Maryland has never faced a schedule quite like this season's, which will force Terrapins Coach Mark Turgeon to figure out his rotation much quicker than normal this month. Maryland not only hosts Butler on Wednesday night in its first true test and travels to Syracuse later this month, but it also will open its Big Ten season in just 19 days because the league is hosting its postseason tournament a week earlier than normal, forcing it to compress the conference slate.
That's why Sunday's 96-43 win over Maryland-Eastern Shore was viewed as not just another tuneup against an overmatched opponent but rather as an important opportunity for Turgeon to learn more about his personnel and to experiment with lineups. He began the night with a mammoth starting five, giving freshman power forward Bruno Fernando his first start alongside center Michal Cekovsky. But Turgeon quickly began to tinker with a small-ball approach led by sophomore Anthony Cowan Jr., who pushed the pace all night and finished with 16 points and nine rebounds in the most lopsided win of Turgeon's time in College Park.
"I am trying to figure it out. Every night is going to be different because different guys are going to play well. Thing is, if you only have four or five good players and they're not playing well, you got trouble," Turgeon said. "We are trying different things. . . . We are experimenting a little bit."
After opening the season with two games in three days, it's clear that one of Turgeon's foremost priorities is improving team rebounding a year after Maryland finished 11th in the Big Ten in rebounding margin and never established itself on the interior.
The early returns this season have been good; Maryland (2-0) grabbed 18 more boards than Stony Brook in a season-opening 76-61 victory on Friday night and outrebounded Maryland-Eastern Shore 46-21 on Sunday night to spur countless transition opportunities. While Maryland jumps up a weight class against Butler, Turgeon at least can point to tangible proof that his team is focused on establishing a physical identity early in the season — unlike a year ago.
"Last year, we always struggled on the boards in games, and I think we've been killing the boards these last two games," Cowan said. "It's also helping our whole team become more physical as a unit.'
Turgeon never paired Cekovsky and Fernando again after subbing both out within the first three minutes Sunday against the undersized Hawks (1-1), trading those players out with guard Dion Wiley and power forward Ivan Bender. It was off to the races from there. Wiley hit consecutive three-pointers for Maryland's first points and continued to look fully recovered from an ankle injury that hampered him in October, finishing with 13 points and joining shooting guard Kevin Huerter (10 points) in helping Cowan run the offense at a fast pace all night.
"We're trying to run more because we have more athletes this year," Wiley said. "We're longer, and we can play more lineups. We're more versatile. So I think running is our specialty."
As forward Justin Jackson did in the opener against Stony Brook, Cowan used rebounds to spur transition opportunities and high percentage shots Sunday night. The sophomore guard grabbed eight of his nine rebounds in the first half, and Maryland shot 70 percent (14 for 20) in the first 20 minutes; 20 of those points came in the paint and 13 in transition.
Turgeon said last week that he has not settled on a starting lineup and will continue to coach by feel as the season progresses, but after playing 11 players in the first half of the season opener, he declared that the rotation would shorten and not run that deep. Either way, he has options with what is perhaps his deepest and most versatile team in his seven-year tenure in College Park.
"We can go a lot of different directions. The hardest thing for me right now is just getting guys enough minutes," Turgeon said.
A pressing question is how the backcourt depth will shake out behind Cowan and Huerter, but Wiley, freshman guard Darryl Morsell (12 points) and senior sharpshooter Jared Nickens (15 points on 5-for-5 shooting) all showed promise off the bench, which produced 52 points against the Hawks. Those three were playing together deep into the second half, when Turgeon paired them with Fernando and Duke graduate transfer center Sean Obi. That's a combination Turgeon hasn't tried much in practice, he said, but one of the countless variations that should help prepare the Terrapins for a schedule that will toughen beginning Wednesday night.
"It's a good start," Turgeon said, "but we'll get tested this week to see how good we really are."
More college basketball: