Kevin Willard believed his new Maryland team was off to a good start.
But that was a little more than even Willard expected early in his tenure after a successful run at Seton Hall.
“I didn’t imagine that,” Willard said. “I will not lie.”
The Terrapins (8-0, 1-0 Big Ten) made their biggest jump of the week in the final AP Top 25 on Monday, climbing nine spots to No. 13. That’s the program’s highest finish since forging into the top 10 during the 2019-20 season, and the Terps are gearing up for a stretch that could build even more momentum.
First comes the trip to Wisconsin in Tuesday’s Big Ten game, followed by a matchup with seventh-place Tennessee in New York on Sunday in one of the marquee games on this week’s top-25 schedule.
Maryland opened Friday night’s Big Ten game by beating No. 17 Illinois.
The Terrapins currently rank 12th nationally in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency with an average of 114.5 points per 100 possessions, their highest performance since 2016 (116.2). The Terps also rank 34th in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing 93.3 points per 100 possessions, a healthy improvement from last year’s 17-loss season (99.3).
After this week, the Terrapins have another test ahead of them by hosting UCLA’s No. 19.
“We obviously still have a long way to go,” Willard said after the win in Illinois. “But I think everyone got a sense of how hard these guys worked, the attitude they had and what this program is not just about now, but what it will be about in the future. So it’s really cool to be 8-0.”
TOP CLASS TESTS
Houston remained firmly No. 1 in the most recent AP Top 25 poll. The Cougars are set for two straight weekends of big Tests, beginning Saturday against No. 8 Alabama at home.
Houston (8-0) ranks #2 nationally in KenPom’s Adjusted Defense Efficiency (83.9) while ranking in the top 20 on offense. The Cougars initially host North Florida on Tuesday before taking on the Crimson Tide, who cracked the top 10 for the first time this season on Monday.
A week later, Houston No. 3 visits Virginia.
If the Cougars win those, their first stint at No. 1 since the “Phi Slama Jama” days of the 1980s could be long.
RANKED VS RANKED
Two more matchups from AP Top 25 teams are scheduled for this week. The first comes Tuesday when No. 2 Texas — who have already beaten No. 18 Gonzaga and No. 21 Creighton — meet No. 17 Illinois in New York for the Jimmy V Classic.
The other comes on Saturday when No. 10 Arizona meets No. 14 Indiana in Las Vegas on Saturday.
North Carolina started the year at No. 1. The Tar Heels begin this week as only the sixth team to advance from that preseason top spot to the unranked rank since at least the 1961-62 season.
UNC (5-4) has lost four straight and has a limping big man in Armando Bacot, who was the double-double machine at the heart of last year’s unexpected run to the NCAA championship game. The good news for the Tar Heels is that they have several days to regroup before hosting Georgia Tech in Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference game.
Iowa (6-1) has a chance to break into the AP Top 25 for the second time this season.
The Hawkeyes, the leading vote-collecting teams among unranked teams in Monday’s most recent poll, face No. 15 Duke Tuesday during the Jimmy V Classic in New York. They spent a week ranked No. 25 in the poll in mid-November.
The second-biggest voter among the unranked teams was the College of Charleston (8-1), which visits Presbyterian on Tuesday and hosts North Greenville on Sunday.
AP sportswriter Noah Trister, from College Park, Maryland, contributed to this report.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap
AP College Basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25