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Maryland showed it was a different team with its two wins in Kansas City

The Maryland men's basketball team won the College Basketball Experience Hall of Fame Classic on Tuesday in Kansas City with a 72-63 win over No. 13 Iowa State.

Back in May, before they stepped on the Maryland campus for summer workouts, I took a leap of faith regarding the five freshmen and one senior transfer who were joining Mark Turgeon's teetering basketball program.

In this very space, I wrote how they were going to be better than the five players who had over the course of the previous month announced they were leaving the Terps with remaining eligibility.

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Talk about an early return on your investment.

The excitement about Maryland's victories over Arizona State and No. 13 Iowa State in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City is not simply about the present for Turgeon's program.

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It's more about the future.

Since the newcomers had yet to arrive in College Park, my feelings in the spring were based largely on the players who had left. Though his gut told him otherwise, their departure had made Turgeon second-guess, at least publicly, the way he was doing things at Maryland.

In retrospect, he was not doing things any differently than he did at Texas A&M and Wichita State.

His former players were.

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It's only a five-game snapshot, and those who might still be skeptical that the Terps have turned things around will point to a long season ahead in the rugged Big Ten. But it's been enough time to gauge how different Maryland looks compared to a year ago.

It's not just the freshmen and fifth-year guard Richaud Pack who are responsible for this quick turnaround.

Junior forward Jake Layman is playing some of the best basketball of his career.

Until the last 10 minutes of Tuesday's 72-63 win over Iowa State, so was senior guard Dez Wells.

Senior forward Jon Graham and sophomore center Damonte Dodd are showing how defense wins games.

Yet the reason the Terps took home a trophy from Kansas City has largely to do with their freshmen.

Melo Trimble's 31-point outburst on Monday night against Arizona State was among the top performances this season in college basketball. He followed it up with a less spectacular, still solid game Tuesday.

Trimble had 11 points, three assists, three rebounds and three steals and won the tournament's MVP award. He also helped frustrated Iowa State sophomore Monte Morris into a foul-plagued, 1-of-8 shooting night.

Michal Cekovsky had two strong games in Kansas City, particularly Tuesday when he and Dodd shut off the inside from the Cyclones, who were forced to jack up shots from the perimeter.

The 7-footer from Slovakia had eight rebounds, four points and two blocks against Iowa State, and he combined with Dodd for 13 rebounds, eight points and three blocks. In the two games, they had 20 points, 21 rebounds, eight blocks.

Freshman guard Dion Wiley had some moments too. Coming off an 0-for-6 shooting night in Thursday's win over Fordham, Wiley made 4 of 5 in Kansas City, including a corner 3-pointer to help build a big second-half lead against the Cyclones.

Then there was Jared Nickens. The lowest-rated member of Maryland's recruiting class, the 6-7 Nickens came in with a chip on his shoulder that Gary Williams would have been proud of and a sweet offensive game that now includes a little mid-range floater to complement his textbook 3-point shot.

If Trimble was why the Terps outlasted hot-shooting Arizona State, then Nickens was why they upset Iowa State. With Richaud Pack struggling with his shot in Kansas City after being Maryland's best player the first three games, Nickens calmly came in and buried a 3-point shot from deep along the right wing.

By the time he was done, a player that special assistant Juan Dixon has said "reminds me of myself, except he's a lot taller" had tied Layman for game-high honors with 15 points, He made 6 of 10 shots, including 3 of 7 on 3s. He even talked a little trash with Iowa State star Georges Niang.

The Terps, 5-0 for the first time in eight years, return home for Friday night's game against Monmouth a different team than the one that left. By next week, barring any upsets either Friday or Sunday (against VMI), Maryland should be ranked nationally for the first time since the end of the 2009-10 season.

That was also the last time the Terps made the NCAA tournament.

The memory of a frustrating 17-15 season a year ago and its tumultuous aftermath were pushed further in the distance by what transpired at the Sprint Center. Fans on Twitter wrote how last year's team would never have overcome the rocky start (down 7-0) to Arizona State even to get a chance to play Iowa State.

A thank-you note is in order from Turgeon.

It should go out not only to the players who came in and have made Maryland basketball fun to watch again -- it should also go to those who left.

How did they know they were doing him a favor?

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