Lucky or not, Maryland exudes confidence at the end of tight games

source: AP
Melo Trimble, Dez Wells (AP Photo)

CHICAGO — Entering the 2014-15 season there wasn’t a lot of hope for Maryland basketball.

Senior guard Dez Wells is quick to point out that the Terps were picked to finish 10th in the Big Ten back in the fall. Head coach Mark Turgeon was atop many preseason lists for coaches on the hot seat after losing five players to transfer the previous offseason.

Those low projections didn’t quell expectations among players in the Maryland locker room. They earned an impressive non-conference win over Iowa State in Kansas City before finishing second in the Big Ten during the regular season. The Terps find themselves as the No. 8 team in the country entering Selection Sunday.

Some have questioned the validity of that top-ten standing.

While Maryland has been fantastic in close-game situations this season — going 11-0 in games decided by six points or less before Saturday’s 64-60 loss to the Spartans in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals — they aren’t even ranked in the top 30 in Kenpom’s rankings.

Some have attributed Maryland’s performance in those close games to luck. Kenpom rates Maryland as the second luckiest team in the country.

Much like the preseason expectations, Maryland’s locker room doesn’t seem to care about the opinions (or computer data) of others when it comes to how they win games. They see themselves as a tight-knit team that knows how to handle themselves in close games and they’re confident heading into the NCAA Tournament.

“They’ll have their opinions about it. At the end of the day, we know we’re a team to be reckoned with. We’re a heck of a team each and every night out,” Wells said of the critics on Saturday. “Regardless of what seeding or whatever they give us, we’re just happy to be in the Tournament and we want to make a deep run.”

Late-game situations can be put together in practice through an imaginary score in an imaginary game. Wells points out that many of the factors that come into play at the end of a game are things Maryland can’t prepare for.

“There’s really no way you can simulate late-game situations besides putting a score on the board [in practice],” Wells said. “You can’t simulate the environment, the fans, a team being on a run. You just can’t simulate those types of things. It just has to come to that experience. And we have that experience on this team.”

“Experience” is a word that is often uttered by Maryland players when late-game situations are brought up. Since they’ve been in a lot of them, they feel like veterans of the process of weathering close finishes.

“Confidence” is the buzzword coming right behind it. Freshman Melo Trimble doesn’t have the experience factor of his older Maryland teammates, but he’s proven to be one of college basketball’s best closers in his first season.

“To have a guy that confident, to know that he’s going to knock those shots down, it’s big,” Maryland junior Jake Layman said of Trimble’s late-game free-throw shooting.

At 87 percent from the free-throw line this season, the Terps feel like New York Yankees fans hearing “Enter Sandman” when Mariano Rivera emerged from the bullpen with a lead in the 9th inning. Maryland feels like they’re always going to win if Trimble steps to the line with a lead. That confidence carries over to other facets of the game and Layman believes its a byproduct of a summer of hard work.

Layman knew this group of freshmen would be contributors when they would dust themselves off after pickup losses and keep playing hard when the next game started. The confidence of the group never wavered, regardless of what had just happened.

“You could just tell how confident each and every one of them was coming in and that’s shown on the court this season,” Layman said of the Maryland freshmen.

As Maryland has continued to pile up the close wins this season, that self-confidence has grown even more. Now the Terps feel like they have a recipe for success in close games and it helps to have Trimble to finish things off. There’s no science or data to support the feeling that Maryland has when the game is close, they just know they aren’t going to get rattled very easily.

“I think we do get confident when the game is on the line. We just try to stay aggressive and that’s how we’ve been winning,” Wells said. “It just comes with having confidence in yourself and having poise and keeping your composure in tough situations on the court.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.