Although Mark Turgeon's March mood might be a bit dampened considering it'll take more than a minor miracle for his team to sweep its way to the NCAA tournament, this remains the Maryland men's basketball coach's favorite time of the year.
The eighth-seeded Terrapins (16-14) begin what they hope to be more than a one- or two-day trip to Atlanta with a noon tilt today against ninth-seeded Wake Forest (13-17) in the first round of the ACC tournament.
It will be Turgeon's first trip to the ACC event, but wherever he has been and in whatever role, he has adored conference tourneys.
"I grew up loving them. I loved them as a fan, I loved them when I played, I loved them as an assistant coach and I've loved them as a head coach," Turgeon said.
Turgeon never won one at Jacksonville State, Wichita State or Texas A&M, but he made it to the semifinals several times and loves everything about the experience.
He hopes that carries over to his Terrapins even though it seems likely that anything short of a run to Sunday's championship will result in a postseason-less March.
"I love this time of year. Usually I'll be a lot more upbeat this time of year," Turgeon said. "I love the music, I love everything about it, I love the smell in the air. I just love it, I always have since I can remember. So I get excited and that's what drives me to recruit harder and everything that I do, coach harder.
"It's why you leave mid-majors to move up in this business, to be a part of what lies ahead the next four weeks. Unfortunately for us, unless we win four in a row we're not going to be a part of the big one. But I just love this time of year and I think you'll see that in the future."
The Terps head into today's game, the first of the entire ACC tourney, having lost three straight and four of six since point guard Pe'Shon Howard was lost for the season.
Turgeon said he feels a lot better about the state of his team than he did at halftime of Sunday's finale. Maryland trailed by nine at the break and by 12 with eight minutes to go before forcing overtime and falling 75-72 to No. 24 Virginia.
"I expect us to go down to Atlanta and have energy and be ready to play well," Turgeon said. "I don't know what it's going to translate to, but I expect us to play like we did against Virginia in the second half."
The Terps have advanced in the ACC tournament in two of the last three years. Last year as the seventh seed, Maryland opened with a win over N.C. State before losing to Duke in the quarterfinals. This will be the Terps' ninth game with Wake Forest in the event, and they are 5-3 against the Demon Deacons, having won the last five meetings in a row.
During the regular season, Maryland beat Wake 70-64 on Jan. 11 at Comcast Center. Both teams have a different look, as the Terps will be without their point guard (Howard) and the Demon Deacons recently dismissed senior center Ty Walker from the team. Walker made eight blocks against Maryland on Jan. 11.
No matter the makeup of the teams, the Terps head to the tourney just hoping to have a successful weekend of some sort. Turgeon said he wants to see his team just play well and get at least one win. More than one would be difficult with top-seeded North Carolina waiting in the second round.
Sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin shared similar thoughts on what would make it a positive trip to Atlanta.
"The way to make the most of this situation is just get better," he said. "Everything that we learned in the ACC season we can use for this tournament. We're going in with the mindset that we're going to win it. We still want to play in the [NCAA] tournament. Our goals haven't changed."
Freshman Nick Faust is prepared for his first appearance there after a strong finish to the regular season where he averaged 13 points, five rebounds and 2.4 assists over the last eight games.
He's hoping the Terps' lower seeding could help them.
"Being the underdogs, a lot of teams are going to look past us," he said. "So it's just an open window of opportunity."
At this point, it's believed Maryland played its way out of earning a spot in the NIT by fizzling to the finish. So Stoglin has an idea of what it would take to reverse those fortunes.
"What do we have to do to advance? Get wins," he said. "We've got to get four wins."