For the Maryland men’s basketball team to win its first Big Ten tournament title, it’ll have to beat three teams in as many days this weekend in Washington. Each time, the Terps will have less than 24 hours to prepare for their next opponent.
That’s made this week difficult for assistant coach Cliff Warren, who’s been compiling scouting reports on Rutgers, a potential Friday matchup, and No. 2-seed Wisconsin, which Maryland could face in the semifinals Saturday.
“[Warren] goes ‘I didn’t sleep much last night,'” coach Mark Turgeon recalled during his Wednesday press conference. “And I said ‘Well, I slept like a baby.'”
That’s because Turgeon hasn’t been concerned about the Terps’ foe entering the quarterfinals Friday night. Instead, he’s used practice to target his team’s weaknesses.
“A lot of times coaches screw around and work too much on other teams,” Turgeon said. “For three straight days, I’m just going to work on Maryland, and we should be a better team because of it.”
The No. 3-seed Terps, who finished the regular season tied for second in the conference, won’t know their opening opponent until late Thursday night when Rutgers and No. 6-seed Northwestern square off at the Verizon Center.
So, they’ve stressed self-improvement. After Saturday’s home win over Michigan State — Maryland’s second straight victory after dropping five of seven — the Terps had two days off. Turgeon wanted his players to rest.
They returned to Xfinity Center on Tuesday for a “hard practice” the sixth-year coach admitted lasted a little too long — “I’ll have to cut back [Wednesday]” — but he felt it exemplified the Terps’ desire to refine their shortcomings.
The workout, which guard Melo Trimble said spanned almost two hours, focused on defense. The Terps allowed at least 80 points in consecutive home losses to Minnesota and Iowa in late February, but Turgeon was pleased with his players’ stingy play in the last two contests.
Against the Spartans, he saw improved transition defense and rebounding, the latter of which Maryland’s production ranks in the bottom half of the league. The Terps also committed seven turnovers, almost half their season average (12.9), to continue their month-long stretch of taking care of the ball.
In the past 11 games, Maryland hasn’t committed more than 14 giveaways in an outing. Turgeon said that’s been a “huge” part of the conference success.
There were shortcomings against the Spartans, such as the team’s help-side defense, but the coach made sure to address that in Tuesday’s defense-heavy session.
“We didn’t like it,” Trimble said of the defensive grind. “But, I mean, it’s going to help us.”
Trimble said the Terps would have a shooting practice Wednesday and a lighter, hour-long practice Thursday before taking about a half-hour bus ride into Washington that night.
That’ll cap a week in which the Terps feel they’ve had some of their most productive workouts.
Before facing the Spartans, guard Anthony Cowan said the team had one of its best practices of the year after Turgeon demanded more energy during that slide. The three-point win helped Maryland clinch a double bye in the tournament.
Maryland hasn’t played since that triumph, but the five-day layoff ends Friday, and the Terps hope their recent efforts translate into dynamic performances against their pending foe.
“It’s a little easier this time of year to have energy because if you lose, you’re done,” Turgeon said. “Our guys, I think mentally and physically, are ready to go.”