In the midst of the mass exodus that saw five players with remaining eligibility leave Maryland this past spring, Mark Turgeon took a high-profile matchup Dec. 8 against Villanova in the Jimmy V Classic at New York’s Madison Square Garden off the 2014-15 schedule.
At the time, Turgeon cited a “scheduling conflict” as the reason.
It was more the uncertainty of what kind of team the Terps were going to put on the court after a 17-15 season, the most disappointing year in the short Turgeon Era and one of the most underachieving by Maryland in memory.
After seeing the four freshmen and transfer Richaud Pack come together for the eight one-hour summer workouts allowed by the NCAA, Turgeon saw something: the most talented, most coachable bunch he had since coming to College Park.
“I thought we could be pretty good,” Turgeon said Thursday, the day the schedule was officially announced on the Big Ten Network. “But we needed a couple of games to help us come March.”
Which is why Turgeon consented to a trip to Oklahoma State right after final exams in December.
The Cowboys are one of nine NCAA tournament teams from a year ago on Maryland’s schedule, 10 if the Terps face Iowa State in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic right before Thanksiving.
While I would have preferred going back to my hoop roots at the Garden for a doubleheader that still includes Indiana-Louisville, Gallagher-Iba Arena is one of those places most college basketball fans wouldn’t mind going.
Turgeon knew something else about scheduling that game: the Cowboys are going through a bit of a rebuilding process themselves after a tumultuous 21-13 season and losing Marcus Smart to the NBA.
While the typically rowdy atmosphere Gallagher-Iba – think Cameron Indoor Stadium without The Krzyzewski Factor – will certainly be challenging, Maryland’s not quite the marquee team that’s going to fill the place up at 1 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon.
Playing a program such as Oklahoma State on the road will only look good on Maryland’s NCAA resume if the Terps can win. The same goes for the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, where the Terps play Arizona State in the opening round.
Ditto for Maryland’s ACC-Big Ten matchup with longtime rival Virginia on Dec. 3 at the recently renamed Xfinity Center. The rest of the schedule is against a bunch of teams that finished last year with triple-digit RPIs.
(Speaking of that alleged scheduling conflict, I guess Turgeon didn't want to schedule Villanova between a Dec. 6 game against Winthrop and another against UNC Central four days later. Somehow, I think Turgeon would have kept the game against the Wildcats on the schedule had he seen Michal Cekovsky, Melo Trimble and the rest of the newcomers play together.)
Quality wins over top 50 teams have been difficult to come by for Maryland during Turgeon’s first three years, especially in November and December. This season the Terps will have a number of legitimate chances.
And if Turgeon’s instincts are right after watching those eight summer workouts, he might finally have the team to get them.