The regular season is in the books, and thanks to junior guard Melo Trimble’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Michigan State March 4, Maryland (24-7, 12-6 Big Ten) enters the conference tournament as a three seed. The Terps, who earned a double-bye and are on a two-game winning streak, will take on the winner of the Northwestern-Ohio State/Rutgers game at around 9 p.m. March 10.
And UMD won’t have to travel far to do so. For the first time since joining the Big Ten, the conference tournament will be held in Maryland's backyard, at Washington, D.C.’s, Verizon Center.
“We’re excited about playing in D.C. Commissioner [Jim] Delany said it was going to be part of the deal coming to the Big Ten that we’d get to play in D.C., so we’re excited about that. It’s great for our fans, and it should be a great weekend,” head coach Mark Turgeon said March 6. “I know we’ve sold all our allotment [of tickets], and I know Terps fans will try to snatch up other tickets. It’s one of those things where [March 10] we should have a pretty good crowd. If we’re lucky enough to advance, which is hard to do this time of year, I think our crowds will continue to grow.
"Being at home doesn’t guarantee you anything, but we’re looking forward to being in the city and playing in an arena we’re comfortable in. We played Georgetown there earlier this year, so we’re familiar with the surroundings.”
Normally playing so close to home would be considered an advantage, but maybe not so much in Maryland’s case. The Terps have historically played well in their own confines, but are just 13-5 at Xfinity Center this season. And now they’ll have the extra pressure of defending the “home” floor and averting a letdown.
“No, no. It’s a neutral floor,” Turgeon insisted. “But we love neutral floors. We look at it as a positive in that we don’t have to travel, we can bus in [March 9] and probably only miss one day of school. Academically, it works out well for us this time of year.”
What also works out well is the time off the Terps have been granted by virtue of earning the double-bye. Turgeon noted that his team had played four games in 10 days down the stretch and could use the break. Maryland took off March 5-6 and will be back in the gym March 7.
“The layoff is much needed. It’s a long season and we played a lot down the stretch… and we’ve been going hard in practice,” Turgeon said. “So we’re taking a couple days off and then get back to work and try to get better. We’ll prepare hard and try to be ready. Guys are feeling good about themselves, and that’s a big part. They’re happy and proud of what they’ve done, and hopefully that will continue through the weekend.”
When the Terps take the floor again March 10, Turgeon said the approach will be the same as it’s been all year. In other words, he’s not going to rest his starters for extended minutes in hopes of keeping them fresh for a potential three-games-in-three-days scenario. If Maryland wins March 10, it would play again the afternoon of March 11, and if the Terps emerge victorious in that latter bout, they’ll partake in the championship game the afternoon of March 12.
“We plan to take it one game at a time. It’s so hard to win this time of year, so we’ll just get prepared for [March 10],” Turgeon said. “We won’t know until late [March 9] who our opponent is, so that gives us time to work on us, which is good. But we’ll take it one at a time.”
When asked specifically what his Terps will be working on, Turgeon, in so many words, said “everything.” He mentioned while UMD’s defense has been better of late, the team could still stand to improve. Turgeon went on to detail the squad’s season-long rebounding woes and the need for crisper offensive execution.
Just don’t expect Turgeon to reinvent the wheel during the week leading up to March 10.
“There’s no secrets this time of year. I call a play and Michigan State knew what we were running almost every time. It’s been like that every game down the stretch,” Turgeon said. “You just try to figure out ways to get open looks this time of year. Also, getting fresh, getting our mindset right and practicing well is important.”
Regardless of how fresh the Terps are, it won’t be easy to run off three wins in three days. The Big Ten has steadily improved as the season has moved along, and there are around eight teams that can make a case for inclusion in the NCAA tournament.
“It’ll be phenomenal basketball this weekend. The league has gotten really, really good and there’s great coaches and great teams,” Turgeon said. “We have three or four [middle-tier] teams that are just phenomenal right now in Iowa, Michigan Minnesota and Illinois. They’ve really made our league amazing down the stretch. It should be fun.