Barring attrition this offseason, Mark Turgeon will return every starter and reserve who received significant playing time for the 2014-2015 season. Some may look at this as a bad thing; Maryland struggled in their final ACC season with a record of 17-15 (9-9 ACC), leaving opposing teams/fans with the last laugh. As Maryland heads to the Big Ten, it’s important for Terps fans to remember that players are not instantly better a year later, as the progress of center Shaquille Cleare and guard Nick Faust (and to a lesser extent, guard/forward Jake Layman) did not go as anticipated this season. Freshman point guard Roddy Peters didn’t develop as we all wished; thanks in part to his 1.16 assist/turnover ratio, his minutes decreased as the season continued. Seth Allen missed the first 12 games of the season, and although he finished second on the team in scoring (13.4 points-per-game), he was ineffective as the point man for Turgeon’s offense.
There were several noticeable issues throughout the 2013-2014 season, but here were my three biggest issues with the Terps:
1. (Lack of) Shooters
Maryland wasn’t shy about taking three-point shots, as they attempted 660 of them for the season. Out of all those attempts, they managed to connect on just 34 percent of them. The best 3-point shooters were Allen (38 percent) and forward Evan Smotrycz (36.7 percent), followed by Layman (36.5 percent). If these three are your best threats from behind the arc, then you’re not going to win many games, especially considering how the college game has become more guard-oriented.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: with three-point shooters on your roster, you’re never out of a game. As college basketball fans have seen over the years, mid-major programs are able to compete with big-time programs because they shoot lights-out from three-point range. As much as we like to make fun of Duke, it can’t be ignored that their sustained success over the years is due to outstanding shooters (Jay Williams, J.J. Reddick, Seth Curry, Rodney Hood, etc.). When Duke won the National Championship back in 2010, The Blue Devils took 765 three-point attempts; Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith all shot close to 40 percent from behind the arc that year.
The point is Maryland doesn’t present any kind of consistent shooting threat. The Terps didn’t have dead-eye shooters, and taking over twenty three-point attempts per game certainly played a role in the opponent’s success rather than their own. Turgeon clearly understands these issues if you look at his 2014 recruiting class and they will certainly help with this element. But relying on true freshmen is risky, so Maryland needs to get better as a whole if they wish to avoid a similar fate next season.
2. Lack of Inside Presence
After Maryland’s first defeat at the hands of the Connecticut Huskies, coach Kevin Ollie made it a point to emphasize how his team outplayed Maryland on the boards.
“I told the guys if we were plus in rebounds we’d win the game…that Maryland team was fifth in the nation in rebounding and we were dead last [last year],” Ollie said.
If we all knew then what we know now, he probably would’ve been singing a different tune.
Maryland finished outside of the top 50 in rebounding, and Terps fans (including myself) surely undervalued having Alex Len in the post the previous year. Not only did he protect the rim with his size and shot-blocking skills (another facet the Terps lack) but he was the only inside scoring threat Maryland had. His absence was certainly felt throughout the entire season.
Even with his 6’9” frame, Smotrycz is not an inside threat. He’s a finesse player who got bullied down low far too often this year. And while we all love forward Charles Mitchell, there’s no denying his height (6’7”) limits his inside game against much taller defenders (see his numbers against Florida State, North Carolina, & Syracuse).
As for center Shaquille Cleare, where do I begin? Let’s just say someone with his measurables (6’9” 265 lbs) should be way more dominant down low than what we’ve seen. My biggest issue with Cleare is he is far too passive to be the force he can be in the paint. He shot 56 percent from the floor (which is good), but only attempted 69 shots all year (which is bad). The Bahamas native has the talent, but the mental hurdle just seemed too great for him to make; his fear of making mistakes lead to poor execution, quick fouls, and his minutes dwindled because of it. If Cleare returns next season (and that’s a pretty big if), he needs to demand the ball down in the post and utilize his size like he did against Virginia Tech and Virginia in the latter part of the season.
3. Basketball IQ (x1,000,000)
Objects were thrown, swears were screamed, and walls fell victim to Terps fans fists this season due to this little matter. We witnessed it all season; turnovers, rushed shots, bad shots, lazy passes, dumb fouls, missed free throws, lack of execution, and attitude galore.
Maryland fans love to place blame squarely on Turgeon’s shoulders for these issues, and some of it may be justified. But the fact of the matter is Maryland failed to execute their game plan for much of the season, regardless of who is at fault. The talent is there, demonstrated by their four losses against top-25 teams by four points or less (and eight total losses by six points or less). But it was usually these miscues that lead to defeat. Granted, this is still a young team who had to rely heavily on sophomores and a transfer who hadn’t played in over a year; but there will be little excuse next season, as eight of the fourteen players will be upper classmen. This is the biggest issue with this team and they have to improve in this department if they want to have a successful 2014-2015 season.
Hope on the Horizon
Maryland has a top 10 recruiting class coming in next season, made up of shooters and a rim-protector (two things Maryland desperately needs). The addition of All-American point guard Romelo Trimble, along with the development of Roddy Peters (fingers crossed), will allow Allen to play more off the ball and be the desired scorer Maryland needs him to be. Bringing in Potomac shooting guard Dion Wiley and Westtown School wing Jared Nickens gives Turgeon more depth, firepower, and makes the Terps offensive output less reliant on Faust and Layman, who are still struggling to find a consistent shot. Most importantly, having more scorers will (hopefully) put an end to those four to seven minute scoring droughts that Maryland fans are all too familiar with.
How the Starting Lineup Might Look in 2014-2015
PG – Romelo Trimble (FR): Yes, he’s that talented and I believe he gives Maryland’s offense exactly what it needs; someone who can facilitate and score at will.
SG – Seth Allen (JR): Allen is erratic and impatient running the point, but he is dangerous with the ball in his hands. Allen can score in bunches, and you need him on the floor….just not in charge of setting up the offense if possible.
SF – Dez Wells (SR): No explanation needed; he’s Maryland’s best all-around player and can take over the game with his speed and physicality. He just needs to learn how to do that for two half’s, not exclusively the second half.
PF – Evan Smotrycz (SR): Smotrycz was really inconsistent with his shot, but it wasn’t because he wasn’t open. His skills as a stretch four gave him a lot of open looks this season; he just needs to knock them down. Unfortunately, you’ll have to live with his deficiencies on the defensive end (which is a hard pill to swallow).
C – Charles Mitchell (JR): I honestly don’t think Shaquille Cleare will be back, but even if he returns, Chuck is the better player at this point and he’s earned it. Mitchell isn’t going to give you 10-12 points in the paint every game, but the Terps don’t need him to. What they need from him is rebounding and defense, both of which he does well.
This starting five has the potential to be very dangerous in the Big Ten next season. With Trimble and Allen, you have your capable shooters. Wells is a guy that can slash to the basket with ease, while Smotrycz will continue to stretch the defense with his long-range shooting capabilities. Mitchell gives you that enforcer mentality on the post and will be one of the better rebounders in the Big Ten. This starting lineup may lack size, but it could force coaches to go with a smaller lineup to compensate for Maryland’s speed and scoring prowess.
You could make a case for Faust (who will be a senior next season) or Layman to be in the starting lineup. But the truth is, with their inconsistencies, they’re both better suited for coming off the bench (both played better this year as reserves). Layman plays great defense (especially in the zone press), so he could get the nod while pushing Allen to point and Trimble to the bench. But having Faust and Layman in reserve provides plenty of balance to this team with only a minimal drop off in offensive skill set. It also prevents Turgeon’s second and third unit from being entirely made up of underclassmen.