COLLEGE PARK — — His team has lost four of six games since its 13-1 start, including three straight on the road in the Atlantic Coast Conference. After Mark Turgeon was widely praised for keeping the Terps competitive in his first season, fans are getting a little impatient with the progress the team has made in the coach's second year at Maryland.
At least, that's if you pay attention to what is being written on the various message boards and said on some radio talk shows. Not that Turgeon does.
Turgeon said Tuesday that he doesn't read or listen to anything about his team and he believes Maryland (15-5, 3-4 in the ACC) is "on schedule" going into Wednesday's game at Florida State (11-8, 3-3). During his regular pre-game news conference at Comcast Center, the typically glass half-empty coach was uncharacteristically upbeat and — as he can be — a bit defiant toward the doubters.
"It's not like we're 5-15," Turgeon said. "We're right in the middle [of the ACC]. We're right where we need to be. I've been here before. We just have to start playing better and I think we will. We're practicing better. I think we're in good shape. Would we rather be 18-2? Yeah, but we're not."
Though the Terps were picked to finish in the bottom half of the ACC, the 3-point loss to defending national champion and then No. 3 Kentucky in the season opener in Brooklyn, N.Y., followed by 13 straight victories (one shy of the school record) raised expectations in the media and among fans.
"Sometimes when you're at a major program, which is why I wanted to be here, expectations get ahead of the team," Turgeon said Tuesday. "We've got to remember where we were last year and where we are today. I think our league, top to bottom, is even better, so we have to make an even bigger jump to be successful."
The painful memories of his first season are still fresh.
"I don't forget the whippings we took on the road last year," Turgeon said of a team that lost at Duke by 18 and at Virginia by 27. "At this level, unless you're [Kentucky coach John] Calipari, you just don't go from 17-15 to the national championship game. You just don't. … I know there are some people around here that think we should be in the Final Four, but they're not realistic."
There are questions whether Maryland will even be an NCAA tournament team. In this six-game stretch, the Terps have struggled offensively since the second half of what became a 3-point loss at home to Florida State on Jan. 9, a game in which Maryland blew a double-digit lead in the first half and a nine-point halftime lead. It remains the team's only loss in College Park this season.
Last Saturday's 84-64 loss at then-No. 1 Duke marked the sixth straight game Maryland has failed to score at least 65 points.
"I think what goes wrong now is when we are struggling, we become more individual and we shoot it too quick," Turgeon said. "It's easier said than done to stop it. We've been talking about it for weeks. … There are guys who are trying to do other people's jobs. They just need to do their job to the best of their ability."
Sophomore guard Nick Faust (City) said that despite the team's recent slump, Turgeon has been more positive with his players this season.
"Last year, Coach was really down, just trying to get through games and trying to make it close because we weren't as good as we are this year," Faust said Tuesday. "He believes in us and trusts us, and as long as we keep getting better, coach will be excited for big games and things like that."
Turgeon looks at what he has done at some of his other coaching stops — particularly at Jacksonville (Ala.) State and Wichita State — and sees some similarity with what he is encountering at Maryland.
"Unfortunately, I've been through this a few times, building young teams," he said. "We're on schedule. There's no panic here, in me. Would l love to be undefeated in the league? Yeah, but our schedule has been pretty tough, especially on the road. We beat a really good North Carolina State team here playing a lot of guys. That was a great win for us. We've just got to hate losing more than anything."
Not that Turgeon is measuring his team's improvement with moral victories because of how young a group he plays regularly.
"I just think it's going in the right direction," he said. "I'm not saying, 'Oh my gosh, I'm so proud, I love losing by 20 at Duke,' because I don't. I was pissed. And that's no fun. But we did a lot of things in that game to give me confidence in moving forward. I look around and say, 'I've got those four guys for four years and those three for three years.' That's a good feeling. I think the future looks pretty good and hopefully the future starts Wednesday night."