COLLEGE PARK — If you believe in preseason polls and power rankings, the Maryland men’s basketball team is going to have one heck of a season.
The Terps are considered a top-10 team just about everywhere you look. They return a couple of potential All-Americans, an unusually experienced sophomore class and boast a group of highly regarded freshmen recruits that should make this one of the deepest teams in Turgeon’s soon-to-be nine seasons as coach.
Plenty of talent has trotted onto the court at Xfinity Center during his first eight, but Turgeon can boast only one Sweet 16 appearance over that span, which raises a question that surely is on the minds of the Terps faithful who have been waiting 17 years to return to the Final Four:
If not now, when?
Turgeon is a good basketball coach and he has had enough success here that his near-term job security isn’t really the issue. The athletic department has faced enough institutional instability over the past year for anyone to worry about a coach who recruits well and has reached the NCAA tournament four of the past five seasons. This is really more about his coaching legacy at Maryland and whether he’ll be around long enough to end up in the same conversation as living legends Gary Williams and Lefty Driesell.
It’s also about a basketball program that — in concert with Brenda Frese’s highly ranked women’s team — might need to shoulder the university’s national athletic reputation in the apparent absence of a credible football presence.
Turgeon’s most promising young team could keep Maryland in clover for several seasons, but if a pressing need to take the program to another level is weighing on his mind as he works to get the Terps ready to open their nonconference schedule in three weeks, he isn’t letting on.
“No, I don’t ever think that way,’’ Turgeon said Tuesday at the team’s annual preseason media event. “I do think we have a chance to be really good because I know what those freshmen did last year. I don’t like to call them freshmen, and we have all of them back. I know they had Bruno [Fernando] with them, but it was amazing what that team was able to do last season.
“I think we played the eighth-toughest schedule in the country, too, so that gives you a lot of confidence as a coach. You just do the best job you can. You coach ‘em. You coach ‘em hard.”
Great expectations, of course, cut both ways. Turgeon proudly would have welcomed the opportunity to sneak up on the rest of the Big Ten, but with the conference’s best recruiting class last year and a solid infusion of freshman talent this season, he has no choice but to jump on his own bandwagon.
“This team is not only a talented team, but it’s a really smart basketball team,’’ he said. “They pick up things quickly. They have a good feel for the game. There are just a lot of things that make you feel good as a coach. Yeah, I want it to be a great year. We’ll see what happens. We expect it to be a great year. We’re planning on it being a great year.”
The Terps have an experienced senior guard in Anthony Cowan Jr. and were fortunate to hold on to NBA prospect Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) for at least his sophomore season. The potential of the team is unquestioned, but getting deep into the NCAA tournament and creating the opportunity for a historic season depends on more variables than it is possible to quantify this early in what is a season-long process.
“We hope to improve as the season goes on,’’ Turgeon said. “We hope to be playing great at the end of the year. Hopefully, it works out that way … But I don’t sit around here all day. ... I don’t think national championship every day. Like today, all I’m thinking about is, we have to get better with our half-court defense. That’s kind of the way you approach it, but we expect to be good.”
So, the excitement grows along with the expectations. The Mark Turgeon era is about to enter season No. 9 with a team that features enough good pieces to at least dream about the Final Four … and that one lingering question.
If not now, when?