Terps underclassmen show bright future
Mark Turgeon's glass is often fascinatingly half-empty as he anguishes through a basketball season, sweating every detail, fearing the worst and offering blunt assessments of his players and himself. Even after Maryland victories, post-game Q&A sessions feel like therapy as the coach lets it all out on the state of his team.
On Tuesday, however, facing the kind of conference road test that has vexed his young team, Turgeon went big picture, emphasizing the positive and the promise of a bright future.
"Expectations sometimes get ahead of the team," Turgeon said. "We have to remember where we were last year and where we are today."
|Maryland at Florida State|
|» When: Wednesday, 8 p.m.|
|» Where: Donald L. Tucker Center, Tallahassee, Fla.|
|» TV: Ch. 20|
|» Radio: ESPN 980 AM|
Even after four losses in its last six games and the possibility of another Wednesday night at Florida State (11-8, 3-3), there's little doubt about the improvement of Maryland (15-5, 3-4), coming off Turgeon's 17-15 opening season in College Park.
The enhanced talent level is such that 2011-12 starters Pe'Shon Howard and James Padgett have been leap-frogged in the rotation, playing 10 and seven fewer minutes respectively. In Saturday's 84-64 loss at Duke, underclassmen accounted for 163 of the 200 minutes, 52 of the points and 35 of the Terps' 42 individual rebounds.
"I've been through this a few times, building programs, starting young teams," Turgeon said. "We're on schedule, guys. There's no panic here in me."
Turgeon chafed at the notion that his team is playing below expectations, which were perhaps inflated by a 13-game winning streak, accomplished largely against non-conference softies.
"Unless you're [Kentucky], you don't go from 17-15 to the national championship game," Turgeon said. "I know there's some people around here that think we should be in the Final Four, but they're not realistic. Who knows where we'll be two months from now? We could be a heck of a team. We've got a lot of improving to do to do that. I like the way we're heading."
For the Terps, the immediate future is at Florida State, where they will try to end their conference road woes. Maryland has lost seven straight ACC games in hostile arenas, the last win coming nearly a year ago, Feb. 7 at Clemson.
As positive reinforcement, the Terps were reminded of their success in a loud gym at Northwestern in a 77-57 ACC-Big Ten Challenge win on Nov. 27. Freshman center Shaquille Cleare recalled the simple formula.
"We executed. We stayed together as a team, and we made a lot of shots," Cleare said. "We have to play position defense. We have to box out and get them the ball."
Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton might also be managing expectations these days. After winning games at Clemson and Maryland, the young Seminoles have dropped three of their last four, including blowouts at Virginia and Miami. With 6-8 junior Terrance Shannon, the team's top rebounder and third-leading scorer, out with a neck injury, the Terps will face a smaller and less experienced version this time, perhaps making for a fair fight.
"I think our puppies are growing up. We still don't have the experience other teams in our league have. But what great experience our guys are getting at such a young age," Turgeon said. "I think the future looks pretty good, and I hope the future starts tomorrow night."