Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
This Maryland team has one glaring weakness: interior paint presence. The fact that it’s a weakness is pretty self-explanatory in that they flat out don’t have a dominant center who knows how to box out properly. They used to, and his name was Alex Len. Ask any basketball team, life without a seven footer who can block shots patrolling the paint is hard. It’s even more complicated when the guys on the roster just don’t know how to box out.
The Oregon State game was bordering on a camp performance, in both meanings of the word.
Coach Turgeon’s press conference showed off a frustrated coach who already knew going into this game that his team had a very hard time boxing out. Against Oregon State, the entire staff failed to do it. The worst offenders were probably Smotrycz and Cleare, but Charles Mitchell’s size and failure to box out kept him from being effective either. Each big man picked up numerous fouls every time they were trying to stop the Beavers in the paint.
It’s pretty apparent that the heaping praise on Shaquille Cleare in the preseason might have been a smokescreen to motivate the big man for prime time, since he clearly isn’t. Cleare’s lack of production this season is more than just unexpected for most people; it’s to the point where he shouldn’t be starting in any form. Six total rebounds over the past 42 minutes is pretty brutal for a guy his stature. Cleare’e issue is that even though he may be the best post defender on the team, the offense is absolutely horrendous with him on the court. For that reason, the amount of time you can play him any given game is severely limited.
For Smotrycz, it’s a simple case of not being an elite athlete. He’s not bad in the post, and is certainly a smart guy, but going against players with natural length and more speed means he’s going to struggle. Smotrycz is strong enough to hold his own if he gets proper positioning, but so many times he failed to box out the right way, ceded a rebound to Collier too low, and got scored on. Over and over again. That’s not an indictment on Smotrycz in any way, but crafty veteran moves can only take you so far.
Everyone already knew Damonte Dodd wouldn’t be ready quickly; at one point during the game Dodd checked in, picked up a foul less than ten seconds later for hands in the back, and checked out for instruction by the coaching staff. He’s raw and still learning the intricacies of the game, especially post defense. For all the energy he can provide off the bench, he isn’t going to be the savior Maryland needs.
His best case scenario is that Dodd figures out how to stay on the court for more than five minutes per game by the ACC tournament. Judging by how rapid his improvement has been, there’s reason to suggest that he’ll be a much better player towards the end of the season. Then again, you can’t really put a date on these things, and it may still take an offseason of camp until his play is finally the consistency that Maryland can rely on.
Jonathan Graham doesn’t offer enough offensively or defensively to merit playing over anyone else. Statistically speaking, he’s one of the three worst defenders on the roster. Part of that is trying to adjust to the system Turgeon runs, and part of that is just the fact that he’s less capable than the other guys on the roster.
So what’s the answer if no one can defend? The tough pill to swallow is that, as it stands, that player isn’t on the roster. The personnel Maryland has doesn’t understand how to box out right now, something that is both mind boggling and disappointing at this age. It’s a fundamental necessity that was very clearly masked by Len and Padgett last season, and the return of Seth Allen isn’t going to do anything to cure that problem.
The good thing is that Maryland doesn’t need a skyscraper in the middle to alleviate a lot of their woes. Positioning is a major factor, and you don’t need a 6’11 guy to do most of the work for you down low to get good, quickly. On the defensive end, at least, a lot of it is just effort, and Turgeon isn’t seeing that right now.
An interesting solution to the problem could be playing some seriously small ball to throw some teams off. Perhaps a lineup which pits Wells against post defenders, while seemingly outlandish, may actually work. North Carolina employed a similar lineup and had great success with matchup problems last season, and managed to frustrate the living daylights out of teams with big men. It’s a temporary measure, but players respond to minutes being taken away more often than not, and it might be the best route to go at the time.
Fortunately, teams do improve with the passage of time. Players gain more experience as the season goes along, and if ever there was an eye opener, losing in front of the President of the United States was probably a good enough one. It’s actually a bonus that this loss happened so early in the season, because it may be the kick start this team needs to work harder on the issue.
Turgeon is a good coach, and has thus far shown himself capable of pretty rapid improvement in players. He also knows his staff very well, and knows the correct buttons to code in to get this team functioning again. Hopefully, the encryption isn’t too tough, though, because Maryland needs to get better at being a competent post defending team sooner rather than later.