After a successful Thanksgiving tournament, the Maryland Terrapins (8-0) have risen up the AP poll and are now the third-ranked team in the country.
Although the number next to the name is somewhat arbitrary, it naturally comes with higher expectations and pressure. However, head coach Mark Turgeon’s team is not feeling the weight of it just yet.
“I don’t think we think about it too much. I think at the end of the day, we just want to win. If being the number three team in the country comes with winning then we’ll take it,” said sophomore guard Eric Ayala. “Winning is at the forefront of what we want to do here.”
On Wednesday, the Terps will put that No. 3 ranking to the test when Notre Dame (6-1) comes to town. The Fighting Irish lost their season opener but have won their last six games, albeit against inferior competition. They will have had over a week to prepare for the Terps as they took Thanksgiving off.
Mike Brey’s squad is an experienced group that starts four seniors, led by 6’9 forward John Mooney. Mooney, who was named to the preseason first-team All-ACC, is off to a hot start averaging 14 points and 13 rebounds per game. With Notre Dame’s size, look for Jalen Smith and the Mitchell twins to take turns guarding Mooney.
“Mooney is really good. Mooney makes them really hard to guard. So we’ll have multiple guys on Mooney because they play big line-ups, they play small line-ups so multiple guys will guard him,” said Turgeon.
The Terps are undoubtedly coming off of their best performance of the season and it was bolstered by an early lead. Using a smaller lineup of their five most experienced players Ayala, Anthony Cowan, Aaron Wiggins, Darryl Morsell and Jalen Smith, the Terps were up by double-digits before the under eight minute timeout.
The Fighting Irish typically start two bigs so don’t expect to see that core group starts for the Terps on Wednesday. But Turgeon knows how impactful it is and it’s probable he goes to that five at some point. The slow starts are worrisome for the Terps, but the end result remains more valuable.
“We’ve played seven or eight games. Hopefully we got about 32 more. I imagine we’ll have a few slow starts in those. Hopefully we’ll have more fast starts. The bottom line is that we play well the majority of the game,” Tugreon said. “The game ebbs and flows. You just want to be playing better the majority of it.”
The Notre Dame contest starts arguably Maryland’s toughest four-game stretch of the year with a home match-up with Illinois and road games with Penn State and Seton Hall ensuing. A large part of Maryland’s success will be dictated by senior point guard Anthony Cowan, who was just named Big Ten Co-Player of the Week for the first time in his career. The Bowie native is knows there is more work to be done.
“We still understand that it’s the early season. Not getting too ahead of ourselves. Still really haven’t done anything yet,” Cowan said. “Still gotta come in day in, day out and keep getting better.”
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