(Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports) -- USA TODAY Sports' Scott Gleeson counts down to the start of the season, breaking down the projected field of 68.
The first word: In Maryland coach Mark Turgeon's second year in College Park last season, the Terrapins kept knocking on the NCAA tournament door, but they were plagued with inconsistency - boosting their résumé with a signature win against rival Duke one night before collapsing to ACC basement squad Boston College the next game. Ultimately, Maryland settled for the NIT, where they reached the tournament's semifinals in New York and surely looked like a team that belonged in the NCAA tourney in late March.
Turgeon believes those detrimental waves of inconsistency were the direct effect of his team's immaturity. Despite losing three starters, including NBA No. 5 draft pick Alex Len, there's optimism that the "growing pains" will subside now that Turgeon has the players and team culture he desired when he took over a program seeking a new identity following Gary Williams' departure, which left the former Texas A&M and Wichita State coach a bare roster.
COUNTDOWN: Projecting the field of 68
Maryland returns seven scholarship players for the first-time in Turgeon's tenure, including top scorer Dez Wells, fellow starter Nick Faust and an experienced sophomore class. Then the Terps welcome in Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz and two highly touted freshmen in guard Roddy Peters and forward Damonte Dodd. The pieces are in place, but now Turgeon gets his biggest chance to prove himself after 42 wins in two seasons.
It's Maryland's last season in the ACC before joining the Big Ten, and despite a jam-packed league bolstered by the addition of Big East heavyweights, the Terrapins are well-positioned to reach the NCAAs and even be in the mix for the conference title.
Coach's corner: "We have a lot of weapons. We can play big, play small. We have the experience of 12 guys who know what we're wanting. It'll take time and it's tough to avoid injury, but going into the season, we think we're an NCAA tournament team. I think we can compete with anyone in the country." - Turgeon, Maryland's third-year coach.
2013-14 in review: 25-13 overall (8-10 in Atlantic Coast Conference), lost in the NIT semifinals to Iowa.
Path to the Dance: Maryland will be playing in most likely the top-rated RPI conference in all the land, meaning an at-large bid is in reach given even a .500 finish in league play. But the Terrapins can't play their way out like last season. Résumé-staining losses are the kryptonite for most NCAA tourney bubble teams. If Turgeon's group can start strong in non-conference play and avoid eye-popping losses in the ACC, they'll make the field.
STARTING FIVE: Top story lines for 2013-14
Conference outlook: How many ACC teams make the NCAA tournament? After only shipping four teams to the NCAA tournament last season in a down year, the conference could almost double that number this season. The educated guess is six or seven bids. Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina and Notre Dame should be locks. Virginia and Maryland should escape the bubble. But how good will Pittsburgh be with an inexperienced team? And can projected middle-of-the-pack teams Georgia Tech, Florida State and N.C. State take a big step? Time will tell, as the league could attain the country's top RPI for the first time since 2009. That'd be a big boost for borderline NCAA teams.
Tournament projection: No. 10 seed.
Star watch: Wells averaged 13.1 points last season after transferring from Xavier. It took him a while to get comfortable, and having a season under his belt should give him an extra gear in 2013-14. Faust (9.4 ppg) scored in double figures 20 times last season and came on strong near the end of the season. Smotrycz, who transferred from Michigan, sat out last season and his eligibility will give the team another dimension. He's a 6-8 forward who's highly accurate from beyond the arc (43.2% at Michigan in 2011-12).
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X-Factor: The point guard position. Returning sophomore Seth Allen (7.8 ppg) and freshman Peters will likely share duties. Two heady floor generals provide Turgeon a luxury that was lacking in the past. Both players, particularly Peters, have the ability to make others better with their play and charisma.
Team strength/weakness: Size will be a strength. Last season Maryland ranked third nationally in rebounds per game, and current Phoenix Suns big man Len had a lot to do with that. That doesn't mean the Terrapins still can't excel on the glass. Sophomores Shaquille Cleare, Jake Layman and Charles Mitchell provide a paint presence that'll rebound against any team in the country. Cleare is poised for a breakout year. One area of concern is decision-making. Miscues last season proved costly in the ACC. A year of experience for the returnees should help.
Tweet that speaks volume: Yes, Turgeon cried after beating Duke last season. It's that important.
The highlight reel: Maryland fans stormed the court after beating the No. 1 team in the country. It got crazy.
Trivia: 30 Rock character Liz Lemon (portrayed by Tina Fey) attended Maryland on a partial competitive jazz dance scholarship.
Basics: The University of Maryland is in College Park, Md., and the Terrapins play their home games at the Comcast Center, which went up in 2002 and seats 17,950.