A team that was picked to finish sixth in the ACC this season is starting to get some national attention. Maryland got a handful of votes for the Top 25 this week, and though the Terps won't have a chance to get a signature win until they play at North Carolina in a couple of weeks, more notice will be paid to Mark Turgeon's team if it keeps winning.
Maryland will take a 12-game winning streak into Saturday's ACC opener against Virginia Tech at Comcast Center. The Terps, who have not lost since a three-point defeat to then-No. 3 Kentucky in the seaon opener in Brooklyn, N.Y., are a confident bunch headed into their game against the struggling Hokies.
ESPN analyst and former Maryland All-American Len Elmore said he understands the non-conference schedule Turgeon put together in light of a 17-15 record (6-10 in the ACC) in his first season.
"They're trying to build momentum, they're trying to develop a winning attitude, so when they get into league play they know at least how to win games," Elmore said.
What Elmore sees is that Maryland is tied first in the ACC with Georgia Tech in field goal percentage defense (35.1) second in field goal percentage (50.3), fourth in points allowed (59.3) and fifth in points scored (76.5). It's the field goal percentage defense that is the most telling, Elmore said.
"That still means something whether Maryland will play a Duke or an N.C. State. That defense is usually constant," hesaid. "It's going to come down to whether they are going to score against those teams."
A lot of Maryland's success will be tied to the play of sophomore center Alex Len, who despite a two-game mini-slump playing against the zone defenses of Delaware State and IUPUI has been a consistent force inside. Len, who leads the Terps in scoring and rebounding, is ranking in the top 10 in the ACC in several categories.
"I think they've got a legitimate low-post presence and skilled 7-footer and not many teams can say that," said former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, now an analyst for ESPN. "Alex Len is a difference maker. He's got great hands, he runs the floor, he's gotten stronger, he understands what their scheme is all about and yet he has the skill set of a European player. I think he in himself is unique."
Elmore said sophomore transfer Dez Wells, the team's second-leading scorer behind Len, is "a Stevie Francis-type player who doesn't even know yet how good a scorer he can be." Greenberg likes Maryland's two-headed point guard in junior Pe'Shon Howard and Seth Allen, whom he calls "their point guard of the future. He's athletic and dynamic."
Greenberg said the biggest question could be sophomore guard Nick Faust.
"I think the X-factor for them has to be Faust," Greenberg said "He's got to defend, he's got to take good shots, play like a guy who played 30 minutes a game last year."
Both Elmore and Greenberg anticipate that the Terps will finish higher than where the ACC writers and coaches picked them in the preseason.
Elmore said the he thinks Maryland is in a small group right behind Duke and North Carolina State and Greenberg, though not picking where he thinks the Terps will finish, said succinctly, "I like Maryland."
I'll have more in Saturday's paper about Maryland's ACC opener and how the Terps have played compared to the rest of the league.