COLLEGE PARK - Mark Turgeon thinks he's figured out the best way to reach the players on this year's team.
As the Maryland basketball coach has acknowledged, he sometimes has to act "like a jerk" when trying to deliver a message to the Terrapins.
That means constantly keeping after them about running good offense, about playing good defense and making sure every mistake gets pointed out at practice. It's not always an approach Turgeon enjoys, but he believes it may necessary to get the Terrapins going.
"It's part of coaching," Turgeon said. "Sometimes you're in a good mood and you don't want to have to be a jerk and sometimes you just have to be. That's just the way it works. Sometimes, you have to ride the whole team, sometimes you have to ride 'em individually."
A couple of weeks ago, Turgeon wondered aloud if he'd been too hard on his players, that maybe they'd lost their collective sense of fun and enjoyment regarding basketball. But now, even the players agree that Turgeon's hard-line approach may be the best option.
"I respond better when coach gets on me," point guard Seth Allen said. "I'm just trying to run the team and get the team in the right spots and be better defensively."
Keeping the newly-demanding Turgeon happy is the best way for everyone to enjoy themselves, Dez Well said last week.
"Happy coach, happy season," Wells said with a smile.
Lately, Turgeon's heavy-handed style seems to be paying dividends. Maryland (13-9, 5-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won two straight. Prior to that, the Terrapins played a strong game in a four-point home loss to then-No. 20 Pittsburgh Jan. 25.
Given the situation his teams finds itself in, Turgeon has no plans to ease off. Three of the next four games - starting with Tuesday night's matchup at North Carolina - are on the road, where Maryland is just 2-4 this season. The other two road games in that stretch are at No. 20 Virginia and No. 11 Duke. All three road games - plus Saturday's home matchup against Florida State - offer Maryland the chance to pick up wins over quality opponents and fortify their resume for a possible NCAA at-large bid. Every one of Maryland's next four opponents are part of this week's NCAA Tournament field as projected by ESPN.
"We've got a lot of ranked teams on our schedule coming up," Turgeon said. "It's a great opportunity for us. We're 5-4 [in the league] and we've got a lot of great opportunities. We've still got a shot. I'd rather be playing good teams than teams that aren't gonna help us. This [streak] gives us a great opportunity to get some wins that will help us."
"We're aware of what we have coming up, but we're gonna take them one game at a time," Allen said. "We're focused on North Carolina right now and we feel that we can get one on the road (Tuesday) night."
The Tar Heels come into Tuesday's game against Maryland on a three-game winning streak of their own. During that stretch, coach Roy Williams' team appears to have re-discovered its offensive groove. North Carolina has averaged 81 points per game in consecutive victories over Clemson, Georgia Tech and N.C. State.
"I really believe we're getting better as a team," Williams said. "I told them that this week that I think we're really close to really becoming a good basketball team, but we've got to take some more steps and got to maintain that intensity level for a longer period of time."
Prior to that three-game win streak, the Tar Heels had dropped four of five right after the first of the year. Their play during November and December left a lot of their fans scratching their heads as well. The Tar Heels posted early-season victories over then-No. 1 Michigan State, then-No. 3 Louisville and then-No. 11 Kentucky. They'd also suffered non-league losses to Belmont and Alabama-Birmingham and needed overtime to get past in-state rival Davidson.
The uncertain status of guard P.J. Hairston hung over the team for the first six weeks of the regular season. Hairston had been suspended after a string of brushes with the law during the offseason and the school finally announced on Dec. 20 that last year's leading scorer (14.6 ppg) would not be reinstated.
In his absence, sophomore point guard Marcus Paige (16.7), junior forward James Michael McAdoo (15.0) and senior shooting guard Leslie McDonald (11.3) have assumed more prominent roles. The 6-foot-9 McAdoo presents a particularly difficult matchup for Maryland. He may be too big for the Terrapins' top perimeter defenders (Nick Faust and Wells) and he may be too quick to be guarded by post players like Shaquille Cleare or Charles Mitchell.
NOTES: This will be the final ACC regular-season meeting between two of the league's charter members ... Carolina has won seven of the last eight at home in the series, but Maryland owns eight wins overall at the Smith Center, more than any North Carolina opponent other than Duke (13).