As Maryland’s one-hour open practice session wound down Wednesday afternoon, assistant coach Scott Spinelli walked over to a near-empty press row at Greensboro Coliseum and leaned against the table’s edge.
“We’re built for this,” he said.
No matter the team’s recent struggles – the Terps are 3-5 since Feb. 10 and have no more than two straight wins since ACC play began – Maryland enters this week’s ACC tournament confident its 10-deep rotation can carry them into uncharted waters. Despite Coach Mark Turgeon’s focus on shortening his bench in recent games — Shaquille Cleare, for instance, didn’t see the floor in the regular season finale against Virginia — all 10 players still average at least 13 minutes per game this season.
Guard Logan Aronhalt likened the ACC tournament, which begins with Thursday’s 7-11 game against Wake Forest, to the AAU tournaments of his teenage years, when teams packed upwards of four games into a single day before doing the same the next morning. “You don’t really have to practice,” the senior said. “You just go out and play games. I think we’re excited and ready to go.”
Substitution patterns have proved an unsolvable puzzle for Turgeon this season. He has wanted to trim the rotation to eight players for some time now, but inconsistencies across the board made that impossible, in his mind.
“I think that’s been the number one problem,” Turgeon said. “There’s many times this year I’ve said it. I want to get it down to eight guys. Well, then one of those eight guys is stinking it up because he’s not being consistent. So then you’ve got to go with nine or you’ve got to go with 10. There’s many games when I’ve said I’m not playing these two guys. I’m not playing them. Then the game starts, and these two guys are so bad that I have to put the other two in.”
Cleare is Maryland’s only player receiving less than 15 minutes in conference games, and the center hasn’t appeared in the past three halves against smaller lineups. But Turgeon threw his support behind the freshman, and even hinted that he may start against the Demon Deacons, knowing full well that the Terps will need all 10 players to piece together an extended run in Greensboro, no matter how unlikely that seems given their roller-coaster regular season.
“This team is really built for February and March,” guard Pe’Shon Howard said. “You just have to go out there and show it and play. I think our depth will help us, especially these games in back-to-back days.”
Maryland’s chartered plane landed in Greensboro on Tuesday night and the team took in a short practice before retiring to the team hotel. The Terps don’t face Wake Forest, located a 40-minute drive away from Greensboro, until 7 p.m. on Thursday, a lengthy break that could leave them either fully rested or detrimentally anxious by tip-off.
Either way, Maryland packed for five days away from College Park, expecting its depth to lead the charge against the Demon Deacons and beyond.
“Yes. Yes,” Cleare said, interrupting a reporter who echoed Spinelli, asking if Maryland was built for the ACC tournament. “Machines don’t stop working. And we’ve got a bunch of machines in this room. All the offseason training, the stairs and sleds and suicides, this is what we’re made for right now – the end of the season, not the beginning.”