If coach Mark Turgeon considers the postseason an educational opportunity for his young Maryland team, then Tuesday night's National Invitation Tournament game at top-seeded Alabama must represent an advanced class.
The second-seeded Terps (24-12) are trying to move into the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden for the first time since 2005. Maryland will be seeking its first road victory against a team with a winning record. The Crimson Tide (23-12) have won 12 straight home games.
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But Maryland will face this test without a key player. Freshman guard Seth Allen will be out the rest of the season after he broke a bone in his shooting hand (left) in Sunday's practice.
Allen has been an important part of Maryland's small lineups. The Terps put five guards on the floor at once in their NIT win over Denver last Thursday – a lineup designed to spread out the defense and create matchup problems with its quickness.
"It's a big blow to us because of the way he's been playing," Turgeon said. "The thing where it hurts us is we've been playing a small lineup a lot. We can still play a small lineup but maybe not as much. Guys like [James Padgett],[Charles Mitchell] and [Shaq Cleare] will probably get those minutes."
Allen averaged 7.8 points a game this season, scoring in double figures 13 times.
Allen has been through long recovery periods before. A bicycle accident in 2007 left him with two plates and 24 screws to stabilize his left elbow. He also broke his left hand as a high school senior.
"Seth's a tough kid and he stays positive, so I think that rubbed off on us," junior guard Pe'Shon Howard said.
Maryland last played Alabama in San Juan, Puerto Rico at the beginning of last season. The Terps shot 26.5 percent and did not have a player in double figures in a 62-42 loss. Turgeon was miserable during the game, stomping his feet repeatedly on the sideline.
"We know how far we've come from Puerto Rico," Turgeon said. "[Alabama players] are hard to score on this year, too. They're big and athletic and it's going to take us a while."
Turgeon has said of the NIT: "We're in it to win it."
The team has an NIT bracket in its locker room. After each game, the Terps slice off a piece of the bracket, signifying another victory.
"Move on to the next game, cut off some more paper," Howard said. "It's a one-step-at-a-time sort of thing."