For the first time since the 2006-2007 season, Maryland has started off the year 5-0, after defeating the #13 ranked Iowa State Cyclones Tuesday evening and winning the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. The win was one of the most important of the Mark Turgeon era, not just because Maryland defeated a very good team in Iowa State, but because this team, on so many levels, seems different than the others that have taken to the hardwood under Turgeon.
One thing Maryland has struggled with during Turgeon's first few years in College Park was beating a quality non-conference team in the early portion of their schedule. Iowa State is by far the best regular season non-conference win for Maryland in the Turgeon era. The victories over Arizona State and Iowa State, on a neutral court, gives Maryland two top 70 resume wins that will be very important in March, when the Selection Committee is deciding who will and will not go dancing. Maryland still has two additional opportunities to pick up non-conference wins over top 25 teams, according to Kenpom, when they face Virginia (#5) and Oklahoma State (#23). Even if they lost both of those games, they would still be in great position heading into Big Ten conference play for the first time.
Once they enter conference play, the Terps will have ample opportunities to pick up additional wins against what is perceived to be a very deep league this season. If Maryland can continue this level of play while gradually tweaking and improving as the season progresses, they should have a very successful debut in the B1G, which would likely result in an invite to the NCAA Tournament in March.
What else did we learn from last night's win?
Versatility in their lineup and rotation
Maryland tweaked their starting lineup last night, opting to start Jon Graham over Richaud Pack against Iowa State's larger line up. It immediately paid dividends for Maryland, as Graham scored four of Maryland's first six points before picking up two quick fouls.
This season, Turgeon seems very willing to adjust his lineup and even rotation to match the opponent his team is facing on a given night. Graham went from playing just one minute against Arizona State on Monday to starting against Iowa State on Tuesday. And he's done all of this while being without out senior forward Evan Smotrycz, who should be returning soon from a foot injury, giving Maryland even more options on the court.
Finding the hot hand
On Monday, freshman Melo Trimble scored a career-high 31 points, nearly matching Joe Smith's freshman record of 33. On Tuesday, fellow freshman Jared Nickens scored 15, tied with Jake Layman, a game after Nickens was held scoreless.
Maryland is doing a great job of getting the ball into the hands of players who are open and who are making shots on that particular night. No one is being overly selfish or trying to do too much. They're running an offense and frequently using up a lot of the shot clock as they work the ball around the court to find the best opportunity to score. It is arguably the best execution of the offense that we've seen since Turgeon arrived.
Playing within their roles
The other thing Maryland is doing very, very well is playing within their roles on the team. As I mentioned previously, no one appears to be trying to do too much or feels like they need to do too much. Maryland's front court, a perceived area of weakness for Maryland entering the season due to the inexperience among those players, has done exceptionally well so far, even as the competition has gotten better.
Maryland's adjusted offensive efficiency, which ranks how many points a team scores per possession and then adjusts that based on the defense they're facing, ranks 22nd nationally so far this season, according to Kenpom. Last season, the Terps ranked 114th in that category. As a team, Maryland is also doing very well on defense so far this season, despite their perimeter defense issues against Arizona State.
So far, this year's team appears to be the best we've seen in College Park since Greivis Vasquez's senior season. I'm not implying this team is on par with that team, but it's arguably the best team we've seen in College Park in the past five years and certainly the best we've seen under Mark Turgeon. It appears exciting times are ahead for Maryland basketball fans, something we haven't been able to say in far too long.