When Mark Turgeon took over at Maryland for the 2011 season, he felt overmatched by North Carolina. The Terps went 0-3 against the Tar Heels that year, then 0-3 the next year, then 0-1 the next. Turgeon is 0-7 at Maryland against Roy Williams, his former boss at Kansas and one of college basketball's inner-circle coaching icons.
Jump to the present, and Maryland has – for the moment – caught up. The No. 2 Terps have left Carolina's ACC for the Big Ten, and they're seven spots ahead of the No. 9 Tar Heels heading into a Tuesday night blockbuster (9:30 p.m., ESPN).
"It's a good feeling. This is why you come to Maryland," Turgeon said at a Monday press conference. "I felt like the first few games, we didn't have much of a chance in those games, to be honest with you."
Maryland and North Carolina have a long, mostly bad-for-Maryland history. The Terrapins are 57-122 against the Heels all-time. Nobody on Maryland's current roster has ever beaten this program, except for Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon.
"I've never beaten them. Coach Turgeon hasn't," senior forward Jake Layman said. "So I think that kind of adds a little bit more intensity to the game."
Maryland opened as a 7-point underdog and, unusually, feels like it.
"I feel just the way we felt last year about every game," guard Melo Trimble said. "Everyone pretty much doubted us throughout the whole season. Going into this game right here, even if we're ranked high, a lot of people expect us to lose."
North Carolina's Dean Smith Center is one of the sport's hallowed venues. Maryland has had good moments there – Remember Len Bias's 35 points in a 77-72 overtime win in 1986, 30 years ago? – but hasn't had many recently.
Trimble has never faced Carolina, but he won an AAU under-15 game on the Dean Dome floor years ago. The place will be significantly louder Tuesday night, and Maryland has gotten ready for the crush by playing loud music in practice. The Terps have blasted Drake and Future tunes – both among Trimble's favorites.
"[Sunday] was our first day preparing for them. Just knowing that we're going to play UNC is exciting. We've been practicing with music, because it's going to be loud," Trimble said. "It's going to be exciting."
The game has plenty of pageantry, and Maryland isn't pretending that it's a totally normal night at the office.
"It should be fun," Turgeon said. "It's been a highly anticipated game since it came out on the schedule, a great environment, the big game of the night, late game. So we're looking forward to it."
"It's what the fans want," Layman added.
The game should be interesting for its Xs and Os as much as its loud noises and Carolina blue. The Terps and Tar Heels are both among the nation's tallest, most talented teams. Williams coaches an extraordinarily versatile bunch, but Turgeon said Maryland has already established its man-to-man matchups for every player in each team's rotation.
"Pretty much up and down, one through eight or nine, we have a pretty good idea of how we're going to match up, depending on who's in for us," Turgeon said. "The thing that makes it difficult is that they probably have six or seven McDonald's All-Americans that are good players. There's a reason they were preseason No. 1."
North Carolina will get back point guard Marcus Paige, a preseason All-America candidate who has missed the season's first six games with a broken bone in his non-shooting hand. He'll join a cast of 6'6 through 6'10 blue-chippers – Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, Theo Pinson, Justin Jackson – to give the Heels a rounded attack.
It's not quite the same as facing 5'5 guards on Mount St. Mary's or 6'7 centers on Rider. For Maryland's frontcourt of Diamond Stone, Robert Carter Jr., Michal Cekovsky and Damonte Dodd, Turgeon thinks it'll even help.
"We were built for games like this," Turgeon said.