University of Maryland men's basketball head coach Mark Turgeon on his teams preparation for the No.1 team in college basketball the Kansas Jayhawks. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
When Mark Turgeon approached the horde of cameras and line of reporters along his way to the center of Tuesday's media session at Xfinity Center, he stopped, holding back. The Maryland men's basketball coach turned away, huddled with a team spokesman near the edge of the court, then returned about a minute later, at last ready to talk.
At this time of the season, with the Terps in the Sweet 16 and days away from facing the NCAA tournament's No. 1 overall seed, no detail is too small to leave unprepared, no quote too insignificant to fully consider before uttering. Even if, as Turgeon acknowledged, every second in March is precious.
"You can't take a breath this time of year," he said. "It's busy. It's really busy. And each step gets a little bit busier."
A matchup Thursday with Kansas in the South region semifinals in Louisville, Ky., lies ahead for Maryland (27-8). The challenge leaves little time for appreciation of how the Terps won a second-round game for the first time since 2003.
The Jayhawks (32-4) are not South Dakota State, the Summit League champion, nor are they Hawaii, the Big West Conference champion. They are, in no particular order: the 12-time defending Big 12 regular season champions; the owners of a 16-game winning streak; and the No. 2 most efficient team in the nation, behind only Virginia, according to kenpom.com.
In other words, they are one version of what many predicted Maryland would be this season.
"We're not worried about seeding and where we were at the beginning of the year in terms of ranking and stuff," senior forward Jake Layman said. "We know they're a great team. They have great players."
Kansas coach Bill Self on Monday called Maryland's starting lineup "as good or the best starting five in the country," but the Terps, having just defeated a pair of double-digit seeds, will enter the game as decided underdogs.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Jayhawks were favored in most sportsbooks by 6 1/2 points, according to VegasInsider.com. The last Maryland opponent to receive as big a spread: North Carolina, an eight-point favorite entering their Dec. 1 game in Chapel Hill. The Terps, a preseason top-five team, have been favored in all but four other games this season.
Kansas is by far the most talented team Maryland will have faced since its Big Ten Conference tournament semifinal against Michigan State. The Spartans were a trendy pick to win the NCAA title; now they're sitting at home, cursing Middle Tennessee State.
After one of the most white-knuckle weekends in tournament history, it's not unreasonable to expect residual madness in the KFC Yum! Center on Thursday night.
"There's no one that's No. 1 now, because any team can get beat," sophomore guard Melo Trimble said. "It's going to be another game. We're not worried about the number in front of the team, just like they're not worried about our number in front of our team."
Layman said the team had not yet begun to review film of the Jayhawks, whose personnel raises interesting questions for Turgeon, a former Kansas point guard himself.
How do you free up Trimble and senior Rasheed Sulaimon against guards Frank Mason III and Devonte' Graham, both Big 12 All-Defensive Team selections? How will Layman fare against former Amateur Athletic Union teammate Wayne Selden Jr.? And if it takes a perfect game to beat the Jayhawks, just how do you play it?
"We have games where we hardly miss shots," said junior forward Robert Carter Jr., who expects to be matched up against senior forward and leading scorer Perry Ellis. "And then we have games where we defended really well and we didn't make a lot of shots. And then we had some games where we scored half the time, didn't score, and we defended half the time and didn't defend and we won. So we've won in many different type of ways."