Another week, another omission from the Associated Press top 25 rankings for a Maryland men’s basketball team that, by all accounts, is perfectly content to fly under the radar.
Maryland received just two votes in the latest AP poll, coming from newspaper reporters in Idaho and Alabama. For two weeks early this season, it received a 25th-place ranking from Chris Dachille, a producer with WBAL TV in Baltimore. In the Dec. 3 poll, it was ranked 21st by Idaho Press Tribune voter David Southorn. In the AP poll that was released Monday, the Terrapins only received 25th-place votes from Southorn and Ryan Wood (Opelika-Auburn News).
Through 10 games, attention has arrived in scant spurts for these young Terrapins, never manifesting in full-blown mania. Alex Len continues to generate buzz as a top-tier NBA draft pick, beginning with his coming-out party against Kentucky in the season opener. Dez Wells’s arrival and unprecedented eligibility situation drew interest, as did Maryland’s 77-57 blowout of Northwestern in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
But as we approach Christmas and ACC play, the Terps still are generating little interest from the AP and coaches’ polls, largely because of the team’s generally unimpressive nonconference resume, which features blowout victories over cupcakes, a sloppy triumph over George Mason and the Northwestern game.
While earning recognition may matter down the road, especially as Maryland leaps into the brunt of its schedule, for now it’s full-speed ahead, without the slightest glance to check where its blip lies on the national radar.
“We don’t try to go with the hype,” freshman center Shaquille Cleare said. “We just try to do whatever [Coach Mark] Turgeon needs us to do. Right now, I think we’re an okay team with a chance to be really good. If you count the number of turnovers and see how much we beat teams by, then look at the free throws missed and still see how many points we beat teams by, if we can calm down on defense and make our free throws, we’d be beating teams by 50, 60 points.
“It’s just a group of humble guys. We want to get better. We’re not worrying about being posted on ESPN or whatever. This is about us and getting better, doing the little things to be great. If we broke into the top 25, it’d be a blessing. Right now, we’re not under any pressure. We’re just a team.”
That camaraderie has emerged in spades since exams ended. With few other students left on campus and the Comcast Center floor stacked with chairs and flags for the school’s December graduation ceremony, the Terps have little else on their minds but Stony Brook on Friday, Delaware State on Dec. 29, IUPUI on New Years’ Day and then Virginia Tech on Jan. 5.
“I told the guys, there’s nothing to say. We have to go out and do it. There’s no need for pep talks,” Dez Wells said. “We know what we need to do, go out and get it done. We practice, we work hard, and it’s time for us to go out there and eat, that’s all you can say.”
The lengthy break also provides opportunities for individual improvements, diagnosing and correcting as necessary in the film and weight room. Turgeon is hoping for significant strength gain from Jake Layman, for instance, while offensive execution remains a top priority.
“You guys want me to be honest, I’m honest. I’m disappointed, they have to give me more,” Turgeon said after the Terps’ sluggish 33-point win over Monmouth last week. “Problem is everyone’s telling them how good they are because of their record. And they’re listening, instead of listening to me. I have a lot of time with them. They’ll all be fine.”
Turgeon has previously mentioned this mysterious “everyone” who keeps talking up the Terrapins, without much elaboration. Whether Twitter, news outlets or fans provide this mysterious hype is unknown. Poll voters certainly haven’t bought in quite yet, and that’s perfectly fine with Maryland. Working toward a national ranking that keeps up the intensity and provides a perfectly attainable, low-hanging fruit.