Head coach Kevin Willard and No. 23 Maryland men’s basketball (5-0) are surpassing early season expectations.
Before the season began, Willard mentioned that the team’s yearly goals include winning a Big Ten Championship and a National Championship with the hope of raising another banner at Xfinity Center.
The Terps are on their way to making noise when Big Ten play starts next week but first the Terps will take on their neighbors, Coppin State (3-4) on Friday afternoon where a Maryland legend will return to Xfinity Center.
Maryland’s all-time leading scorer and 2002 Final Four MVP Juan Dixon is the head coach of the Eagles in his sixth season with the program. This will be the first time Dixon will coach against his alma mater.
“The kids play hard, [play a fun style of basketball,” Willard said. “I think anytime you can bring someone that hung the banner, … and celebrate him coming back is really important. He’s a huge part of Maryland basketball history.”
The Eagles are on a two game losing streak, but are averaging 75.7 points per game with wins against Navy and Mount St. Mary’s.
Graduate transfer guard Sam Sessoms leads the Eagles in scoring averaging 22.0 points a game. The Terps are familiar with Sessoms as he played at Penn State the last two seasons. Last year against the Terps, Sessoms scored 17 points in 25 minutes.
The Eagles also have a strong defender in guard Nendah Tarke who recorded 94 steals last season, the second highest amount in the nation. So far this season Tarke has sixteen steals, recording four steals in a game twice.
The Terps entered the AP Poll at No. 23 after winning the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament last weekend, its first regular season tournament championship since 2019. It is the Terps first appearance in the AP Poll since week two of the 2021-2022 season.
The Terps dominated Saint Louis and Miami last weekend, dominating the boards, a potential weakness for Maryland when conference play starts. Maryland outrebounded Saint Louis and Miami 80-55 over its two games.
The Terps got contributions from all their starters as forward Donta Scott scored 49 points last weekend tying his career high of 25 points in the victory against Saint Louis.
The Terps new backcourt duo guards Jahmir Young continued his hot start to the season while Don Carey started to find his groove. Both players scored double figures in both games in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament.
Carey really heated up in Uncasville, CT showing his range from deep going 8-19 from beyond the arc, hitting four 3-pointers in each game.
“Coach Willard has really been emphasizing inside out threes so just penetrating and getting in the paint and just kicking out to teammates,” Carey said after the Saint Louis win. “Those are better quality threes.”
With the Terps strong start to the season they would likely be in the NCAA tournament if the season ended today. On Tuesday, Maryland entered Joe Lunardi of ESPN’s Bracketology prediction for the first time this season as the No. 7 seed in the East Region. The Terps are also currently ranked No. 24 in the KenPom rankings.
“We’re still growing,” Young said after the Miami win. “We get after it in practice, that builds our chemistry a lot. I feel like we have a lot to get under our belt, still got a lot to learn. It’s good to get the first five wins, we just gotta keep going from there.”
The Coppin State game can be streamed on Big Ten Plus on Friday at 4 p.m.