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'Tired of the talk,' No. 3 Terps ready to begin season Friday vs. Mount St. Mary's

COLLEGE PARK — Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon had a conversation with one of his mentors last month as the hype surrounding the Terps had started to mushroom and Turgeon's players started to believe much of what everyone outside Xfinity Center was saying.

"I was talking to Roy Williams, and I said, 'It's new, Coach,' " Turgeon recalled recently. "I had to jump the guys pretty hard last week, and I feel a lot better today because they responded the right way.

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"It's hard for them, 18- to 22-year-old kids, [having people] telling them how great they are, and they haven't done anything yet. We've got to get it in check, and we will. This is what we expected. Are we going to have this kind of talent every year? Probably not. But we expect to have a good program every year."

The Terps, ranked No. 3 in both the Associated Press and the USA Today coaches' top-25 polls as well as ESPN's preseason No. 1 team, open the 2015-2016 season Friday against Mount St. Mary's.

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"I think we're all excited, we're tired of the talk, we just want to play games," Turgeon said Thursday. "All the talk about us, we just want to play. We've been working hard, practicing hard. … The exhibition [last Friday] was exciting. Just being in front of our fans, we had a great crowd. I expect a better crowd tomorrow night. We're all ready to go. It should be fun."

Maryland last received such preseason hype entering the 2001-2002 season, ranked No. 2 in the AP poll a year after it made the Final Four for the first time in school history. Maryland won the 2002 national championship and is among the favorites to do so in 2016.

Former Maryland coach Gary Williams understands how the college basketball landscape has changed since his Terps were considered among the sport's elite.

"Back in the early 2000s, it was easier to be good two years in a row," Williams said last month, during a trip to Baltimore for the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation's college basketball luncheon. "If you had a good team, most of those guys were going to stay, and they would have that experience together as a team.

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"The focus wasn't on who you were bringing [in] and how good they could be the following year. I thought it was easier to build a team that could compete for a championship. Nowadays, the way the game is played, you have to go get that one player, it seems like, every year."

This year, Turgeon lost four seniors, including All-Big Ten Conference selection Dez Wells and fellow starting guard Richaud Pack, from a 28-7 team that won a school-record 26 regular-season games. Three newcomers — freshman Diamond Stone and transfers Robert Carter Jr. and Rasheed Sulaimon — are expected to play significant roles, and all could start.

Because neither Sulaimon nor Stone was around the team for most of the summer, and with sophomore point guard Melo Trimble missing a few weeks of July workouts while on the U.S. Pan American Games team, Turgeon has called the Terps a "work in progress" and said they are behind where they were a year ago in terms of cohesiveness.

Asked Thursday whether the team has improved since looking sloppy (23 turnovers) in the first half of last Friday's 91-55 exhibition win over Division II Southern New Hampshire, Turgeon said: "Try to clean that up, get used to how the game is being called. The thing I was most pleased with was how hard we played defensively, and that's probably where we have to come the furthest. It was a step in the right direction."

It won't take long to see whether Maryland can live up to its preseason billing.

On Tuesday, the Terps will face Georgetown at home in the inaugural Gavitt Tipoff Games. They also will face No. 1 North Carolina on Dec. 1 in Chapel Hill as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and No. 20 Connecticut a week later at New York's Madison Square Garden in the Jimmy V Classic.

While Turgeon was part of a Kansas program that was a perennial top-10 team during his nine years there as a player and assistant coach under both Larry Brown and Williams, the highest ranking any of his teams had in his previous 16 seasons as coach was No. 8. That was last season, before the Big Ten tournament; Maryland finished the year 12th.

After three years of often having to prove their critics wrong — including last season, when the Terps were picked to finish 10th in the Big Ten and came in second, behind Wisconsin — senior forward Jake Layman said there are still some skeptics about how good the team can be this season.

"I think people are kind of ranking us on what they see on paper," Layman said recently. "They're still not sure what we can do. I think this year, we're out to prove people right."

Of Maryland's current players, only Sulaimon has been on a team that was in the national spotlight on a nightly basis.

"With a lot of building and a lot of expectation, the thing you can do is just to really not listen to it and to work hard," the Duke transfer said at the team's media day last month. "I feel like they're handling it well. Of course, it's a big deal around this community. It's hard not to listen to it. But one thing I'm very impressed with is, every time we get between these lines [on the court], they don't expect anything.

"Building off of last year [to] this year, we're going to have a target on our back, and they know nothing will be given. Just because we're the most talented team or we're supposed to win doesn't mean we're going to win every game."

This year's team went into practice with a deep bench, though sophomore guard Dion Wiley's season-ending surgery this week on a torn meniscus in his right knee will limit some of the Terps' perimeter depth.

Turgeon said Thursday that Maryland's backcourt regulars — Trimble, Sulaimon and sophomore wing Jared Nickens — likely will play more and that sophomore transfer Jaylen Brantley, who was not expected to play much, now will be part of the rotation.

"Jaylen will be fine," Carter said Thursday. "He's been practicing hard like everyone else. We have a lot of confidence in Jaylen."

Turgeon would not disclose whether he would change his starting lineup from last week's exhibition win, in which Stone started at center and Nickens at shooting guard.

"We're still working it out. This is a fairly new team, drastically different than last year's team," Sulaimon said. "We're still trying to find each others' strengths and weaknesses. Each and every day, I think we're getting better in practice, our offense is getting more fluid, our defense is getting stronger, and I think as we continue to learn more about each other, the bigs and the guards are going to continue to work on [being] a great tandem."

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