- The Washington Times - Friday, November 19, 2004

The Maryland Terrapins concede their two victories in exhibition games were uninspired because they were waiting for “real games” to get under way. That starts tonight when the No.15 Terrapins open the season against Jackson State at Comcast Center.

“Roll the balls out — let’s play,” guard John Gilchrist said. “That’s our mentality. We’re all about showing improvement.”

The Terps need to show quick improvement over uneven preseason efforts against Division II power Bryant University and two-time Canadian champion Carleton University. Maryland has soft games against Jackson State tonight and Mercer on Tuesday, but then could face three ranked teams within 10 days.

The Terps will play No.24 Memphis next Friday and No.21 Wisconsin on Nov.30 and also could meet No.13 Michigan State in the BB&T; Classic final Dec.5. None of those games is at Comcast.

After allowing Bryant to rain 3-point shots, Maryland must improve its perimeter defense. The Terps also have to penetrate zones more effectively for the frontcourt to produce.

Essentially, the defending ACC champions have to focus for 40 minutes if they are to contend in a conference that has five teams among the preseason top 15.

“You’d like to think the players would approach the exhibition games [with the same intensity as in regular-season games],” coach Gary Williams said. “It’s a different situation now. Everything counts. Here we go. You find out more about a player in the first game than you do during the preseason.”

Young, inexperienced Maryland teams got off to slow starts the past two seasons. The Terps beat No.1 Florida and No.17 Wisconsin in the early weeks last season but also fell to unranked West Virginia.

The Terps now have four junior starters and a 10-man rotation in which only freshman forward James Gist lacks experience.

“One of our goals this year is to play better early and to be more consistent,” Williams said. “We were up and down last year. You can say that’s because we were young, but it’s not something I like to see. I like to see gradual improvement.

“There were too many games where we played great for 20 minutes and bad for 20 minutes. We had a lot of times last season where we didn’t score for two, three minutes, and it’s hard to come back against a good team when that happens.”

The Terps face a wild and difficult season, and Williams said as many as 20 teams could win the national title. The ACC is studded with other ranked teams: No.2 Wake Forest, No.3 Georgia Tech, No.4 North Carolina, No.11 Duke and No.19 N.C. State.

The Terps’ sixth-place ranking in the ACC preseason media poll will fuel Williams’ pep talks.

“It’s not like we impressed too many people, especially some sportswriters from the southern part of the league, but we’re used to that here,” Williams said. “We played at a really good level down there. That’s where I’d like to be in December instead of waiting until March.”

Williams expects some carryover momentum from the ACC tournament title. The Terps now know they can rebound from poor midseason streaks.

“[The title] gives us confidence we can play in the league, and that’s a big deal this year,” said Williams, who is starting his 16th season at his alma mater. “It’s not being cocky. You feel you’ve earned the right to feel confidence you can play. I’d like to think we have a shot to win [the ACC] as much as anybody.

“But you’re going to play 10 to 12 games against teams in the top 20, so it’s anybody’s league. You’ve heard this before, but if you look close it’s probably truer this year than I’ve seen in the last four, five years.”

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