The preseason ranking is the highest for Maryland since 2001-02, when the Terrapins began the year at No. 2 coming off their first Final Four appearance and eventually went on to win the school’s first national championship. That team also finished the regular season ranked fourth by the AP, which was the last Maryland had cracked the top five.
Maryland climbed to No. 8 at one point late last season and finished No. 12 in the final rankings after a 28-win campaign and the school’s first NCAA tournament appearance in five years.
While Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon wasn’t immediately available to comment on Maryland’s position on Monday, last month he mostly downplayed his team’s No. 3 ranking in the USA Today coaches poll when it was released in late October.
“When we played Michigan State in the first Big Ten game [last season], we were ranked 12 in the country. So it wasn’t like we were really sneaking up on anybody last year when the league started,” Turgeon said at Maryland’s media day in late October. “I thought we handled the bulls-eye on your back type of thing pretty well last year. It will be a different level, obviously, this year. I think we’re more equipped.”
Turgeon’s confidence in his roster was bolstered by a wild and transformative offseason. Sophomore guard Melo Trimble and senior forward Jake Layman decided to return to school after nearly entering the NBA draft, and the staff added blue-chip center recruit Diamond Stone and Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon to the fold. Along with junior power forward Robert Carter Jr., a transfer from Georgia Tech who is now eligible after sitting out last season due to NCAA rules, Maryland has five players who have been mentioned as potential NBA draft picks.
“I think we have eight starters,” Turgeon said. “Usually the best teams have quality depth, and we have that.”
That kind of talent and depth has brought a wave of expectations and adulation over the past six months, and Maryland was considered a strong contender to enter the season as the AP’s top team. Maryland received 14 first place votes in the preseason poll. The top five was rounded out by Kansas and Duke, while Virginia checked in at No. 6.
Monday marked Maryland’s 374th appearance in the poll, although it has never been ranked No. 1. Maryland has spent 23 previous weeks as the nation’s second-ranked team, by far the most for a team that has never been No. 1. Purdue is second on that list with 10 appearances at No. 2 without ever reaching the top spot.
The preseason poll also provided a glimpse of just how difficult Maryland’s schedule will be this season. The Terrapins will travel to top-ranked North Carolina on Dec. 1, followed by a matchup against No. 20 Connecticut at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 8.
It will also meet five Big Ten schools that landed in the poll on Monday, including road tests at No. 13 Michigan State and at No. 15 Indiana, as well as home-and-home matchups with No. 17 Wisconsin, No. 23 Purdue and No. 25 Michigan.
“We have an unbelievably difficult road schedule. I think we have six of the top seven teams, not including us, on the road in the league. We’re going to be challenged there,” Turgeon said. “I think we have a chance to be a better team than we were last year. But I think our schedule is a little bit tougher than it was last year, too.”