Now that we’ve had time to digest the Terps 61-53 loss to Virginia on Monday, it’s worth going over some questions and concerns that got brought up during that game. It stinks to rehash a painful past, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to pour over some game film and figure out what’s wrong (and what’s right) with this team.
“Our big men stink and foul too much”
The above statement has been one of those resoundingly common sentiments from Terrapin Nation; our big men just aren’t getting it done. That blame falls squarely on Evan Smotrycz, Charles Mitchell, and Shaquille Cleare. I know that Evan Smotrycz is considered a big man, but I have a hard time lumping him into that category. A lot of times, Smotrycz is actually playing the small forward position for the Terps on the offensive end, while he’s a power forward on the defensive side of the ball.
But Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare have been splitting minutes and doing so in a relatively poor fashion. For all those clamoring on about how little our big men have improved from last season to this one, you may be onto something — kind of. I do think that some of them have improved more than they’re given credit for, but there are underlying issues that prevent them from being in the “Much Improved” category.
In the case of Shaq, there’s just been a clear regression statistically here that is disheartening (to put it lightly). Take a look at Cleare’s advanced statistics from last season to this year:
Shaquille Cleare Per 40 Minutes:
What we see here is statistical decline in every major category per 40 minutes. Despite his weight loss, body refinement, and overall increased skill level, Cleare is a marginally worse shooter, a significantly worse rebounder, and a foul machine. That last part is the most damning.
Logic: if you foul too much, you’ll never stay on the court long enough to make an impact. That’s the case with Cleare. In a bench role like he was assigned last year (much like most big men starting out), he was allowed to go in and sop up minutes playing mistake riddled basketball with high intensity. This year, he’s struggled to dial back the mental errors and fouls and as such has been unable to put together meaningful contributing minutes.
But it isn’t just Cleare who has a foul problem. Here’s Charles Mitchell’s Per 40:
No surprise here; Mitchell has improved in every category, actually. I saw that coming because he happens to have a soft touch around the rim, and if his endurance picked up he’d be a big time scorer for Maryland (think of a much smaller Jordan Williams). Sadly because of his size he is forced into fouling situations a lot more when overmatched in the post. His six fouls per 40 minutes almost always ensure we’re never going to get a Charles Mitchell on the floor this year that isn’t playing tentative or cautious. It’s worth mentioning that while Mitchell is arguably the best at getting to the line on the team, he’s the worst free throw shooter by far. That absolutely kills the Terps, and his bottom line.
How about Jonathan Graham?
Not much to show with Jonathan Graham (and to that extent, Damonte Dodd). He barely plays any minutes and he fouls a whole lot. Graham is a solid shot blocker, but he’ll never be on the court long enough to show that. He’s a bad free throw shooter, and a consistent rebounder. But as always, fouls will impede his progress. If you’re wondering about Damonte Dodd, just look at Graham’s statistics and add about three fouls per 40.
It’s clear what the issue is here. Maryland just doesn’t have a big man on the roster that can put together all aspects of the game. I’ve always, always harped that big men are constantly works in progress. Much like their speed on the court, you won’t get a ton out of big men until their third gear (or in this case, third year). Mitchell shows solid growth in a lot of areas, and while his free throw shooting regressed drastically, there’s no reason to think that time in the gym won’t help fix that. It just takes time that the Terps don’t have. On the bright side, the future is slightly encouraging!
This team needs Jake Layman to be better
If I have two observations to make about that game, it’s that our big men need to stop fouling and Jake Layman needs to be better. A lot of folks felt that adding Seth Allen to the team would put the Terps over the top, and they weren’t wrong at all. So why, then, are the Terps still treading water? Well at the time, Jake Layman was playing the game at an extremely high level. They didn’t factor in that Layman’s production would swan dive off a cliff.
The two can definitely play on the court together, so it isn’t a lack of chemistry that is hurting Layman’s production. Rather, it’s a disastrous ACC start that hurt him. Layman is averaging three points off his average points per game through conference play (12 PPG vs 9 PPG), he’s shooting worse, not rebounding as well, and generally just not showing up when the team needs him the most.
It was pretty evident during the game that Maryland needed Layman to stretch the floor when Smotrycz got cold against Virginia in the second half. I looked at Layman getting “Costas Eye” as a turning point for the Terps. Jake was horrible from that point on; he airballed another shot and just didn’t look “right.” But even at his best during conference play, Layman still isn’t playing up to snuff.
Obviously conference play is more difficult than out of conference games, but Jake just hasn’t shown up against tough opponents and it’s killing Maryland. I even did the math for you: Layman is averaging 5.8 points per game during Maryland’s 7 toughest outings (Pitt, Florida State, Providence, Ohio State, Virginia, North Carolina, and Connecticut), and he’s shooting a shade under 30% from the floor during those games.
That’s supposedly your second or third best option just completely disappearing! As I type this, I’m still trying to find the words to grasp how much of an issue that is for Maryland. If Jake Layman doesn’t show up on the offensive end, this team just can’t win. Now I’m not talking about Layman on the defensive end, where he’s much improved (he’s a thief for his size and a great shot blocker). I’m talking strictly about the lack of confidence in big games.
Blaming Jake entirely would be foolish at best, but I doubt even he would deny that his shot just isn’t going in against top tier competition. The iciness in his veins may come next year, but this year he seems to get rattled when faced with the opponent’s best wing defender (which he usually draws). That pummels Maryland’s chances of winning a lot of games and requires Dez to do Dez things and Seth to go nuts.
Oh and in case you’re wondering, Jake is shooting 33% through eight road games, and 35.45% through 13 road and neutral contests. So when we talk about the Terps being terrible on the road, we’re almost always talking about a (as in single) Terp shooting horribly on the road.