On two straight days, in two separate media sessions, Maryland basketball coach Mark Turgeon struck a note of caution.
It had nothing to do with where the Terrapins are headed and everything to do with where they are.
"I just think everybody expects us to be great," Turgeon said Wednesday after a 100-68 defeat of Maryland-Eastern Shore. "We're this young team. We're a very young basketball team. We've got the cart way before the horse. For these guys to be doing what they're doing is very impressive to me. We're nowhere near where we're going to be."
Like it or not, though, where Turgeon's second team in College Park is positioned in early December is promising.
Maryland has won seven straight since its opening loss to Kentucky. A victory Saturday over South Carolina State (4-4) would give the Terps' their longest winning streak since an 8-0 opening to the 2006-07 season. Two more triumphs would secure Maryland's longest single-season streak since a 13-game run in 2001-02.
After enduring a 17-15 debut, Turgeon now finds himself in a far different place. He possesses a talented and deep team and is all too aware of the potential on his hands. From center Alex Len's advances to the eligibility of Xavier transfer Dez Wells to the contributions of four freshmen, things have aligned swimmingly.
It's happening for a fan base eager for accomplishments from their spotlight sports. Football is 6-18 over the past two years. Men's basketball missed the past two NCAA tournaments.
Nonetheless, Turgeon has attempted to temper any hoopla surrounding his team. He did so in the preseason and again returned to the message this week as Maryland commenced an eight-game homestand.
"I'm not worried about my guys because we're practicing hard," Turgeon said. "If they weren't, I'd make sure they were practicing hard, so we're practicing hard. They're not feeling that way. They know we have a long ways to go. I just think our perception is a lot better than reality right now with us. We played a nice game at Northwestern [a 77-57 win], really guarded them in the second half, showed strides."
Turgeon knows what anyone paying attention to Maryland's competition is fully aware of: It is difficult to read too much into many of the Terps' victories. They closed out Northwestern in impressive fashion. They zipped past George Mason when needed in the BB&T Classic.
Neither of those opponents is a certain NCAA tournament team. Maryland has the look of a team that should wind up there, regardless of whether Turgeon would like to discuss it for now.
His players, particularly a younger set still adapting a month into their first college season, are taking a cue from their coach on the subject of expectations and longer-range possibilities.
"It's up to you," center Shaquille Cleare said. "If you want to follow the hype, go ahead. I'm not a person who follows the hype. When I was coming in, a lot of people went 'Shaq, Shaq, Shaq,' but I really wasn't into it. I know I have a lot of stuff to work on, so I just wanted to come in here and get started."
Cleare made his first career start Wednesday, establishing a new best in points (12) and minutes (22). For another five games over the next month, Turgeon can afford such tinkering as he prepares the Terps for conference play.
That's when Maryland will truly be tested, and Turgeon will have far less reason to try to halt what he believes is a growing buzz about his team.
"I just don't want people to think we're this great team because we're not yet," Turgeon said. "We have a chance to be."
NOTES: Maryland is 1-0 all-time against South Carolina State, a 104-70 victory in 1998-99.
Guard Pe'Shon Howard played only nine minutes Wednesday. Turgeon said the junior said his stomach hurt early in the second half, and his absence allowed Maryland to use Nick Faust extensively at point guard.
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Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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