Disappointed or not, Terps aren't taking NCAA tournament appearance for granted

Maryland's men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon talks about his team's preparation for No. 13-seeded Valparaiso and how excited the Terps are to be in the NCAA tournament. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun)

COLLEGE PARK — From the time they emerged from a team meeting in the basement of coach Mark Turgeon's home Sunday night, the Maryland players and Turgeon himself have tried to move forward from the shocking image they saw displayed on the living room's big screen television a few minutes before.

Toward the beginning of the nationally televised NCAA tournament's selection show, the Terps watched as they were given a fourth-seed in the Midwest bracket, with the possibility of playing unbeaten, top-ranked Kentucky if both teams reach next week's Sweet 16.


After two days to digest what many believe is the selection committee's complete disregard of Maryland's accomplishments this season – a 10-win improvement to 27-6,  a 6-4 road record, two victories over Michigan State, and one each over Iowa State and Wisconsin – the Terps seem ready to move on.

Turgeon said that what happened Sunday should have little-to-no bearing on what transpires Friday in Columbus, Ohio, where the Terps will take on No. 13-seed Valparaiso (28-5) at Nationwide Arena. Two days of practice have refocused Maryland on what it has done consistently in this turnaround season.


"I don't think we've approached anything differently this week than we have all year, which has been great about this team," Turgeon said after practice Wednesday. "They work hard, they listen. We're preparing for Valpo, which is the most important thing. We really tried to get better this week.

"We worked on a lot of things besides getting ready for Valpo to get us ready for anything we might see. I don't know if we're playing with a chip on our shoulder. We're so excited to be in the tournament. Think about where we were a year ago this time and where we are now is pretty amazing."

Still, the Terps go into Columbus – a city where they've lost two games to Ohio State by a combined 40 points, including a 24-point defeat earlier this season at Value City Arena – with the same kind of collective chip that initially spurred them to early-season wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma, then eventually to second place in the Big Ten Conference.

Freshman point guard Melo Trimble said that during the team meeting Sunday at Turgeon's house "we just basically talked about just being blessed to be here and just focus on the three teams we needed to worry about and let the rest take care of itself."


Senior guard Dez Wells said that the team's reaction to the seeding was no different than to any game the Terps have lost this season.

"That's every game we've lost this season, we've had those faces of disappointment because we don't expect to lose, we expect to win every game we play," Wells said Wednesday. "Coach Turgeon's message was, 'Don't be too down on yourselves, you've got a lot of basketball left to play.'

"We've got to get ourselves back mentally, and take a break, and really kind of revitalize ourselves. When it's time to go again, just make sure we're ready and everybody's on course with what we need to do. He just wanted us to take a break mentally because we've been playing a lot."

Said Turgeon: "I guess we've just got something to prove."

Unlike the beginning of the season, when the Terps went from not receiving a single vote in the Top 25, to being ranked for the first time in five years, to finally earning their first top 10 ranking since 2002-03, Maryland is in a different place mentally going into the NCAA tournament.

"I think we're definitely further along now, definitely we're more mature," said junior forward Jake Layman, who earned third-team all-Big Ten from writers and honorable mention from coaches. "We're not mad about our seeding. I think we're excited to play in the tournament."

It will mark the first time in five years – four under Turgeon - that Maryland has played in the NCAA tournament. The first three years were a rollercoaster that saw the Terps sandwich two largely different 17-15 teams around a 25-13 team that reached the semifinals of the NIT two years ago.

"It was pretty important, obviously, it's huge for our program," Turgeon said of making the tournament. "I think it's how we did it, too. It's not like we limped into the tournament. We won eight of our last nine games and won [a regular-season school record] 27 games and got a 4 seed. We've had a tremendous year to this point and we obviously want to continue and win a few more down the road here."

Like his Hall of Fame predecessor, Gary Williams, Turgeon has a pretty good track record in first-round NCAA tournament games.

Until the last of his four straight Texas A&M teams lost to a 10th-seeded Florida State team that would reach the Sweet 16, Turgeon was 4-0 in opening-round games – starting with his next-to-last Wichita State team that reached the Sweet 16 in 2005-06.

Except for those Shockers, who lost to Final Four-bound George Mason at the Verizon Center, Turgeon's teams have never gone past the second round. Two of those defeats came as No. 9 against No. 1 seeds, to UCLA by two points (in Anaheim) in 2007-08 and to Connecticut the following year.

Turgeon said that since Sunday, when the Midwest bracket showed Kentucky on the top line, there has been no mention made of the heavily-favored Wildcats, who looking to become the first team since Indiana in 1976 to go through the season undefeated.

"That's so far down the road," Turgeon said of Kentucky. "If anybody watched film of Valpo or Buffalo and West Virginia [Maryland's potential third-round opponents], they wouldn't be talking about it, so we're not talking about it. We want everything we can to beat Valpo and then we'll do everything we can, if we're lucky enough to win that one, to prepare for the next one."

One thing is clear: while the Terps might or might not be happy with their seeding and bracket, they are not taking anything for granted. Not their first-round opponent, not their first NCAA tournament in five seasons, not their first year in the Big Ten.

"It's definitely special," Layman said. "This will be Coach Turgeon's first Maryland team to be in the tournament. We're definitely not satisfied with where we're at, just making the tournament."

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