In Mark Turgeon’s experience building and rebuilding college basketball teams, there are a few benchmarks that let him know his squad is pointed in the right direction.
One is winning on an opponent’s home court. Another is upsetting a team that, at least on paper, you have no business beating.
This week offers Maryland a chance to do both for the first time this season, with the Terrapins (13-7, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) traveling to Miami (12-7, 3-3) for a Wednesday night game and then hosting No. 5 North Carolina (18-3, 5-1) at Comcast Center on Saturday afternoon.
Of the two looming hurdles, defeating Miami ought to be the easier task. The Hurricanes are one of three teams, along with Maryland and Clemson, mired in the ACC’s undistinguished middle, each 3-3 in conference play.
But Maryland has a long and perplexing history of struggling on Miami’s home court, even though Coral Gables’s 7,200-seat BankUnited Center is hardly the hostile cauldron of Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium or even North Carolina State’s cavernous RBC Center.
“It’s a road game!” senior Sean Mosley replied when asked why games at Miami pose such problems. “We don’t have our fans behind us. Most of our families don’t travel to games. The only thing we have is our teammates and coaches down there.”
Miami has won five of its last seven against Maryland, including last season’s 80-66 victory in Coral Gables on March 2, when the Terrapins were desperate for a noteworthy win to boost their dwindling NCAA tournament chances. But it has been more than 40 years — going back to Dec. 29, 1970 — since Maryland has won a game at Miami.
While Turgeon can’t account for that record, he subscribes to a formula for winning on the road that he has been trying to drill into his Terrapins, predicated on defending and rebounding. He also wants his team to execute better and show more poise in hostile settings.
“There are always going to be a couple times on the road when the crowd gets into it, and it’s tough,” Turgeon said. “Those are things we don’t do great. We don’t defend and rebound great, but we’re getting better.”
Although the Terrapins have made strides in both facets of the game, the formula has yet to reap dividends.
Maryland has played three road games this season (not counting contests at neutral sites, such as in November’s Puerto Rico Classic) and lost all three — at N.C. State in the Terrapins’ ACC opener, 79-74; at Florida State, 84-70; and at Temple, 73-60.
Under former George Mason coach Jim Larranaga, Miami is coming off an impressive two-game winning streak on the road, throttling Georgia Tech by 15 points (64-49) in Atlanta and Boston College by 22 (76-54) on its home court.
A first-year ACC coach like Turgeon, Larranaga already has been rewarded with a three-year contract extension that takes his initial five-year deal through April 2019.
In a conference call this week, Turgeon expressed admiration for the talent on Miami’s roster, and Larranaga spoke of the task of reining in Maryland’s sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin, the ACC’s leading scorer, and Mosley.
Turgeon added Tuesday that for Maryland to have a chance against Miami, which has four players averaging double figures, the team needs more from 7-foot-1 center Alex Len. According to Turgeon, Len’s sprained ankle has healed and the Ukranian had a terrific practice on Monday.
“He has got to play and protect the rim for us against their big guys,” Turgeon said. “We need him if we want to keep this thing going in the right direction, and Alex knows that.”