A year ago, Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon hinted that Ivan Bender might've won a starting frontcourt spot had he not suffered a wrist injury in a closed scrimmage late in preseason camp.
The 6-foot-9 redshirt junior forward from Bosnia and Herzegovina is apparently trying to make Turgeon's lineup decisions tough again as the Nov. 10 season opener approaches.
According to sophomores Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan, who started every game as freshmen a year ago, Bender is making a case to to be the team's starting power forward.
"Ivan's good, Ivan's really good," Huerter said during Thursday's Big Ten media day at Madison Square Garden. "He's been shooting 3s. He's been pump-faking, take three, four dribbles and finish at the rim. He's always been a good passer. He's playing so much more confidently."
It was generally assumed that prized freshman Bruno Fernando would get the spot, but Turgeon has been using the 6-10, 245-pound Angolan primarily at center in the first couple of weeks of practice, according to Huerter and Cowan.
Huerter said Turgeon did the same thing with Justin Jackson for much of last season, when he played almost exclusively at power forward before backup center Michal Cekovsky broke his ankle late in the year. Jackson will be used more at small forward this season.
"You can't try to learn two [positions]," said Huerter, who will move to shooting guard this season after playing most of his freshman year at small forward. "[Fernando will] definitely get better as the year goes on."
Turgeon praised both Fernando and fellow freshman Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) as they transition from high school to college.
"Darryl and Bruno have been fantastic," Turgeon said. "We haven't slowed down for them. They've kept up with everything that we've put in. You know, when I signed both those players, I wanted to add toughness and physicality to our team, and we did that with both of them."
Morsell is backing up Cowan at the point. Turgeon said the 6-4 guard is "shooting the ball well, and going to be a great defender for us also. Bruno is kind of a guy that we really haven't had since I've been at Maryland. He's probably one of the hardest playing and practicing players I've ever coached."
Huerter plays keepaway
On the way from practice to last Saturday's football game, listening to the game on the radio, Huerter kept hearing cheers emanating from the stands even though the description of what was happening on the field didn't merit it.
Huerter figured something was up. He found out when he took his seat in the student section and saw Northwestern make a successful extra point, with the ball flying over the netting and into the hands of some waiting students.
It was then that the game of keepaway started, with students passing the ball around until it was finally intercepted and returned to the field by a security guard. As the Wildcats kept scoring in their 37-21 victory, the Maryland students did a better job of not getting intercepted.
In fact, on one occasion the ball made it all the way to the upper deck of Maryland Stadium.
Huerter got into the act, too.
"It was fun," he said Thursday. "Everyone forgot about the game for a moment, which … I got excited when it came to me."
Did he think about taking off with it.
"I should've," he said, half-joking. "I caught it and threw it and kept it going like everyone else. It's something that happens at college games. Anything can happen, the crowd's really into it. It's kind of funny to see it kicked in the crowd and we're going to have our own game."
New 20-game Big Ten schedule
The Big Ten's decision to add two games to what is now an 18-game league schedule beginning in 2018-19 will allow for more natural rivalry games, ensuring that Indiana and Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State, and Northwestern and Purdue will play home-and-home series each year.
Turgeon believes the increase has as much to do with the postseason.
"I think the idea behind the 20-game schedule is hopefully to get more teams into the NCAA tournament," Turgeon said. "And data showed when we went from 16 to 18, we started getting more teams in the tournament. So hopefully that's the case when we go to 20."
So where does that leave Maryland? The Terps will be looking at the prospect of playing home-and-home series each year against Rutgers and Penn State, their two closest schools in terms of distance. While it could help fans get to some road games, it doesn't do much for the home schedule or RPI.
Turgeon was trying to put a positive spin on the possibility of playing two of the league's bottom-feeders twice a year.
"Rivalries are going to take time to establish themselves in the area," Turgeon said. "But Pat [Chambers is] doing a terrific job at Penn State. Steve [Pikiell] is going to do a great job at Rutgers."