Maryland’s fast start could be deceiving

Mark Turgeon has worked magic in his second season at Maryland,

leading his young team to 7-1 start that would suggest the

Terrapins could be a force in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Or is it just an illusion?

”Our perception is a lot better than reality right now,”

Turgeon said Wednesday night after the Terrapins notched their

seventh straight victory, a 100-68 rout of Maryland-Eastern

Shore.

Sure, Maryland’s victims include Morehead State, Georgia

Southern and LIU-Brooklyn. But the seven-game run – which followed

a season-opening 72-69 defeat against Kentucky – featured a 77-57

road win over previously unbeaten Northwestern in which the Terps

outscored the Wildcats 49-31 after halftime.

That was the game that got people saying this Maryland team just

might be pretty good.

”We played a nice game at Northwestern, really guarding them

and executing the second half. We showed strides,” Turgeon said.

”But we’ve got so far to go. I just don’t want people thinking

that we’re this great team. Because we’re not yet. We have a chance

to be. We’re getting better and improving each day.”

This squad has far more cohesion and depth than last year’s

team, Turgeon’s first since leaving Texas A&M to replace the

highly successful Gary Williams. Maryland went 17-15, leaning

heavily on the inside play of raw 7-foot-1 freshman Alex Len and

the outside scoring of guard Terrell Stoglin.

After leading the ACC in scoring as a sophomore, Stoglin was

suspended by Maryland for a full year for failing to comply with

the school’s Code of Conduct for athletes. Instead of serving the

suspension, he opted to hire an agent and enter his name into the

NBA draft.

Fortunately for the Terrapins, Len is back – with more weight,

confidence and skill under the basket.

With Len, senior James Padgett and freshmen Charles Mitchell and

Shaquille Cleare jamming the middle, the Terrapins rank among the

national leaders in rebounding margin. Transfer Logan Aronhalt has

replaced Stoglin as the designated gunner, going 15 for 23 from

3-point range.

”I think Logan is probably the best shooter in the country if

you leave him open,” Mitchell said.

The strength of the team is its depth, which runs so deep that

Turgeon tossed three new starters into the mix against UMES. He

also intends to shuffle his lineup again Saturday against South

Carolina State.

That kind of ploy might not have worked last year.

”I have never had a team like this, that really likes each

other as much as they do and are as deep as this team is,” Turgeon

said. ”There are no bruised egos because of who we started.”

Freshman guard Seth Allen, who received his first college start

Wednesday, said of the lineup change: ”Our team is so close, so

nobody really got mad or had a problem with it. Everybody was

pushing the new starting five to be great.”

Len played only 17 minutes. Xavier transfer Dez Wells, who

poured in 23 points against Northwestern and 25 in a follow-up win

over George Mason, scored seven in 19 unspectacular minutes.

Maryland’s defense wasn’t up to Turgeon’s standards, but he

wasn’t complaining too much after a 32-point win.

”Obviously we didn’t guard or rebound well,” he said. ”I’ll

give these guys a pass because we have been guarding our tails off

in practice.”

Maryland has five non-league games at home upcoming before

beginning ACC play on Jan.5 against Virginia Tech. By that time,

Turgeon hopes a team with five freshmen, six sophomores and only

two seniors (Padgett and Aronhalt) can grow up and fulfill

expectations.

”Everybody expects us to be great. We’re a very young

basketball team,” Turgeon said. ”We’ve gotten the cart before the

horse. For these guys to do what they’re doing is pretty impressive

to me, but we’re nowhere near where we’re going to be.”