COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- It's never easy playing two games in three days like Maryland and Pittsburgh (13-1, 1-0 ACC) will do when the Terps (10-5, 2-0 ACC) travel to Petersen Events Center to take on the Panthers Jan. 6 at 7 p.m. Fortunately for Maryland, straight off a 77-61 victory against Georgia Tech Jan. 4, it's already experienced a quick turnaround what with those three games in four days at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
It also helps that the university is still on winter break, there aren't classes to worry about, and the fact the Terps operated on cruise control for some of the Tech bout, allowing UMD to keep fresh.
"Coach spreads the minutes out, 15, 20 minutes each," sophomore point guard Seth Allen said. "It's not like everybody is playing a lot of minutes. And we practice really hard, and we do two practices a day, so we'll be fine. We've done this before."
But while the Maryland players have caught a bit of a break considering the circumstances, head coach Mark Turgeon said the turnaround is especially hard on him. See, when the Tech game ended around 4 p.m. Jan. 4, Turgeon only had cursory knowledge of the team he'd be facing in 51 hours.
Which means all the Pittsburgh scouting reports, walkthroughs and film sessions have had to be crammed into a small window before the team takes flight the afternoon of Jan. 6.
"It's hard on a head coach because you don't look ahead," Turgeon said. "You leave the building at 5 [Jan. 4], practice at 1:30 [Jan. 5], and you have to be totally prepared by that time. It's a lot of work that goes into that."
Here's a glance at Turgeon's schedule after he left the Comcast Center following the Georgia Tech game:
5-9 p.m.: Spend time with family, eat
9 p.m. – 1 a.m.: Watch Pitt film
1 a.m. -- Jan. 5 morning: Sleep
Early morning; Watch more film
Late morning: Go to church
Afternoon: Practice at Comcast Center
3:20 p.m.: Talk to media
3:30 p.m. – until: Watch more film
"As you get older you've pretty much seen at all. You just try to watch as much as possible so you can be informed and get as much done [as you can]," Turgeon said. "So it's busy. I'm tired, I'm not going to lie to you. But I'm also excited. This is a great opportunity for us."
Turgeon said his assistants and video coordinators are tasked with breaking down opponents' personnel, and typically they put together 20 to 25 clips of every player. Pittsburgh, for its part, goes 10 deep, so after the videos were compiled Turgeon had a couple extra guys to evaluate. Then, after studying the clips, the head coach watches three or four complete games to get a feel for the foe's flow. He is also given an "edit tape" that breaks down all Pittsburgh's offensive and defensive plays this season in order.
"I watch a lot of different stuff," said Turgeon, who noted that he'll watch the Jan. 4 Pitt-N.C. State game on the team flight. "That's where all the work comes in."
Maryland's head man wasn't about to reveal all that he learned, but at least now he has an inkling of what his squad will be up against in the 13-1 Panthers, which have won 11 in a row at home and boast a 189-22 record at the Petersen Center.
"This place we're going is pretty special and I heard it's sold out, which is great," Turgeon said. "But I like to think we'll be ready to handle it. We started to play better on the road at the end of last year, and I know we're not last year's team but we're handling things better."
Pitt, which came back from a 17-2 deficit to beat N.C. State 74-62 Jan. 4, features one of the most efficient squads in the ACC. The Panthers are second in field goal percentage (48 percent), fourth in points (76.7), second in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.70), are on a school-record free-throw shooting pace (75 percent), and hold teams to just 59 points per game. They aren't, however, a particularly strong 3-point shooting team (33 percent), and sit just eighth in the ACC in rebounding.
"They're a very physical team," Turgeon said. "Hopefully we can shoot the ball like we did [against Georgia Tech], [because] they don't want you shooting layups, they want you to beat them from the outside. … And we're going to need our depth tomorrow. We're going to play nine guys, but they'll play 10….
"[But offensively] they don't run 1,000 sets, so the preparation is a little easier with that. It really comes down to personnel with them -- drivers, shooters, that kind of thing. But they run good stuff. They don't run 1,000 things, but what they run they run well. They slip a lot of ball screens, dive on ball screens -- that's different and we haven't seen a lot of that. We'll have to adjust to that as the game goes on."
Wing Lamar Patterson leads the way at 17.2 points per game, eighth in the conference, and also dishes out 4.6 assists per game (seventh) and comes up with 1.5 steals (12th). Guard Cameron Wright is a defensive specialist who is swiping an eye-popping 2.29 steals per game, second in the ACC. And big man Talib Zanna, who Turgeon said is more athletic than Georgia Tech's Daniel Miller, ranks second in the ACC with a robust 59.4 field-goal percentage and is seventh with 7.6 rebounds per game.
"We've talked about execution and toughness [against Pitt]," Turgeon said. "If we do that and battle on the boards with them, you give yourself a chance. I think we're ready. I know we won't roll over like we did [against Ohio State]. I know we'll continue to compete because of where we are as a team."
If Maryland can continue playing inside-out basketball, it should certainly have a punchers' chance. For what seemed like the first time all season, the Terps facilitated their offense through the post against Georgia Tech, with bigs Shaquille Cleare, Charles Mitchell and Jonathan Graham combining for 15 points and three assists.
Though it didn't always show up in the stat book, Cleare and Graham both made a few nifty feeds to the wings, while the former asserted himself offensively by scoring eight points.
"Playing inside-out opens up our whole game -- our guards get open shots, and they can drive and dish," said Mitchell, who had 11 rebounds against Tech. "And you can't double in the post, because it leaves our shooters wide open, and they're going to hit their shots."
Allen agreed with his teammate:
"Pitt is known for doubling the bigs, so our idea is if they're going to double, we're going to make them pay by making a play off the ball," said Allen, who is averaging 10 points, three assists and just one turnover in his three games since returning from a broken foot. "If they're not going to double, we're going to give it to Charles and Shaq. They have to pick their poison."
Another positive that Maryland hopes will turn into a trend is the team's decision making. The Terps, which ranked near the bottom of the conference in turnovers coming into the Georgia Tech game, had just six all night Jan. 4. Point guards Allen and Roddy Peters combined for one total, Dez Wells had only a single miscue and even the maligned Nick Faust had just one boot.
The junior from Baltimore has been relegated to bench duty the last two games, and instead of hanging his head he's responded with his best basketball all season. Faust scored a game-high 16 points, including 4-of-6 from downtown, against Tech, and before that he canned 19 against N.C. Central.
"You see a whole different Nick Faust, and it's not even close. It's kind of clicked for him," Turgeon said. "He'll still throw an occasional no-look pass. You can take the kid out of Baltimore, but you cant' take the Baltimore out of the kid (laughs). But he's really been under control.
"But I think it's a confidence thing, [the team] being more relaxed with the guys around them. We've done drills where they have to make decisions, and they've gotten better in that. We run the steps for turnovers -- it's pretty steep over there (laughs). It helps, trying different things, but I think it's maturity and just having Seth back. And knowing if you make a mistake I'm probably going to take you out. The bench has a way of making guys think things through and correct them."
Turgeon has pretty much heaped praise on Allen since his return, and rightfully so. Though his shot isn't falling yet, and he's not playing at the level he was in 2012-13, he has the offense moving and has added to the Terps' overall depth. Maryland ended up shooting 47 percent against a Tech team that allowed teams to hit just 37 percent of their shots -- and much of that was a trickle-down from the sophomore running the Terps' show.
But Allen refused to take too much credit for Maryland's improved play. He actually said the Terps' emphasis on defense is a major reason why the offense is flowing and the turnovers are down.
"We sacrifice so much, and we understand if we play defense really hard, the offense is going to come. Coach Bino [Ranson] always says there's enough pie to go around for everybody. So if we play defense we'll be fine.
"And everybody's decision making is way better. Everyone is playing to win, not for themselves. You see Nick passing up shots, an open 3, and he does that for the team. So we're thinking about Maryland and what's best for the team."
If you take Allen at his word, this team has found its wheelhouse -- physically, mentally and (sometimes) technically. Turgeon, for his part, is satisfied with the new starting lineup of Peters starting at point and Cleare opening in the paint, with Faust and Mitchell coming off the bench. He also praised the team's focus, preparation, energy and chemistry heading into the heart of the season.
"But tomorrow night [Jan. 6] is a different animal," Turgeon said. "It's on the road, and it's supposed to be a sellout. It'll be good for us to see where we are."
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