COLLEGE PARK — The Maryland men's basketball team left campus Sunday for the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City unbeaten and mostly unchallenged after winning its first three games by an average of nearly 30 points.
The Terps return to Xfinity Center Friday night against Monmouth (2-2) seemingly undaunted, in the midst of the program's first 5-0 start in eight years and on the cusp of its first national ranking in five seasons after beating Arizona State and No. 13 Iowa State.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon is not thinking too far ahead.
"We've got to win these next two, you never know what can happen in college basketball," Turgeon said Wednesday, a few hours after the team flew back following its 72-63 upset of the Cyclones.
Junior forward Jake Layman said Tuesday's victory over a team that reached the Sweet 16 of last year's NCAA tournament "boosted our confidence … we think we can beat anybody in the country."
Still, unlike last year when the Terps lost at home to teams such as Oregon State and Boston University, Maryland is going is not going to take either of its next two opponents lightly.
"We're going to come and get on them right away just to prove to everyone that we're not a team that's going to have a big win and go away," Layman said Thursday.
Turgeon might be concerned about Maryland losing focus, except for two factors: the preternatural maturity of his freshmen and the fact that Monmouth had West Virginia down 16 points at home last week before losing by 10.
"I think that's a pretty good team, and West Virginia had just won a tournament too, so that should help get our guys to pay attention," Turgeon said of a Hawks team that is coached by former North Carolina point guard King Rice.
Turgeon said the makeup of Maryland's roster makes him less concerned about slippage this weekend.
"I think we have a perfect mix, we have four seniors that are on the last leg [of their college careers], so they're extremely focused," Turgeon said. "Then you have a guy like Jake who hasn't had it the way he'd like it it to go in terms of wins and losses.
"You have Damonte [Dodd] getting his first chance to play regularly, so they're pretty focused. Then you have the new guys who are dialed in and are doing whatever the coaches say or the older players say. They're working hard. We'll have our ups and down this year, but I don't think we'll lose focus."
The Terps, particularly the freshmen, didn't Tuesday night at Sprint Center.
Playing before a pro-Iowa State crowd and at a place where the Cyclones won last season's Big 12 tournament, Maryland looked like a more experienced team in taking a 37-34 halftime lead and increasing the lead to as many 15 point.
Freshman forward Jared Nickens came off the bench to score 15 points, hitting 6 of 10 shots. Freshman point guard Melo Trimble, coming off a 31-point outburst against Arizona State, had his most steady game running the team's new motion offense. Freshman center Michal Cekovsky gave the Cyclones fits with his length and athleticism around the basket.
Nickens might have been the biggest revelation of the tournament for the Terps. A player whom Turgeon had once considered redshirting when he was being recruited, Nickens has found his way into a nine-man rotation that will be 10 once senior forward Evan Smotrycz returns from a broken foot.
"I didn't give him [Nickens] much of a chance against Arizona State because Dion [Wiley] was playing well and I wanted Richaud [Pack] out there because we were fighting uphill and he's a veteran," Turgeon said. "That's what's great about our team. One guy isn't playing well, I can keep trotting guys out there until one proves they're ready and stick with him. [Nickens] was phenomenal."
If there was another positive sign for Turgeon, it's that two of his most experienced players struggled shooting during the tournament and the team still played well. Pack, a fifth-year senior transfer, missed all nine shots he tried. Senior guard Dez Wells averaged 14 points while missing 26 of 38 shots.
Turgeon said Pack put his own shooting woes aside "and was as happy as anyone" as the Terps celebrated their second straight in-season tournament championship.
"He knows what his role is, he's going to get better and better," Turgeon said of Pack. "He just didn't shoot it well. Dez didn't play well either, but other guys stepped up."
The Terps are trying to not think too far down the road, though a much-anticipated meeting with old Atlantic Coast Conference rival Virginia will be revived Wednesday at Xfinity Center.
With the Cavaliers ranked eighth, and the Terps expected to be ranked next week barring unforseen upsets this weekend, it's the kind of game that hasn't been played on Maryland's home court since Gary Williams was coaching and Greivis Vasquez was starring.
Trimble, the newest Maryland star, knows that what happened in Kansas City wasn't a fluke.
"These last two days were really good to us," Trimble told reporters Tuesday night at the Sprint Center "We played a ranked opponent — Iowa State — and Arizona State was pretty good, too. This is good practice for us going down the road."