Terps Await the Tide

The Terps head to Puerto Rico to face Alabama in the Puerto Rico Tipoff.

After a chaotic transition into his first year as head coach at Maryland, Mark Turgeon needs to get away. And while the Terps' upcoming getaway to Puerto Rico is no doubt a business trip, Turgeon is excited about the potential good the experience could bring to his young team.

“These trips are awesome,” said Turgeon on Tuesday. “I don't know what's gonna happen down there. It's gonna be hard on us. But we'll bond and you gotta get away from home to bond.”

When asked about his expectations of the team's performance in San Juan, Turgeon pointed out that the early season tournaments aren't always reflective of a team's ultimate success. “I think about teams that go 1-2 or even 0-3 in some of these things and it's not the end of the world,” said Turgeon. “It feels like it at the time. Butler, who played in the national championship game, we were in Anaheim with them two years ago and they went 1-2 in the tournament.”

While he may be miles away from home, Turgeon and his team will certainly have their hands full from the start, as they face No. 16 Alabama on Thursday to kickoff their trip. The Crimson Tide, picked to finish fourth in the SEC this season, boast one of the most potent defenses in the nation, limiting opponents to 59.4 ppg in their first two games this season.

When asked what pops out most about his first-round opponent, Turgeon had trouble containing the list. “Speed, size, depth, play hard, defend,” he said. “They really defend you. We were better with the ball the other night but we're gonna have to be really good with the ball to beat these guys.”

From their exhibition game against Northwood on Nov. 4 to their season opener Sunday against UNC-Wilmington, the Terps were able to cut their turnovers from 23 to 13, thanks in large part to Turgeon's focus on “second loss of possession” in practice.

“We're gonna see a lot of different things this weekend,” said Turgeon. “Alabama is gonna run and jump in the backcourt, which we haven't seen. It'll be interesting to see if we can handle it and they'll throw a pretty aggressive press on us too. So, it'll be good for us.”

Even if the Terps are able to manage Alabama's overwhelming defense, there is little to no drop-off on the offensive side of the ball. The Crimson Tide return three preseason All-SEC selections in JaMychal Green, Tony Mitchell and Trevor Releford.

Green, a 6-foot-8 senior forward, is the SEC's active leader in double-doubles (20) and led Alabama in both scoring (15.5 ppg) and rebounding (7.5) last season. He is accompanied in the paint by Mitchell, a 6-foot-6 junior who has exploded in his fist two games this season, averaging 14.5 ppg and 9.5 rpg.

Luckily for Turgeon, there were some encouraging signs out of the Maryland frontcourt in their 71-62 win on Sunday night. Junior forward James Padgett (12 pts, 7 reb) and sophomore forward Ashton Pankey (13 pts, 8 reb) both had career nights against UNC-Wilmington, establishing their presence down low from the start.

“I think they're just gonna continue to grow,” said Turgeon of his post players. “Ashton's low post game has come leaps and bounds since August. James actually has a knack to score down there, which is good for him.”

Another major part of the Terps' frontcourt that saw limited action on Sunday was 6-foot-10 senior center Berend Weijs. Weijs was confined to the bench for much of the opener with four fouls, but is still one of the developing options in the paint, according to his head coach. “Berend can really score the ball,” said Turgeon. “He just hadn't gotten into a rhythm yet. If you've seen my teams in the past we develop post players and make them better.”

In terms of Sunday's performance, Turgeon stressed transition defense among the many things he felt they didn't do well. “Our transition defense was poor, which I had felt in the game, but it was even worse than I thought in film,” he said. “The game wouldn't had been close if we had a little effort in transition.”

Among the things not of concern to Turgeon, surprisingly, was the team's glaring 0-for-9 shooting from 3-point range. “We were 10-20 the game before,” he said. “We shoot everyday and we work on it so I'm not gonna make a big deal out of it. We got good shooters.”

Senior Sean Mosley and freshman Nick Faust, two players whom Turgeon feels need to provide a substantial offensive output this season, shot a combined 4-of-12 from the field in the win on Sunday.

“Nick didn't have a good game and Sean missed some shots,” said Turgeon. “And they [UNCW] just shifted their zone towards Terrell (Stoglin).”

Despite the defensive focus he drew on Sunday, Stoglin was the Terps' main scoring threat, going for a team high 22 points on 6-of-16 shooting (10-11 FT). Yet the sophomore guard's season got off to a rocky start, as an undisclosed issue between Stoglin and Turgeon kept him out of the starting lineup in the opener.

When asked about the probability of Stoglin finding his way back into the starting lineup come the Alabama game, Turgeon didn't sound completely optimistic. “Well it's a long time between now and Thursday so we'll see,” he said. “He's practicing better and he's making better decisions in practice. As a coach, when you've been doing it 24 or 25 years, usually when guys start doing things in practice, it usually carries over into the games a couple of weeks down the road.”

With an already thin roster, and three games in four days to come in Puerto Rico, Turgeon has made it known that he may have to, and is willing to add some walk-ons into his rotation.

Despite his limited options however, Turgeon isn't concerned with conserving the players' legs. “I'm not trying to conserve anything, I'm trying to get better,” he said. “We have to get better. I can't worry about tomorrow or the next day. I have to worry about today … If you know anything about me I do a pretty good job of keeping our legs underneath our guys. This is a little bit more difficult because we have so far to go and so much to do but I'm not worrying about that right now.”

The first-round matchup against Alabama tips off Thursday at 5 p.m. and will air on ESPN2. The winner will play at 9 p.m. on Friday against the victor of the Colorado/Wichita State matchup. The losers will square off Friday at 6:30 p.m.

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