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Tracking the Terps

How good can Maryland be?

The Baltimore Sun

Coach Mark Turgeon said today that Maryland’s season essentially began anew once point guard Pe’Shon Howard and center Alex Len became available. The duo has played together for two games now.

“Albany (on Dec. 28) was really the first game of the year for us,” Turgeon said.

Does that mean I need to write another season preview? Does it mean I get to return to San Juan to cover the Puerto Rico Tip-Off again?

The Terps have won six games in a row entering Tuesday’s game against Cornell – the last in a string of half-dozen nonconference home games before opening the ACC season on Sunday at N.C. State. You ever hear the expression “friendlies” to describe overseas soccer matches? That’s what these Terps games feel like. At least this season, Turgeon is happy to have a succession of Comcast Center games so he can blend in the new elements of his newfangled team before the conference contests start.

In his two games, Len is averaging 13.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. “His numbers are a little higher than I thought they’d be,” Turgeon told the media today. The coach said the offense continues to evolve to account for Len’s presence. Which means more plays are starting with a pass to the big man in the low post. Turgeon said there’s more to come. Some new offensive wrinkles may appear against the Big Red on Tuesday night.

Howard is averaging 6.7 points, 5.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds in his three games. I expect Maryland to run more plays for the flashy guard, who can score more than he has.

I also anticipate more scoring from Sean Mosley -– but perhaps not immediately. Mosley has been playing with a gimpy right ankle, the same one in which he tore ligaments over the summer. “A little sore,” was the way the senior described it today. “It’s hard for me to sit out,” he said.

Maryland’s obvious improvement has raised the expectations bar.

So let me repeat the question: How good can Maryland be?

I think the Terps will be good enough to beat most ACC teams on good nights and will fare better than preseason projections – partly because they’ve added such important pieces in Howard and Len. And partly because Turgeon is an excellent coach who usually gets his teams to buy in to playing defense.

How does Turgeon do it? I asked Terrell Stoglin today how he accounts for his own defensive improvement since the season began. He said the coach told him very simply that he wouldn’t play unless he guarded better. Simple as that.

 Defense is the great equalizer, right? Shooting percentages rise and fall like the Dow Jones Industrials, but defense -- because it less fragile, less subject to intangibles – tends to be more consistent.

Having said all that, the Terps won’t be good enough to win on off nights. We can’t forget that this is still  a transition season -– one with a new coach who began the season with a pretty bare cupboard.

Until a few games ago, Maryland hadn’t beaten anybody  -- not Radford, not Mount St. Mary’s -- by double digits. So we need to remember that the Terps -– even with the reinforcements that Len and Howard have provided -– can lose on any night and have precious little margin for error. But there’s hope for Terps fans, right? And hope is everything. Heck, Emily Dickinson (who never even saw Alex Len) wrote a poem about it.

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