Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon instructs his team during the first half of a second-round men's college basketball game against Hawaii in the NCAA Tournament in Spokane, Wash., Sunday, March 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
Young Kwak
March 22, 2016

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) After spending much of the college basketball season ranked in the top 10, Maryland defeated a pair of lower seeded teams last week to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

On Thursday night against Kansas, the overall top seed in the tournament, Mark Turgeon's squad will be cast in a decidedly different role: Underdogs.

The Terrapins (27-8) beat No. 12 seed South Dakota State and 13th-seeded Hawaii to earn a berth in the round of 16 for the first time in 13 years. That provided Maryland a date with the Big 12 champion Jayhawks (32-4), who will bring a 16-game winning streak into the matchup in Louisville, Kentucky.

It's not as if the Terps have nothing to lose, but there's certainly less pressure facing one of the favorites in the tournament.

''There's been times this year we've been tight. Now there's no reason for us to be tight, really, the rest of the way,'' Turgeon said Tuesday. ''There's a good chance we'll be an underdog in most games.''

Especially on Thursday, as a No. 5 seed.

''There are only 16 of us left,'' Turgeon said. ''We'll be on the national stage playing the No. 1 team in the country. So, I want them to enjoy the moment and make the most of it.''

Turgeon's players were reluctant to acknowledge Kansas as the favorite.

''I don't really feel like we're an underdog,'' forward Robert Carter Jr. said.

Senior Jake Layman added, ''We're not worried about seeding and where we were at the beginning of the year, in terms of rankings and stuff. We know they're a great team and have great players. We're just going to try to go out there and play Maryland basketball.''

Maryland has run hot and cold this season. The Terrapins were 22-3 and ranked second in the nation before losing five of eight, a skid that ultimately produced an earlier-than-hoped date with Kansas.

For much of the season, the Terrapins dealt with the pressure of fulfilling high expectations. Now, here they are, still playing ball with 15 of the best teams in the country.

''It was really important to me that we beat Hawaii. I wanted our guys to experience this,'' Turgeon said. ''The first and second rounds, it's fun, it's nice, it's great. But the Sweet 16 takes it to another level.''

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Some things to know about the Terps as they head to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003 as defending national champions:

IT'S NOT ABOUT ME: Turgeon waved off the notion that this game is particularly special to him because he played at Kansas and served as an assistant coach there for five seasons. ''The first time I coached against Kansas, it was weird,'' he said. ''But I was at Texas A&M. I've done it five, six times (he's 0-6). It's really not about that. It's about the Sweet 16. We're playing the No. 1 seed in the whole tournament, and it's a great opportunity for us.''

MELO FAREWELL? Guard Melo Trimble has not yet announced whether he return for his junior season or go pro. If he decides on the former, his next college game will be his last. He insists that's the last thing on his mind. ''If I do that, I'd just be selfish and not thinking about my teammates,'' he said. ''Before the game, I should be thinking about winning.''

NO CUPCAKES: Carter sees the matchup against Kansas as dead even. ''We're one of the best teams in the country playing against one of the best teams in the country,'' he said. ''It's the Sweet 16. You're not going to be facing cupcakes.''

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