Final Record: 25-13, 8-10 ACC
Well, after that ham fisted effort against Iowa at Madison Square Garden last night, the Maryland Terrapins season finally came to a close by finishing with a loss in the same city where they got their first L against Kentucky. While the Terrapins have a right to be sullen for a day or two, as they look back on the season I think it may be be hard for them to actually be upset about it. From a numbers standpoint, this Terrapins team improved so drastically that it’s hard not to be optimistic.
First off, consider that the Terrapins were probably playing XBox this time last year, rather than any meaningful game on the hardwood. Last season’s 17-15 record was just okay, but not enough to merit bubble talk let alone NIT recognition. They were a one-man unit that played without purpose for most of the season. This year they finished with a respectable 25-13 record, and proved that, at least in the Mark Turgeon era, the Terrapins are still capable of playing with the big dogs like Gary Willliams before him. Three upset victories, and a lot more competitive, close games gave the Terrapins hope that in the future things will be awesome.
Look, any time your team doesn’t make the tournament it’s a disappointment that your team was essentially defeated. But defeat does not mean disgrace; from my vantage point, there was just so much positive to end the season that I can’t help but be optimistic. The Terrapins did a lot of things no one thought them capable of, from upsetting North Carolina State at the last second off a Len tip in, to ousting Duke twice on both their home floor and a “neutral” site. There’s something to be said about one’s team being “in” every game they played this year. When six of your team’s 13 losses came by 7 points or fewer, it’s safe to say that you did a lot of things right as a team.
Another thing to be positive about? Good Lawdy, the Terps have some phenomenal young talent. I’m talking about Chuck Mitchell, who led every played in the ACC in offensive rebounding percentage as a freshman. I’m also looking at a player like Jake Layman, who, whenever he scored ten or more points, the Terrapins had an 8-0 record (this is fact). And I’m referring to Seth “Human Hibachi” Allen, who heats up like it’s nobody’s business and displayed offensive bursts throughout the season that gave the Terrapins an edge in numerous contests (see: VT, Duke).
That says nothing about the fact that the Terrapins are, in all likelihood, going to return the Deztroyer himself, Dezmine Well. After transferring from Xavier, the Terrapins got a player who was essentially a five-star transfer recruit, and it has made all the difference. Without Wells and his instantaneous, take it down the court and jam on your players in five seconds or less offense, the Terrapins would have been lost. Even as a sophomore, his presence provided leadership that the Terrapins sorely needed. Yes, he turned the ball over a bit, but everything else he did on the court was a positive. His fiery demeanor when the Terrapins were down got them back into contention on numerous occasions, and I am fearful for the ACC when he has an offseason with the team and a chance to improve his jump shot.
Still, the bad moments can’t be overlooked for proper introspection. There was that pesky turnover issue; the Terps averaged 15 TOs game on the season, but it certainly felt like more. In nearly every loss the Terrapins had, the turnovers played a major factor. Against North Carolina, against Florida State, against Georgia Tech, against Virginia; every one of those games the Terrapins had a bad case of the butterfingers. The complete inability to hold onto the ball hindered their success rate, and was probably the main reason they were kept out of the tournament.
The point about the turnover issue, that’s a reflection of the point guard issue. Pe’Shon Howard, for all his admirable efforts late in the season and his improvement down the stretch, was one of the worst point guard’s Maryland has seen in awhile. Part of that can be blamed on his coming off of injury the prior season, but whatever it was, when the Terrapins needed him he wasn’t there. His inability to hit shots and take over the point guard position effectively damned the Terrapins from the get-go. Not many teams could have had as much success as the Terps did without a point guard, but that was the case this year. Dez Wells, Nick Faust, and a freshman 3-star guard in Allen had to handle dribbling duties at times, all with varying levels of success.
And finally, the outside shooting was a big time problem. No Terrapin outside of Logan Aronhalt shot over 36% from deep (though Faust came close), and it turned the team what was essentially N.C. State. Lots of inside presence, nothing outside. The Terrapins ended up being one-dimensional offensively a lot of games, and without the ability to get to the line a bunch, struggled. Addressing that in the offseason will be huge for the Terrapins, because without that next year may be very similar.
All in all, you have to like what the Terrapins brought to the table this year, even if it wasn’t a major postseason berth. The future looks bright with the arrival of Roddy Peters and (eventually) Romelo Trimble. While Len may be leaving for a higher calling (the NBA), there are two blossoming bigs that can pick up some of the slack. Further development of Dez Wells and Nick Faust, along with Jake Layman getting some consistency, leaves the Terrapins in very capable hands moving forward. So while this season was a let down in that the Terrapins didn’t “arrive” as quickly as expected, it’s almost a certainty that next year will be even better than this one. The rebuild is past us, folks. Therefore, my final grade for the team:
The Air Bud MVP Award goes to….
Dez Wells and Alex Len
I know it’s a big time cop out to hand out two MVP awards, but you’re splitting hairs when trying to decide which one of these two was the “most valuable” to the team. On the one hand, you have Alex Len, the mercurial big man who gets a lot of flack when he’s off but not nearly as much praise for when he’s on. When you look at his season as a whole, there is just no way the Terrapins are even remotely as successful without him. There are just so many games that the Terps literally don’t win or aren’t even in without him; N.C. State tip-in, round two vs Duke, round 3 vs UNC, Kentucky. And those are just the offensive explosions. Defensively, Len showed up for just about every game, and when you look at how opposing big men did against him, they typically get creamed. He’s a major reason why the Terrapins were one of the best rebounding teams in the country, and having a seven footer with touch is invaluable.
Meanwhile you have Dez Wells, who provides a much more, shall we say, tangible effect on the game. When Dez Wells catches fire, he is far and away the MVP of this team. When I watched him against Duke in the ACC tournament, I saw a player that had starter-in-the-NBA potential. He is one of those very few players in the country that can completely change the outcome of a game single-handedly, for better or worse. Not just on the offensive end, but on the defensive end as well. Wells had to defend plenty of talented swing men and did it while staying out of foul trouble and still contributing to the offense. His rebounding and passing were underrated, but they both gave the Terps much more of an identity when they didn’t have a point guard to do it for them.
Bottom line, both these guys contributed in their own unique ways, and if you remove either one from the equation the team gets much worse. With just Dez, they’re last year’s Stoglin-led unit. Without Len, they give up way more points in the paint, don’t rebound remotely close to as well as needed to win with their turnover issue. With just Len, they are a plodding offense that barely scores and certainly doesn’t win when he is off. They have no guards on the team that truly slash and get to the line, and play at a woefully slow pace.
Both are MVP’s in my book, right up there with Air Bud.
The Kim Jong-Un LVP award goes to…
Where to begin with Pe’Shon. Even coming off his knee injury, this year should have been better for the junior point guard. Howard was, by almost every measure, the worst player on the team. An 8.9 PER on the season ranks among the worst players in the country that got the minutes he did. He was the team’s worst shooter with a .448 true shooting percentage, he was the worst rebounder on the team, he had the worst turnover percentage on the team…do I need to continue? Ok, I will.
He made 32 shots the entire season. 32. Shots. The. Entire. Season. The Terrapins played 38 games, meaning he literally didn’t average one made bucket a game. Half his shots came from three point range, and yet he made 13 three pointers all season long. Thirteen times this season he was held to zero total points, and eighteen times this season he registered a 0% shooting percentage. I mean offensively, anytime Pe’Shon Howard was on the court was a bad time.
Of course, you can point to his ability to distribute the rock as a factor that he wasn’t the worst regular rotation player on the team, and you’re right. But he also turned the ball over a ton, too. His turnover percentage was the worst on the team by far, which all but negated his ability to distribute. It’s unfortunate that I have to be hard on the kid, but I’m going to be hard on the kid and hope that he comes out better for it.
His late season play was OK, but that doesn’t excuse all the awfulness that preceded it and didn’t help Maryland win any games at all. Had the Terrapins had steady play at the point all year, they would certainly have fared quite a bit better.
The Charlie Sheen Most Improved Award goes to….Nick Faust
Faust got credit his first season for being a four-star player that actually hung around Maryland and played for his home state team. But then people realized he couldn’t shoot well and turned the ball over a lot and started to get on him. Beginning the season, it seemed like he might even have a tough time since he started the year in coach Turgeon’s doghouse. Then the season began.
Faust became a grown man during this season, and changed all my notions about him with the swagger he displayed on the court. He and Dez Wells started to gel, and everything changed. Faust was asked to play three different positions on the season, and he did all of the admirably. A 6’6 point guard, an undersized small forward, and a solid shooting guard. Faust scored 19 points against Clemson midway through the year, and after that point he scored in double figures in 10 of 12 games after that.
Everything about Faust improved; his FG% jumped from 37% to 40%; his 3PT % from 27% to 35%; his FT shooting from 61% to 72%. He had more assists than last year, and fewer turnovers per game. All the while his scoring slightly improved. Faust just grew into his role as a glue guy between Len and Wells, and I didn’t expect him to get that much better. I was completely wrong and I credit him for helping the Terps have as much success as they did.
Kim Kardashian and Kanye’s Baby Biggest Surprise goes to….Charles Mitchell
Coming into the season it was Shaquille Cleare who was expected to be the star big man. Mitchell came in out of shape and fat, and really wasn’t supposed to get the minutes he did. Then I saw the preseason inter-team scrimmage, and knew Mitchell was going to be getting major minutes. He became a rebounding machine right from the start, and was an absolute menace on the offensive glass. First in the ACC among all players in offensive rebounding percentage, 10th in total offensive rebounds, and second in total rebounding percentage in the ACC.
All as a freshman.
Mitchell has a bright future ahead of him once he learns to pass and calm down a bit going into games. He is a vicious player to go up against, and while slightly undersized doesn’t ever back down in the post given his size. An offseason of getting into better shape, and he’s the day one starter unquestioned. Considering he wasn’t supposed to be all that, he’s my biggest surprise.