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Analysis: Terps will benefit from playing high-stakes nonconference games

Maryland's Melo Trimble passes the ball in front of Nebraska's Walter Pitchford, left, and Shavon Shields, right, during the second half.
Maryland's Melo Trimble passes the ball in front of Nebraska's Walter Pitchford, left, and Shavon Shields, right, during the second half. (Nati Harnik / Associated Press)

By the time Maryland plays Georgetown at Xfinity Center on Nov. 17, Mark Turgeon will have some idea whether the Terps will be living up to all the preseason hype being heaped upon them right now.

By then, highlytouted freshman center Diamond Stone will have become familiar with his teammates and will have just followed Melo Trimble with another of the more anticipated debuts in recent Maryland history.

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By then, big-time transfers Robert Carter Jr. and Rasheed Sulaimon will have started to mesh their already skilled games with Stone, Trimble and senior Jake Layman in what will likely be Mark Turgeon's starting lineup.

But the Georgetown game — the first regularly scheduled meeting with the Hoyas since Joe Smith's debut in 1993 — starts a two-week stretch that also includes games against North Carolina (Dec. 1) and Connecticut (Dec. 8).

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It's not just those three marquee matchups that should give Maryland fans a glimpse of what kind of season it will be for a team expected to win the Big Ten Conference and contend for a national championship.

While those games certainly stick out on the nonconference schedule that was announced Tuesday, this is by far the toughest early season competition the Terps have faced since Turgeon arrived in 2011.

Unlike the 2012-13 season, when the Terps lost to reigning national champion Kentucky in the season opener and then reeled off 13 straight victories, even the cupcakes have a little more flavor during the upcoming season.

One of the more interesting challenges will come when Maryland goes to Mexico to play in the Cancun Challenge against Illinois State — which last season upset Wichita State — and either Rhode Island or TCU.

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Considering that if the Terps win their first three regular-season games (including the one against the Hoyas) they will likely be among the top three-ranked teams in the country, this will be a pretty good test.

As much as the opening game seems like a gimme, consider that Mount St. Mary's led the Northeast Conference last season in both 3-pointers made and attempted. Consider, too, the problems Maryland had last season against similar 3-point shooting teams, such as VMI and USC-Upstate.

The Terps beat the Keydets 95-77, but led by only two with a little over 16 minutes left and were helped by the fact that VMI missed 21 of its last 31 shots. Maryland beat USC-Upstate 67-57, partly because Turgeon's team didn't seem to take its less-than-formidable looking opponent seriously from the opening tip.

This is going to be the kind of season when the margin of victory is going to be as scrutinized in College Park as it is in places like Lexington, Ky., and Lawrence, Kan. It's nice to see Maryland playing some high-stakes games before starting a Big Ten schedule that many expect the Terps to roll through.

The hype, which started with the signing of Stone in April and the announcement of Sulaimon's transfer in early June, is just heating up as Turgeon continues summer workouts with his team at Xfinity Center. The release of the preseason schedule is merely another reason for Maryland fans to get excited.

And worried, about whether their team will live up to it all.

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Terps nonconference schedule

Nov. 6 Southern New Hampshire (Exhibition)

Nov. 13 Mount St. Mary's

Nov. 17 Georgetown

Nov. 20 Rider

Nov. 24 vs. Illinois State (Cancun Classic)

Nov. 25 vs. Rhode Island/TCU (Cancun Classic)

Nov. 28 Cleveland State

Dec. 1 at North Carolina (Big Ten/ACC Challenge)

Dec. 4 St. Francis (Pa.)

Dec. 8 vs. UConn (Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden - NYC)

Dec. 12 Maryland-Eastern Shore

Dec. 19 Princeton (at Royal Farms Arena - Baltimore)

Dec. 27 Marshall

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