Mark Turgeon has worked magic in his second season at Maryland, leading his young team to 7-1 start that would suggest the Terrapins could be a force in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Or is it just an illusion?
"Our perception is a lot better than reality right now," Turgeon said Wednesday night after the Terrapins notched their seventh straight victory, a 100-68 rout of Maryland-Eastern Shore.
Sure, Maryland's victims include Morehead State, Georgia Southern and LIU-Brooklyn. But the seven-game run — which followed a season-opening 72-69 defeat against Kentucky — featured a 77-57 road win over previously unbeaten Northwestern in which the Terps outscored the Wildcats 49-31 after halftime.
That was the game that got people saying this Maryland team just might be pretty good.
"We played a nice game at Northwestern, really guarding them and executing the second half. We showed strides," Turgeon said. "But we've got so far to go. I just don't want people thinking that we're this great team. Because we're not yet. We have a chance to be. We're getting better and improving each day."
This squad has far more cohesion and depth than last year's team, Turgeon's first since leaving Texas A&M to replace the highly successful Gary Williams. Maryland went 17-15, leaning heavily on the inside play of raw 7-foot-1 freshman Alex Len and the outside scoring of guard Terrell Stoglin.
After leading the ACC in scoring as a sophomore, Stoglin was suspended by Maryland for a full year for failing to comply with the school's Code of Conduct for athletes. Instead of serving the suspension, he opted to hire an agent and enter his name into the NBA draft.
Fortunately for the Terrapins, Len is back — with more weight, confidence and skill under the basket.
With Len, senior James Padgett and freshmen Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare jamming the middle, the Terrapins rank among the national leaders in rebounding margin. Transfer Logan Aronhalt has replaced Stoglin as the designated gunner, going 15 for 23 from 3-point range.
"I think Logan is probably the best shooter in the country if you leave him open," Mitchell said.
The strength of the team is its depth, which runs so deep that Turgeon tossed three new starters into the mix against UMES. He also intends to shuffle his lineup again Saturday against South Carolina State.
That kind of ploy might not have worked last year.
"I have never had a team like this, that really likes each other as much as they do and are as deep as this team is," Turgeon said. "There are no bruised egos because of who we started."
Freshman guard Seth Allen, who received his first college start Wednesday, said of the lineup change: "Our team is so close, so nobody really got mad or had a problem with it. Everybody was pushing the new starting five to be great."
Len played only 17 minutes. Xavier transfer Dez Wells, who poured in 23 points against Northwestern and 25 in a follow-up win over George Mason, scored seven in 19 unspectacular minutes.
Maryland's defense wasn't up to Turgeon's standards, but he wasn't complaining too much after a 32-point win.
"Obviously we didn't guard or rebound well," he said. "I'll give these guys a pass because we have been guarding our tails off in practice."
Maryland has five non-league games at home upcoming before beginning ACC play on Jan.5 against Virginia Tech. By that time, Turgeon hopes a team with five freshmen, six sophomores and only two seniors (Padgett and Aronhalt) can grow up and fulfill expectations.
"Everybody expects us to be great. We're a very young basketball team," Turgeon said. "We've gotten the cart before the horse. For these guys to do what they're doing is pretty impressive to me, but we're nowhere near where we're going to be."