If you were to judge Maryland's season solely by how head coach Mark Turgeon describes his team's practice habits, you'd think the Terps were a whole letter better than 11-8. Turgeon has repeatedly entered games like Saturday's showdown with Pitt with high hopes. Unfortunately, it's what happens when the lights are on that counts.
By definition, practice affords coaches an unlimited ability to stop the action when things go south. In games, Turgeon is allotted only five timeouts. Maryland has come undone often in their eight losses. When it happens, it's typically quick and devastating.
Three weeks ago at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, Maryland was locked at 28 with the red-hot Panthers as the first half wound down. Twenty-three minutes later, Pitt walked away with a convincing 20-point win. The snowball effect has most damagingly afflicted their offense, where the Terps abandon the concepts they've been taught and their screen-based attack devolves into one-on-one basketball.
"Right now I just don't have enough timeouts in the game," Turgeon said on Friday afternoon. "There are some things they have to do on their own that they've been taught."
Turgeon's teachings resumed this week after a demoralizing loss on Monday night to an N.C. State team missing All-American candidate T.J. Warren. As Ralston Turner caught fire for the Wolfpack, the Terps fell apart. They weren't exactly effective on offense early, but the individualism they exhibited in the game's critical moments allowed State back into it and eventually sank Marylan.
"When things go bad we try to do it on our own. You can't do that," Turgeon added. "That's what young teams do. And we're not young. We have experienced players. I'm not making excuses. When things go wrong, that's when you really have to stay together as a team. We didn't do that. We broke plays off and took really bad shots."
Turgeon's been transparent about his team's problems all year, complicating any accusations of excuse making by the third-year coach. Is it possible this is just a tough group to coach?
"We've got to grow up," he said. "Our guys have to mature. I've got to coach them better. We've got to play better. We've had a great week so we'll see. We're really disappointed in our last game, the way it ended. The way we played in the second half."
They will get another shot at No. 20 Pitt on Saturday night at the Comcast Center. The Terps are at the bottom of a self-dug hole and the only way out is through opponents like the Panthers. While losing to N.C. State was a destructive smudge on their resume, beating the Wolfpack wouldn't really have moved the needle much. Topping Pitt will.
Along with Syracuse and Notre Dame, the Panthers have deepened an already strong conference. Maryland will have their chances to make noise over the final six weeks of the season, starting with Saturday night.
"We have to look at it as an opportunity," Turgeon said. "Where we are in our season, we'd rather play some ranked teams and have a chance to beat some ranked teams than playing teams that aren't quite as good. In the end it's who you beat, so we got to start beating some good teams."
That is an optimistic way of saying that, when it comes to their NCAA Tournament hopes, the Terps are a desperate bunch.
"There's always a few team that gets hot," Turgeon said. "Hopefully we're one of those teams."