COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland ranked third in the Associated Press Preseason Top 25. Who was right behind them at No. 4? The Kansas Jayhawks.
Their seasons have taken different paths. Kansas never dropped below No. 7 in the polls and was the nation’s No. 1 team for the final three weeks of the season. Maryland reached as high as No. 2, but fell all the way to No. 18 when they lost four of their final six regular-season games.
Slates are all but wiped clean now, though, as the two meet Thursday in Louisville in the Sweet 16.
“We feel like we can play with them,” Turgeon said on Tuesday. “We’re just not going to show up. We’re going [to Louisville] to win the game. Our guys understand that and they get it.”
Talent-wise, Maryland has the better on-paper roster if you’re judging in terms of a talent stockpile for the next level. The Terrapins have two presumed first-round picks in Diamond Stone and Melo Trimble in their starting lineup, plus two more presumed second-round picks in Jake Layman and Robert Carter, Jr.
In all likelihood, Kansas does not have a first-round pick in its starting lineup. The Jayhawks are simply a collection of really good, really well-coached college basketball players who fit together in such a seamless way that they have earned 32 wins to this point and secured the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
But it's that pure talent that should have Maryland viewed on near-equal footing before this game is played, resumes aside.
“I think we’re definitely one of the most talented teams in the country," senior Jake Layman said. "I think no matter who we’re playing, we’re not scared of whether they have talent or not.
“I think for us, it’s just a matter of being locked in on personnel and being ready to play, most importantly.”
Maryland will be the underdog in this game. It could be that way from here forward as long as the Terrapins continue to advance. But something curious happens with this Maryland team. They can struggle to put away a team like Rider, but compete toe-to-toe with some of the nation’s best.
Despite how first-round upset exit in the tournament might affect how they are ultimately viewed, Michigan State was a team the Terrapins played tough twice. The Terrapins went to Chapel Hill and led in the second half against North Carolina.
The ceiling for this team has never changed and something about playing an elite opponent seems to get Maryland as close to that sky-high ceiling as they possibly can get.
“We just go out there and play basketball,” sophomore Melo Trimble said. “People doubt us ... before this game coming up so, I mean, we just got to go out there and play basketball. Like we’ve been saying, never listen to the media. Just go out there and just worry about us as a group and everything will take care of itself.”
It can be debated what would be written about this Maryland season if its season were to end with a loss to Kansas on Thursday, whether this team reached the expectations set for it back in October or if they fell short -- and why.
But at least for right now, before the final score Thursday night is known one way or the other, Maryland just doesn’t want the ride to end.
“When it’s all said and done, we’ll take a deep breath,” Turgeon said. “But right now we’re just trying to win the next game.”