This summer, when the Maryland men’s basketball team traveled to the Bahamas for a preseason tour, everything came down to the water slides. Yes, the Terrapins blitzed through three exhibition games against local teams in four days, but they never watched film and barely warmed up. But the trip was foremost about what came in between: building camaraderie and careening down plastic tubes rather ominously dubbed Leap of Faith and the Abyss.
“To be quite honest with you,” Coach Mark Turgeon said then, “I just want to have fun.”
This week, Maryland again flew to a Caribbean island, this time for the three-game Paradise Jam in St. Thomas. Except this time, the Terps are coming off Sunday’s embarrassing home loss to Oregon State, so water slides and fun have been cast aside. Right now, regrouping matters most.
“It’s totally different,” Turgeon said this week. “This will be business. Still fun because you’re in a beautiful part of the world and you get to play a tournament. But no, it’ll be film sessions and those things. It’ll be totally different than the summer.”
On Sunday, Maryland (1-2) became the first ACC school ever to lose a home game to the Beavers. A leaky defense allowed 90 points, including 60 to the two players specifically pinpointed in the scouting report. Rebounding, another hallmark of Turgeon’s style, also fell by the wayside. By many accounts, the third-year coach said, the Terps regressed.
The Paradise Jam’s compacted schedule gives the Terps an opportunity to unleash their frustration on a relatively weak eight-team field featuring zero top 40 teams, according to the rankings compiled by stats guru Ken Pomeroy. They open with Marist (0-4) on Friday at 4 p.m. All matchups thereafter depend on their result against the Red Foxes, who rank 349th nationally in points per game and have yet to come within single digits of an opponent this season.
The trip also will give Turgeon a chance to tweak his thin rotation, perhaps starting freshman Roddy Peters at point guard and moving Dez Wells to the wing or elevating forward Charles Mitchell (team-high 7.3 rebounds per game) into the starting lineup. Turgeon wants to build defensive depth, which could mean giving more minutes to fringe contributors Varun Ram and Damonte Dodd or perhaps even tapping Maryland’s walk-ons should the regulars need extra motivation, which the players say shouldn’t be necessary.
“This is a business trip,” Mitchell said, reiterating the team’s talking point du jour. “Before the season, that was summer. That was for chemistry-building. This is about winning games and helping our record.”
For a group seeking to become the first Maryland team to reach the NCAA tournament since 2010, the Paradise Jam only can harm it. None of its potential victories — Providence is the field’s other favorite and could meet Maryland in the championship game — will be seen as particularly impressive.
Twenty-eight games remain in the regular season, so Turgeon cautioned against overreacting this early. But the Terps have underwhelmed so far, trailing Division II convert Abilene Christian by one point at halftime and falling to an Oregon State team that lost its home opener to Coppin State. And with eighth-ranked Ohio State looming Dec. 4, a game against upstart George Washington four days later and the ACC opener at Boston College on Dec. 12, the window to improve before the conference slog truly begins is inching shut.
“It’s great for us,” Turgeon said. “It’s an opportunity for us to go down there and get better, and that’s what’s important right now with the way we’re playing.”