Editor’s Note: This article was written by Jason Colenda, an occasional writer for the site and part-time basketball analyst. Jason was formerly a member of the Villanova men’s basketball team and has copious amounts of experience on the playing court. Basically, when he writes, you should read.
Maryland vs. Kentucky: Finding Silver-Linings in Friday’s Loss
Deciding to punt a day at the office to celebrate the kick-off of the college hoops season, my fellow writers and I made the trip to Brooklyn to check out the Terps and Wildcats in person. We all were encouraged by the team’s offseason talent influx that Turgeon’s staff secured, and have high hopes for a successful season. Dez Well’s successful appeal granting him immediate eligibility only added another big piece to the mix. Excitement could not have been higher as we entered the beautiful Barclay’s Center; to add to it all, Terps fans came out in force to support the team as they take on this major early test and it seemed well over half of the sell-out crowd sported red. We sensed the matchup with Kentucky promised to deliver a highly entertaining game, and we were not disappointed.
Coach John Calipari’s Wildcats again boasts one of the nation’s top classes of freshman classes, and feature one returning McDonald’s All-American from last year’s national championship team and a few high-profile transfers. Maryland did not back down for a second early against the highly-talented (and touted) Cat’s, and played Kentucky very evenly through the first 10 minutes of the half. Alex Len led the Terps offensively and on the backboard, where Maryland absolutely pounded the NBA-sized Kentucky front line to the tune of 28 offensive rebounds. However, Maryland began settling for too many outside shots and Kentucky made a run highlighted by excellent play from the slashing freshman, Archie Goodwin, and smooth-shooting sophomore big-man, Kyle Wiltjer. Kentucky ended the first half on an extended run, and the Terps went into the intermission down double digits. However, they had to be happy about how Len controlled the paint and dominated the highly regarded freshman Norlens Noel, and the way they were able to control the backboards. What needed to be addressed was the poor shot selection throughout the half, which led to a low accuracy and easy Kentucky opportunities.
Maryland came into the second half ready to play, and forced an early Calipari timeout to settle his young team and the raucous Terrapins crowd. The highlight of that early run might have been a play that wasn’t, as Dez Wells’ attempted posterization of Noel was destined for Sports Center glory. A big three from freshman Jake Layman brought the deficit to two points in a run highlighted by great defense and dominance on the offensive glass resulting in many second chance points. Senior, and Brooklyn native, James Padgett was tough inside in front of his home crowd, and I was very impressed with how Charles Mitchell who gobbled up double digit boards, many of them on the offensive end, off the bench. Maryland finally retook the lead after Pe’Shon Howard found another freshman performing well in his debut, Seth Allen, for back-to-back 3’s with around 8 minutes to go. The game went back and forth from there, but the Terps suffered a back-breaker that they were unable to recover from when former walk-on Jarrod Polson grabbed a board after two missed free throws and scored a put back to ensure Kentucky’s lead for good. Howard’s desperation 3 at the buzzer did not get off in time and the Terps fell 69-72.
Even in defeat, fans should be extremely encouraged by the outing; it was clear the young and talented group coach Turgeon has assembled has the potential to make noise on the national level this year. Of course it won’t happen, but Maryland’s performance was strong enough to garner some top 25 love as early as this week, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks before debuting in the rankings. Alex Len really impressed the plethora of NBA scouts in attendance with his handling of Norlens Noel, and I thought Charles Mitchell, Seth Allen, and Jake Layman were all very solid in their Terrapin debuts. Shaquille Cleare will certainly have better days than he did Friday night, as the pace of the game was slightly to fast and he never seemed to be able to find a rhythm. “Veterans” Padgett, Howard, and Nick Faust led the team with their effort, but Faust often found himself trying to do too much and forced bad shots. Overall, I think the game was a very impressive first effort from the Terps and there is a lot to look forward to as this young team continues to develop.
- Alex Len did not get as many second half touches, especially late, that his early dominance warranted. Still, he finished with 23 points and 12 boards and showed his versatility showcasing his low post game and a soft outside touch. Coach Turgeon and his staff need to continue to stress pounding the ball to the big fella’.
- Maryland does not have enough good shooters for the team to be taking nearly 20 3’s in a game. This high number needs to drop for the team to reach its potential this year.
- Sophomore transfer Dez Wells struggled at times with his offense, but he’s an extremely impressive athlete and played tenaciously. He should blossom into a very good player for Maryland.
- Kentucky’s freshmen are as good as advertised. Archie Goodwin was the best player on the floor for stretches during the game, and Alex Polythress is a physical beast who will be tough to handle at the college level. Noel is raw offensively, and struggled at times with Len, but he has the ability to be the best shot blocker and rebounder in college hoops this year. Willie Cauley-Stein is an active and athletic 7-footer and will create many a matchup nightmare alongside 6-10 Noel and 6-7 Polythress.
- Kyle Wiltjer, last year’s forgotten freshman stud, may have the best season of the Kentucky bunch. He is a very versatile and capable scorer from anywhere on the floor, and at 6-10, it’s tough from keeping him to get his shots off.
- Maryland’s full court pressure defense did a good job of speeding up Kentucky’s guards and forcing them into some errant decisions. Maryland’s guards play well in the full court game, and this high-tempo pressure-style will certainly be a staple of this year’s team. However, I think the offensive strength in the team lies with Len, and the team needs to ensure they don’t get too caught up in an up-and-down game which marginalizes the big-man’s impact on the game.