COLLEGE PARK — A year ago, a Maryland team searching for its identity went to a tropical location and seemingly found it at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, taking home a trophy and what turned to be a false sense of confidence.
Whatever the Terps got out of victories over Marist, Northern Iowa and Providence did not sustain itself back home. Maryland lost three of its next six games, including a disheartening defeat to Boston University.
It was a foretelling of a largely disappointing 17-15 season.
The Terps, who proclaimed to be a "good tournament team" after reaching the semifinals in both the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and the National Invitation Tournament in the 2012-13 season and then winning the Paradise Jam last year, will get another chance to prove that at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City.
Maryland (3-0) will play Arizona State (3-0) Monday night and either No. 14 Iowa State (2-0) or Alabama (3-0, including 82-54 win over Towson) on Tuesday.
The only lasting memory of last year's Paradise Jam tournament for senior guard Dez Wells was cutting down the nets despite the absence of then sophomore guard Seth Allen because of a broken foot.
"Winning, that's really all I really care about," said Wells, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. "We won, and everybody played together and played hard, with injuries on that team. I feel we have a great chance of repeating the same thing this year."
The Terps have played the first three games this season without senior forward Evan Smotrycz. The team's leading returning rebounder and second-leading returning scorer also has been out since the preseason with a broken foot.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Saturday that he is not putting any more emphasis on playing in a tournament -- one in which the Terps lost both games in Kansas City in 2005 -- than he did the first three home games.
"We're going to prepare for Arizona State and, of course, try to win the two games no matter who we play," Turgeon said. "Our scouting reports for Arizona State or Alabama or Iowa State will be the same as it is for Monmouth [Maryland's opponent on Nov. 28].
"This time of year it's about us getting better, us doing what we need to do. If we can do that we have a chance to be successful."
Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said Saturday that this is a chance for all the teams going to Kansas City to start building their NCAA tournament resumes.
"Nonconference games seem to be growing in importance in the eyes of the NCAA selection committee," Sendek said. "You're still learning about your team. All of us are still learning about our teams. These games are important in the bearing they could have come springtime."
Turgeon doesn't think his Terps took a step backwards in Thursday night's 66-50 win over Fordham, a game during which Maryland shot poorly in the first half and led by only five, 23-18, at halftime.
With a team as young as Maryland, Turgeon is careful to balance what the Terps did right as well as what they did wrong when it comes to film sessions and subsequent practices.
"It's about balance," he said. "My thing is, if guys aren't trying hard or it's a lack of concentration, you can flat get after them. But they're trying hard, then making mistakes, you can applaud them for that. We did a lot of positive things. I thought we really guarded for 34 minutes."
Asked what he learned from watching tape of the win over Fordham, Wells said: "That we shot the ball extremely bad and that we have a lot of room to grow. We can do a lot better in our zone offense as well as in our motion offense. And we also learned that our motion offense can work against the zone."
Junior forward Jake Layman said the competition the Terps will face in Kansas City is a "big step up" from what they saw in the first three games.
"We're excited to finally play somebody from a big conference like the Pac 12," Layman said.
Layman said Maryland's post defense and rebounding need to improve against the Sun Devils, whose center, 6-foot-10, 255-pound junior Eric Jacobsen, leads the team with nine rebounds and three blocked shots per game. The Terps have given up double-digit offensive rebounds to each of their first three opponents.
"I think rebounding is huge for us, that's No. 1 [for improvement] on our list right now," Layman said. "If we can improve on that in this game, I think we will take care of business."
Said Wells: "I think we have to rebound better, communication can always get better and we can execute a little better in our offense. But around this time of the season, those are things you hear from almost every team."