As many various analysts and other basketball people predicted, Alex Len is leaving Maryland to enter the NBA Draft after two seasons with the Terrapins. The Ukrainian big man came to College Park as a relative unknown and ended up putting together two strong seasons with the team despite several growing pains. As was expected from many national basketball pundits, the Terps center had a much more productive sophomore campaign in which he averaged 11.6 points-per-game and 7.8 rebounds-per-game in 26.4 minutes-per-game. It was clear pretty on this season that Len would be going pro after the season concluded. Len absolutely abused Kentucky in the Barclays Center Classic to open the season, including dominating Wildcats future first round pick Nerlens Noel. The writing was on the wall.
Even though Len’s decision was somewhat expected, now the question becomes: how will Maryland go about replacing the production of the talented big man?
The Terps do have quite a bit of production to replace down low with not just Len leaving, but senior forward James Padgett is graduating. Padgett started a handful of games for Maryland and was a key leader for the squad. However as much as both Len and Padgett will be missed, they are definitely replaceable and won’t be missed nearly as much as many people might think.
From a depth standpoint, the Terps definitely have the personnel to have a strong frontcourt next year. First off, I’d imagine that Shaquille Cleare will step into the center role that will be vacated by Len. Cleare was a highly touted prospect coming out of The Village School (TX) and was expected to be strong contributor in terms of rebounding and defense. However, it was a season of ups and downs for the Bahamas native. Playing time seemed to be the deciding factor to Cleare’s season. He averaged 3.7 points-per-game to go along with 2.7 rebounds-per-game in about 12 minutes a game. The production wasn’t exactly mind-blowing but I think the potential is definitely there for Shaq to tell in and be a productive starter next season. He has the size at 6-9 to be effective in the ACC and can alter shots much like Len did. His size is arguably his biggest asset as Cleare was able to hold his own against some of the ACC’s premiere competition this past season. In relief of Len against Duke on February 16, Shaq absolutely stifled Blue Devils superstar Mason Plumlee and the senior forward was held to a mere four points in 33 minutes. Cleare will play a much different role that he did this past season. He was merely another body to help bring toughness and size down low when Len spent time on the bench. Cleare’s main objective was to alter shots and be a force in the low post. He did a solid job of that at times but will be looked at to produce in many different ways next season. It’s a challenge that I think he is ready for.
The transfer route has been very kind to Mark Turgeon so far in his tenure at Maryland. Prior to last season, Turgeon landed a commitment from Michigan transfer forward Evan Smotrycz. Smotrycz is expected to be a huge piece at the four next season. It’s unclear if Smotrycz or Charles Mitchell will get the starting nod at the power forward position. Either way, Smotrycz proved to be a strong asset in the low post for the Wolverines in his two years with the school, especially on the offensive end. In his sophomore campaign (2011-2012 season), the Reading, Ma. native averaged 7.7 points-per-game and grabbed 4.9 rebounds-per-game in 21.1 minutes a game. Smotrycz also proved that he didn’t force bad shots most of the time as he was a 48.1 percent shooter for the Wolverines. In watching tape on Smotrycz, the first thing that jumps out is that he is an exceptional shooter. He is very effective from beyond the arc (43.1 percent in his sophomore season) but can also put the ball on the floor and hit a mid-range shot as well. Smotrycz has the height but definitely could stand to put on a little more weight, just like Len did last offseason. Having a big like Smotrycz that can shoot the ball is going to be a major bonus for the Terps next year since Len was the only big that could sufficiently shoot the basketball this season. He may not be the shot-blocker that a guy like Cleare is, but Smotrycz should be a welcome addition on the offensive end.
Finally, we come to Charles Mitchell. Mitchell wasn’t a highly sought-after recruit out of the Atlanta-area. The guy that many have compared to Charles Barkley, had a pretty impressive freshman season at Maryland. Mitchell averaged 5.5 points-per-game to go along with 5.4 rebounds in only 15.7 minutes a game. It was clear early on that Mitchell was a very strong piece in the low post for the Terps. The Georgia native grabbed an astounding 10 boards in only 16 minutes against Kentucky in the season opener. One of the biggest positives about Mitchell is his clear passion for the game. On every possession, you can see just how much Mitchell loves to be out there. He gets fired up after making a shot and smacks the floor when he commits a bad foul on the defensive end. He is an absolute bull in the post and his game will only improve after gaining experience of an entire season against the tough ACC. Mitchell can score the ball more than many people thought he would. In limited minutes, he was able to replace double figures in points in six games over the course of the season. Mitchell may be the first big man off the bench once again in his sophomore season, but clearly is essential to Maryland’s success going forward.
A player that is coming into the season a bit under the radar is freshman Damonte Dodd. Dodd was a guy that not many people had heard of when he committed to the Terps. Dodd was a kid that hailed from Maryland’s Eastern Shore and decided to gain more experience by going to prep school for a year. The Centreville, Md. native starred at Massanutten Military Academy this year and is continuing to gain experience by playing AAU ball this summer. After being a relatively unknown prospect last summer, Dodd is now a three-star recruit for Maryland and caught the eye of several recruiting analysts. Dodd is definitely a longways away from being a huge contributor at the collegiate level but I think if he puts on a little of weight, he can play 10-15 minutes a game in relief of some of Maryland’s bigs.
The departure of Len is a big deal but doesn’t leave Maryland in as big of a hole that many people may think. The Terps now won’t have to worry about Len being double and triple teamed by opposing defenses and may see many teams defend them man-t0-man next year. The depth is definitely there with Cleare, Smotrycz, Mitchell, and Dodd. Three out of the four have at least one season of experience at the collegiate level and should be able to provide strong defense and consistent offense as well. Only time will tell how talented this group really is, but it’s definitely a strong core to build on.