Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Big Man For Hire: Terps Improved Over Last Year, Need Post Play

On Wednesday night, I got a chance to catch a bit of our enemy that isn’t Duke’s (Georgetown’s) game against Providence. It was only their second true road game of the year (the first of which they got destroyed by Kansas in), and the game featured a common opponent. I thought Georgetown would win, but Vegas was only giving them -1 in the points and I saw that Providence team against Maryland (they were very good), so it was a game worth tuning in to. Then the worst thing that could happen, happened before tip-off; the Hoyas center, Josh Smith, was going to miss the game due to academic reasons.

You can probably write the rest yourself. Providence had plenty of guys who could get to the line and score easy points, but Georgetown only had some streakier shooters on the outside to score theirs. The Hoyas fell behind and got lit up in the paint on the defensive end as the Friars athletic front had their way with them. Obviously, they ended up losing by 20 on the road, and the loss looks even worse considering their cross-town rivals took a W against Providence earlier in the season during the Paradise Jam.

Looking back on that Paradise Jam game, I still have a hard time figuring how exactly how Maryland beat them. Providence is a better team than the Terps on most days; they’re more consistent, they have a variety of ways to score, and they don’t rely on any one player more than another. Fortunately, they had guys out and shot worse than an 18th century musket in the first half, so Maryland won. But mostly, it all comes back to having that big man.

It’s why the Hoyas lost that game and why the Terps didn’t. Georgetown got zero points out of their center, who is one of their leading scorers; Maryland got 16 points and 7 rebounds that game out of Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare combined against Providence. I don’t even have to look at the shot chart to tell you none of those scores came outside of two feet, either. The Terps didn’t have their outside shot going in the second half, but they got solid play out of their big men on both the offensive and defensive ends.

The Providence game does a great job of highlighting the importance of having a big man perform well, but you can get a sense of how much an impact they provide in Maryland’s other wins and losses as well. Against Georgia Tech, Cleare and Mitchell put together a 14 point, 13 rebound outing in a win. In a two point loss to George Washington, they got (between Mitchell, Cleare, and Graham) it was 14 points and 14 rebounds. Against Pittsburgh in their last game? It was a meager 8 points, 12 rebounds between the three.

The point I’m trying to illustrate is that low post scoring plays a massive role in Maryland’s ability to spread the floor and keep their shooters open. Maryland’s strength is clearly in its outside shooting. Last year’s team shot a brutal 33% from long range, but this season they’re up to 37.1%. The best part? That number will probably get a little higher with the addition of Allen and once Nick Faust levels out his play from the first half. Adding Smotrycz and the improvements (yes, he has gotten better) of Layman only bolster the fact that this team can light it up from deep when they need to.

Unfortunately, all that is lost without consistent post scoring. This team goes through brutal stretches of basketball where they can’t score at all because there isn’t a single consistent low post scorer on this roster. We saw against Pittsburgh as Evan Smotrycz tried Greg Jennings the team (aka put it on his back, doe), and the results are tremendously terrible. He’d take a quick three to try and get hot, dribble too much, or drive to the basket in an attempt to draw a foul. Smotrycz has more versatility scoring wise than just about anyone, but he can’t carry an offense. We even saw Jake Layman twice try to post up a player with disastrous results. It’s not a facet of his game that’s developed yet, but you have to like him trying.

In games like that, it’s where you notice the real impact having a seven footer patrol the paint on both ends (without sacrificing much on either) occurs. Alex Len and James Padgett, for all their lumps, rarely just didn’t show up to the game when it came to scoring and sound defensive play. This isn’t revisionist history, either. Those 14 and 14 games that help Maryland become a good team with Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare were easy numbers with Len and Padgett combined (with Mitchell or Cleare playing the Graham role). And neither player gave up anything on the defensive end. This year? If you play Mitchell, you gain scoring but run the risk of losing a lot on defense if he doesn’t play well. With Cleare, its the opposite. Same goes for Graham.

What’s more frustrating is that this year’s team is actually more efficient than the last rendition (so far). Last year’s team wasn’t nearly as efficient as this team because they don’t shoot the ball as well, but they were a better shooting team because they could score down low. In terms of efficiency, this year’s team hovers around 106.7, but last year that statistic was 104.8. And yet the effective field goal percentage of this team is 50.6 compared to last year’s 51.6. One percentage point may not seem like much, but it is huge when you consider how much better shooting from deep this year’s team is.

Those are two funky stats to throw together that are both confusing and hard to stomach. How can a team be more efficient per possession, but be worse at shooting? Because those great shooting percentages from deep are offset entirely by poor free throw shooting and no low post play to score easy, high percentage buckets. They’re needed to pace the offense, and this team should be looked at as much more effective than they are had Cleare or Mitchell emerged in the manner we thought the would.

Until that changes, you can’t expect Maryland to do much else. They’re scoring enough points from outside to win; you can’t blame Layman, Faust, Smotrycz, and Wells for that one as they’ve all improved. But it’s hard to do much more when defenses can easily key in on your outside shooters because there’s no reason to fear any inside threat. If the Terps can’t get consistent efforts out of their two to three big men, they can’t expect to win consistently regardless of the speed they play at.

Tags: Charles Mitchell Maryland Basketball Maryland Terrapins Terps Terps Basketball

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