COLLEGE PARK — It might only be a year since Maryland took the same train ride to New York and bus ride to Brooklyn to play defending championship Kentucky at the Barclays Center.
But a lot has changed for the Terps as they headed up again for Friday's game against No. 18 Connecticut. Sophomore center Shaquille Cleare is hoping that what is most different is Maryland's attitude.
"I think last year going into Barclays, we weren't that prepared," Cleare said Thursday. "I just just think everyone was saying 'We're playing Kentucky,' so I didn't think a lot of guys brought their 'A' game. A lot of guys gave in early. ... I don't think we were that confident. We were hyped, but we weren't that confident. This year we're much more aggressive and we're ready to go."
Said sophomore forward Jake Layman: "We're a totally different team this year. We have a lot of guys who have a year under their belt and are ready for that stage."
Despite Maryland losing starting point guard Seth Allen with a broken foot last week, third-year coach Mark Turgeon believes his Terps are ready to take on playing a nationally ranked team in what should be a raucous setting on national television.
Turgeon likes the fact that the Huskies, under second-year coach Kevin Ollie, are ranked.
"I think the exposure will be great for us. That's what we want. We don't want to limp into a season, especially when you think you have a good team," Turgeon said. "And then you want to see where you are. Personally I think UConn is a little undervalued. With guards like that, they should be ranked higher. It will be a great test for us to see where we are nationally."
Turgeon thinks his team will be ready to handle the setting better than it did early on against Kentucky, but he also points out that in Sunday's 84-39 exhibition victory over Division III Catholic, the Terps committed "four turnovers by the first TV timeout." While Maryland settled down Sunday, Turgeon understands that some early-game jitters can be expected.
"I'm sure we'll be a little anxious early, which is natural," he said. "But we're so much more mature, the guys that are playing, the guys that we're counting on a lot. The only ones who haven't are [freshmen] Roddy [Peters] and Damonte [Dodd.] We're so much further along."
Another big difference Friday will be the presence of junior forward Evan Smotrycz, who is eligible after transferring from Michigan, where he played two years.
"Evan understands how to play," Turgeon said. "He covers up for some guys' mistakes, he's really smart offensively and then he's very smart defensively, which overcomes some of his limitatations as an athlete. ... I always feel like he's going to do the right things."
Smotrycz was not allow to travel with the Terps last year to Brooklyn and watched the game in the team's lounge.
"I thought we looked really young at first. Guys were really excited and kind of putting shots off the backboard," Smotrycz said. "We calmed down eventually. I think the guys have played in enough big games to come out more composed. Hopefully that happens."
This marks the Terps' third trip to New York in the past two seasons. The Terps also lost to Iowa in the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden in March, a game in which they looked just as nervous as they did months earlier in Brooklyn.
"We feel like we owe the Barclays Center one," Layman said.
Cleare, who could start at center after playing behind Alex Len last season, said there should be a level of comfort once the Terps get in the building.
"We're home again," he said. " We've just got to turn on the lights this time at Barclays. They were a little dim last year."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun