In Mark Turgeon's fourth and final season coaching Texas A&M, the Aggies ranked 19th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 60.9 points per game.
It was an NCAA tournament-bound team whose hallmarks were defense and rebounding. Among its signature wins was a 63-62 defeat of a nationally ranked Washington team that entered the game leading the nation in scoring. The Huskies shot just 37.7 percent from the field against Turgeon's defense.
A year later, those familiar with this history can understand why Turgeon — now at Maryland — sometimes wears a pained expression when discussing the Terps, even though they have won eight of their past nine games. The coach is all about defense.
Midway through his first season in College Park, Turgeon is not quite tapping the defensive potential of his young Maryland team.
"It's frustrating because I think we have the ability to be a much better defensive team than we are," the coach said Saturday. While reporters want to talk about offense, Turgeon will often spend post-game media sessions detailing specific defensive lapses.
"You've got to want to be good defensively. [It's] preparation — knowing what to do and doing it every time," Turgeon said. "Sometimes we're really good team-defensively, and sometimes we're not. And the next time we might be good individually-defensively, but we're not next time."
While the Terps have improved of late, Maryland is still surrendering 68.5 points per game, 211th in the nation and ninth in the ACC. Maryland is last in the ACC in steals.
The Terps are 7-1 when holding opponents to 69 points or fewer.
Maryland's defensive issues vary from game to game. It might be that the Terps aren't defending ball screens properly. Or that their big men aren't racing back quickly enough on defense. Turgeon said the Terps, who favor a man-to-man defense, don't always recognize when to switch men in transition.
Maryland's defense has improved since the arrival of 7-foot-1 center Alex Len, who missed the first 10 games as a sanction for having once signed a deal with an overseas club. Len has blocked 12 shots in his five games, and his presence near the basket allows the Terps to gamble more on the perimeter.
Defense helps spark Maryland's fast break. "We get stops on defense, and he always wants us to look [downcourt]," senior Sean Mosley said of Turgeon.
Maryland also is rebounding better than early in the season. The Terps have out-rebounded opponents in eight of the past nine games.
But Turgeon said the Terps are still surrendering too many second chances. "We don't limit [opponents] to one shot nearly as much as we need to," he said.
A key to Maryland's rebounding and defense is 6-foot-9 forward Ashton Pankey. After having zero points and one rebound in 16 minutes against North Carolina State last Sunday, Pankey had nine points and nine rebounds in Wednesday night's victory over Wake Forest.
Pankey said he was still adjusting to Len's arrival, which moved him from center to power forward. "It was a rough transition for me. I was in a slump [for] a few games," he said.
Turgeon is trying to be patient with Pankey and with Maryland's overall defense.
"We're much better than where we were a month ago," Turgeon said. "We'll see where we go from here."
Note: Turgeon said Maryland guard Terrell Stoglin, the ACC's leading scorer, might not start against Georgia Tech, which had lost four games in a row before beating N.C. State on Wednesday. Stoglin has a sore back but is expected to play. Stoglin did not start Maryland's last game for unspecified reasons — he was not injured — but scored 20 points.