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Even with NCAA bid assured, Terps set sights on winning Big Ten tourney

Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon talks about his team being well rested for the Big Ten tournament. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

CHICAGO — Any uncertainty surrounding the postseason outlook for Maryland's men's basketball team is nearly gone.

The eighth-ranked Terps (26-5) enter the Big Ten Conference tournament as the hottest team in the field, having won seven straight, including a victory over regular-season champion Wisconsin.

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Maryland is also already a lock to make the NCAA tourney for the first time since 2010, and the Terps are expected to be no worse than a No. 3 seed when the brackets are unveiled Sunday.

About the only thing coach Mark Turgeon and his players didn't know as they traveled to Chicago was who they would face in tonight's Big Ten quarterfinal at United Center. The No. 2-seeded Terps learned Thursday night that they will play No. 7 seed Indiana (20-12), a 71-56 winner over No. 10 seed Northwestern (15-17) in the second round.

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Asked if there is a difference going into a conference tournament with an NCAA bid assured — compared to his first three years at Maryland, when the Terps needed success at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament to have any chance of getting in — Turgeon gave a predictable answer.

"It's a lot easier going into a conference tournament knowing that you've made it [to the NCAA tournament]," he said. "But, this team has done so many nice things, they want to continue. I think this team really believes they can go there and win three games. A lot of times people will say that, but they don't really believe.

"This team believes they can do it. You don't get many opportunities to win championships. We got a chance to win a Big Ten championship. We won't take the foot off the pedal. Now it's going to be really hard to win our first game. But if we play well, and we're lucky enough to survive, then you just keep doing what you do and then worry about lies ahead after that."

The Terps have won every close game in which they've played, posting a 10-0 record in games decided by six points or fewer (6-0 within the Big Ten). Tonight's opponent is on that list.

After losing by 19 at Indiana on Jan. 22, Maryland survived a home game against the Hoosiers, 68-66, when Yogi Ferrell missed two shots in the last six seconds.

"I do believe that the world is round, and sometimes you have seasons that you lose those and some seasons when you win them," said Turgeon, whose team lost eight of 11 games decided by six points or fewer a year ago. "I'd rather be 10-0 in close games going into the NCAA tournament than 5-5."

Turgeon smiled.

"People can say what they want, I do feel like I'm one of the luckiest people I know," he said.

Senior guard Dez Wells doesn't believe that luck has anything to do with the way the Terps have survived in close games, whether it means blowing double-digit leads and later winning (as they did at Penn State and Rutgers) or coming from behind down the stretch (as they did Sunday at Rutgers as well as against Northwestern) or simply outlasting their opponent.

"Luck is throwing the ball from one end to the other and it going in," Wells said. "We've won a lot of games because we executed and we kept our poise and our confidence. ... There's nothing lucky about us winning."

Junior forward Jake Layman said the Terps will take the same approach into the Big Ten tournament than they have during the regular season.

"There's definitely still that mindset that we're playing for something," Layman said. "But it's different than where if we trying to get into the [NCAA] tournament this year. This year we're going to try as hard as we can to play for a Big Ten championship, that's our main goal. We know we can achieve it."

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Turgeon points out the fact that the Terps have won early season tournaments in each of the past two years, taking the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2013 and the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City in November.

The win over then-No. 13 Iowa State in Kansas City put Maryland in the Top 25 for the first time in five years. Their top-10 ranking is the school's first 2002-03. Maryland last won a conference tournament in 2004.

"I do think we believe we're a good tournament team," Turgeon said. "Whenever you have a chance to win a conference tournament, you go all in on it. ... I don't think anything's changed. We want to be good in this tournament, too.

"We'll take it just as serious as we have in the past. We should be even more confident now that we have a better record and a better team."

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