COLLEGE PARK--It was among the first things that Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said when he stepped to the podium after his team’s 83-79 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday evening at Comcast Center.
“Guys, I’ve been doing this a long time,” he said. “I’ve been an assistant coach and a head coach for about 26 years and I’m telling you that’s one of the best teams I’ve ever coached against.
“How they’re ranked 20th at 18-2 is an absolute joke. I think they’re a Top-5 team in the country.”
Pittsburgh kept Maryland at bay with a double-digit cushion much of the game and almost all of the second half, save a furious Dez Wells-led comeback in the final three minutes that cut the Terrapins deficit to as little as four.
“They’re a really good team,” Wells said after the game. “I think they’ll go deep into the tournament this year. They’ll go really deep like they usually do, you know.
“But Jamie Dixon is a great coach with a great staff and they have a great team. They play together and they’re patient and that’s one of the greatest things about them.”
The patience that Wells mentioned might be the most important fact, especially considering the 28-point performance by fifth-year senior Lamar Patterson. Patterson was almost surgical in dissecting Maryland’s defense, hitting from the outside and getting to the rim at will without ever being out of control.
Add that to the point guard play of Maryland native James Robinson, and there’s a reason the Panthers were ultimately able to hold on on Saturday night.
Perhaps part of the reason that Pittsburgh has yet to get as much national attention is because of their non-conference schedule. Yes, the Panthers were 12-1 out of conference, but the one major opportunity they had to beat a quality team--Cincinnati--was a 44-43 loss.
What is the biggest win on that slate otherwise? Stanford? Penn State? You get the point.
But the road ahead is what will actually prove Pittsburgh’s talent. No. 18 Duke comes to town on Monday, followed by Virginia. In just over two weeks, they’ll have a rematch with No. 2 Syracuse, one of their only two losses on the year.
As for whether they're a Top-5 team, it's tough to make the case. Just to prove the point, who are five better? Arizona, Syracuse, Michigan State, Wichita State. Villanova is making its case to be in that group at the top, then you can factor in San Diego State, Florida, and a Kansas team that is on the rise.
Could Turgeon just have been piling on the praise after a good team beat his team while they were on the road? Of course. Are the Panthers good? Yes. Are they Top-5 good? Tough to say.