kevin Huerter said. “We know they’re a really good team coming off a really good win. Obviously, they’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
Introduced in 1901, Northwestern’s men’s basketball program hosted the inaugural NCAA championship and the 1956 Final Four. But the Wildcats have never made the Big Dance, the only power conference team to hold that distinction.
Barring a late-season collapse, Northwestern will hear its name on Selection Sunday. Multiple pundits have the Wildcats as a seven seed after coach Chris Collins’ team won at then-No. 7 Wisconsin, 66-59, on Sunday. The defeat was the Badgers’ first at the Kohl Center since Maryland guard Melo Trimble’s game-winning, top-of-the-key triple last January.
Sunday, Northwestern guard Bryant McIntosh led the upset charge with a game-high 25 points.
“He’s a terrific player,” Turgeon said. “He’s one of the top three or four guards in the league, there’s no doubt about it. There’s a lot of really good guards.”
Turgeon praised McIntosh’s confidence and versatility. His basketball IQ and ability to make passes over people, Turgeon said, are reasons the 6-foot-3 junior leads the Big Ten in assists, averaging 5.6 per game. Plus, he can score in a variety of different ways, some of which the coach rattled off during Tuesday’s press conference.
“He can score all the way to the rim,” Turgeon said, “he’s got the floater, he’s got the 15-footer and he’s got that three.”
McIntosh flashed his offensive skill set in the Terps’ 72-59 road win a year ago, putting together a 17-point, nine-assist, five-rebound performance. He then had 12 points, seven boards and four dimes in Northwestern’s six-point overtime loss at Xfinity Center last January.
Wednesday, Northwestern leading scorer Scottie Lindsey (16.1 points per game) will miss his fourth straight game with mononucleosis, so Turgeon expects McIntosh to play a large factor offensively. Turgeon hopes the Terps can force him into tough looks, which the Badgers accomplished despite allowing him to score a season-high 25 points on 23 shots.
Maryland forward Damonte Dodd didn’t see the game between Northwestern and Wisconsin. In fact, he doesn’t consume a lot of college basketball when he’s at his apartment. When he’s not watching his former teammates play at other schools or in the NBA, he’s tuning into The Bernie Mac Show and Prison Break, among other TV shows.
But with a matchup against the Wildcats looming, Dodd’s focus has shifted. The senior and the rest of the Terps are locked in for part one of their most difficult test yet.
“Guys know what’s at stake,” Dodd said, “but at the same time, we just look at it as another game to get better.”