Nov 27, 2012; Evanston, IL, USA; Maryland Terrapins center Shaquille Cleare (44) is defended by Northwestern Wildcats guard Tre Demps (14) during the first half at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Maryland is currently on a six-game winning streak after losing to Kentucky in their first game of the season, and all things considered, there’s not a whole lot to complain about. Not a whole lot, but there are definitely some things that the Terrapins could be getting better at that, thus far, we have not really seen an improvement on. Let’s take a look at the issues plaguing Maryland basketball and examine how, potentially, they can get better upon these things.
Top Three Problems As a Team
Problem: Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers
At 15.6 turnovers per game, the Maryland Terrapins are woefully bad at protecting the rock. How bad? They rank 245th out of all the college basketball teams in the nation at turnovers per game. Exactly 22.6% of their plays have an end result of a turnover, which places them at 249th in the nation, right in between Robert Morris and Central Michigan. Even Wake Forest has a better turnover rate than the Terrapins, and they’re absolutely terrible.
The bad news? That 22.6% is only marginally better than Turgeon’s number from last season, which was a terrible 19.1% in 2011. That team didn’t make the tournament, and while this year’s team is exponentially better in numerous facets of the game, the turnovers may haunt them against tougher competition. Correction: it will haunt them against better competition. The question is: what can they do better to fix this problem?
Solution: Unfortunately, not much.
I could suggest that the Terrapins slow the game down, but at 68.9 possessions per game (which ranks them 180th in the nation), they can’t really slow down much more. They play at virtually the same pace as last season (69 possessions per game), and at that number it means the Terrapins are moving the ball properly and making the most of the shot clock. The errant passes and stone hands aren’t going to be cured by moving at a slower pace.
The only real solution is becoming more comfortable within the offense, as the Terrapins are both young and haven’t been playing together for a very long time. There are lots of new faces on this roster, and cohesion within a unit can take quite a lot of time. There are times when players aren’t expecting passes and their hands aren’t in the right spots to receive them in the low post off a kickout, and that comfortableness by an offense is only made better through repetition. Perhaps the Terrapins are actually improving game-by-game with regards to the turnover issue, but only time will tell if this number can improve. Which stinks, because their passing has been up there with some of the best teams in the nation.
Problem #2: Maryland’s First Half Scoring
As I said before, the Maryland Terrapins are a Jekyll and Hyde team to the core. They’re great at passing, but they turn the ball over too much. They are great in the second half as well, but they are also pretty poor in the first half by comparison. In the second half of games, the Terrapins average 40.7 points per game, which places them at 38th in the nation. Considering the pace they play at, that’s a gaudy number to be proud of, especially when you also factor in that their opponents are averaging only 32 points in the second half.
In the first, however, they are all over the place, and as a result they average 34.4 points. Their opponents average a paltry 30 points in the first half by comparison, meaning that Maryland usually decides games in the latter part of the second half. Why? They tend to turn the ball over a ton in the first half, which is their main problem, and don’t settle in until much later. They also get fouled more often in the second half once they realize that their jump shooting isn’t going in. Turgeon has to realize this by now, as almost every game this season has been one in which the Terrapins have failed to hit jumpers early and often. I think back to the Kentucky game, where Maryland was barely shooting over 30% in the first half. Then, in the second, they attacked everyone on the team down low and drew fouls to keep themselves in the game.
Solution: Be far more aggressive in the first half
We know that the Terrapins aren’t the best jump shooting team, despite their cast of supposed sharp shooters like Aaronholt, Faust, and Jake Layman. In the first half, it’s almost as if they want to see if the shots are falling from the get-go, and oftentimes just settle for jumpers. That includes the almighty Alex Len, who is a far more aggressive player in the second half of games than he is in the first. Well, instead of trying for the finesse finishes, they should drive to the basket more often from the start and stop forcing shots.
Alex Len can be a menace when he wants to be, and can easily exacerbate opposing team’s problems of stopping him down low without fouling by doing it all game. If he’s aggressive from the start, the lane is cleared up significantly as opposing teams cue in on him. Dez Wells taking over helps that out, too, as his slashing ability has to be accounted for at all times. With athletes like Len, Wells, and Faust, the Terrapins should have more paint points than most teams in the nation. Doing that in the first half, rather than initiating that style of offense in the second, would give them much more freedom later on in the game to jack shots with reckless abandon.
Problem #3: Maryland doesn’t shoot free throws well
Even if the Terrapins manage to get to the free throw line more often, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to hit many of them anyway. Currently, the Terrapins make only 66% of their free throws per game, which puts them at 235th in the nation. An old adage that rings true with almost every basketball team? “Great teams make their free throws.” If there’s one problem that the Terrapins have to improve upon, it’s that. I look at the last game against George Mason as a prime example of what can go wrong if free throws aren’t hit. In that game, Maryland managed to get to the line an amazing 39 times. It saved them in the end, but they also only hit 23 of those shots. The game could have been blown wide open had they actually finished on those shots.
I remember back when coach Calipari was coaching at Memphis, and the biggest knock on that team was that they couldn’t hit free throws. Every analyst said they would win a national championship if they only hit their free throws. Unfortunately, they didn’t and they lost because of it. I’m not saying that Maryland is the Memphis of old, but I am saying that a similar fate could strike them later on down the road. With Len and Faust being the only two players shooting over 70% from the free throw line, there’s a lot of room for improvement in that regard.
Plain and simple, really. Practice makes perfect when it comes to free throw shooting. Faust has a good enough form that his numbers can improve. Len is hitting almost 80% of his free throws, which is about as much as you can realistically ask for a 7’1 big man. Dez Wells should be shooting better, Seth Allen should be shooting better, and Shaquille Cleare should be shooting better given his softer hands. Mitchell might be hopeless, but not everyone else is.