The Washington Times - December 13, 2009, 07:25PM

A quick look ahead to tomorrow’s dead-tree edition story centered on Maryland (6-3) heading into its exams break without much of a postseason resume but a better feeling of what the future holds compared to this time next year …

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The mid-December exams break provides Maryland’s basketball team an opportunity for a respite from a hectic early schedule – not to mention the opportunity to reflect on just how well the Terrapins have done.

The resume Maryland (6-3) carries into a 10-day hiatus after Saturday’s 83-72 defeat of Eastern Kentucky isn’t quite as sharp as at this time last year. Yet to the Terps, things seem much more settled now.

“We beat Michigan State last year, but we also had a couple bad losses down in Orlando,” guard Eric Hayes said. “I don’t think we have any bad losses at this point. we could have won a couple of those games as well. I think at this point I’d say we’re in a better position.”

Indeed, there isn’t a victory of the caliber of upending Michigan State, the eventual national runner-up, on a neutral court. There probably isn’t an achievement as impressive as toppling Michigan, which went on to reach the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Clearly, the Terps still have work to do, both when they resume play Dec. 22 against Winston-Salem State and Jan. 10 when Florida State visits to open conference play.

Yet there are some signs to back up Maryland’s belief it is already on the right track.

Despite the extra setback, the Terps are outscoring opponents by an average of 12.7 points – up from 10.3 at the exam break last season. The offense is also running smoother; Maryland is shooting 47.6 percent from the floor in its first nine games.

Much of the improvement could be attributed to an actual interior presence. Maryland juggled its lineup after blowout losses to Gonzaga and Georgetown last year, eventually settling on an undersized starting five with no burly interior presence.

So far this season, the Terps have prominently used Jordan Williams in the paint. That was before the return of junior Dino Gregory, who immediately stepped into the lineup Saturday in his first game back from a team rules-related suspension.

While this year’s Terps are adding needed size to their rotation at this time, it was the exact opposite last year. Reserve forward Jerome Burney was hurt early last December and played sparingly the rest of the season.

“I think we have a great start right now,” guard Sean Mosley said. “We’re definitely doing a great job of closing out games, which we had problems with last year. I feel as though this team is a lot better.”

Maryland, of course, has plenty to work on in the next week. Greivis Vasquez looked like his old self with a 20-point outburst Saturday, but the expected conference player of the year contender still ranks third on the team in points and (perhaps more surprisingly) minutes.

In addition to Vasquez re-emerging as a difference-maker, the Terps still must tighten up their defense and rebounding. Maryland is allowing a fraction of a point more than through nine games last season, and it remains the only ACC team to be outrebounded to date.

Those are significant issues, but also obvious ones. And it’s a stark contrast to this time last season, when the Terps needed to improve nearly everything and an eventual 21-14 finish with a second round appearance in the NCAA tournament seemed much more difficult to envision.

“Last year we were a little bit shakier than we are this year,” forward Landon Milbourne said. “We know exactly what we need to work on.”

Patrick Stevens