The Maryland basketball season tips off Saturday November 1, for their first exhibition game. This season has quickly been sneaking up on fans, as it does feel like ages ago since news broke of the mass exodus from College Park. Since then, the team has moved on and adopted a new mentality to practice hard and restore the passion to the Maryland program. Expectations are mixed right now as Maryland has an interesting roster.
Coach Turgeon has assembled a good mix of players that can give him flexibility with his rotation and the ability to adjust to different styles of play. Of course, there are plenty of question marks with this team. How will the freshmen transition? Can Melo be the full time point guard? Will we see a more aggressive Jake Layman? Is Michael Chekovsky really that far ahead of Alex Len? Below are some of the line-ups that I believe we will see over the course of the season. Admittedly there are some that hinge proper player development, and some that might not be the best but would be fun to watch.
Melo/Dez/Layman/Smotrycz/Dodd – Starting Line-up
At media day coach Turgeon revealed that if the season started on October 21 that sophomore Damonte Dodd would be the starting center. This came as a shock to many considering that Dodd did not play much as a freshman and the Terps brought in a high touted seven-footer, Michael Cekovsky. While this line up may change as Cheko gains more experience, I believe this is one of the better line-ups for the Terps. Dodd isn’t a polished post player, but he is an athletic player who can set screens. The spacing with this line-up will create a lot of opportunities for Melo, Dez, and even Layman to penetrate the lane, which can help Maryland to get easier baskets and free up shooters. If Dodd can set screens, run to the rim, and keep the ball moving, then he will be an important piece for the Terrapins. Dez, Layman, and Smotrycz can score double digits, so they don’t need Dodd to be a big scorer, what they need from Dodd is the ability to rim run, set screens, rebound, and protect the rim.
This line up of four second unit players can provide a good change up of pace down low, while keeping with the same principles of the starting line up. Pack and Dez are both players that can create their own offense on the bounce, while Cheko and Smotrycz are fours that can stretch the floor. What makes this line-up exciting, especially on defense, is the physical play. Pack and Graham are both physical players, and Cheko will naturally give power forwards a problem with his length. The big questions with this line-up will be if Cheko and Nickens can stretch the floor enough? Graham will clog the lane, but if Cheko can stretch the floor as advertised then the lane will be open for Melo and Pack.
The odds that this line-up gets used are slim, but imagine this line-up running a 1-3-1 zone on defense. I would love to see this line-up get a small run while playing zone, just to see teams try to figure out how to get around the length of these five players. Similar to the last line-up, if Checko can stretch the floor then imagine the shooting we could see in this rotation. Layman would present a huge mismatch for the shooting guard covering him, and Checko would at least be pulling a power forward out of the lane. The transition game of this team would be great especially considering the amount of tip balls they could create on defense. Can they go long stretches with this line-up? Probably not, but imagine a couple of possessions with this line-up to attempt to create instant offense.
I believe we will see this line-up a couple of times during the cupcake slate. Melo and Graham will have a chance to show off their leadership, while Wiley and Nickens will get a chance to be more featured on offense. This is more of an experimental line-up that Turgeon can use. Defensively this line-up could be amongst the worst possibilities, which is why I think we would only ever see it during cupcake season. Fouls would be another problem with a line-up like this, as Graham has a tendency to commit a lot of fouls, and if he has to cover for the freshmen mistakes he will pick up even more fouls. This line-up would be fun because of the chance to see the four freshmen play together.
Ball handling immediately jumps out as a problem in this line-up. However, Dez is likely to see some ball handling duty, and having Pack out there during that stretch will help. Pack is a player who can create his own offense, similar to Dez, and having a player with that ability will help an inexperienced point guard. Does Nickens have the size and strength right now to guard a four? Probably not, but on the offensive end he can help to keep the lane clear for Dez and Pack. Can Cheko protect the rim and bang down low with a center? It’s too early to tell, but Maryland will need Cheko to be able to play the five especially if they have a goal of bringing him into the starting line-up this season. This line-up will be a lot of fun to watch in transition. Wiley and Nickens can spot up, Dez and Pack can attack the rim, and Checko can trail behind to take advantage of a mismatch.
Last season, Layman was making a transition from being a bench scorer to a primary scorer. There were ups and downs with that transition, but this season he should be able to better handle the load of being a primary scorer for the team. This line-up would test Layman and his ability to lead a unit, both offensively and defensively. He would have a ball handler and distributer in Melo, along with two shooters in Wiley and Nickens, and a rim protecter and screener in Dodd. On the defensive end, it might be tough for Layman to cover a power forward, but with Smotrycz out six weeks to start the season, Layman will get experience at this position. There was talk at media day that Layman had improved his ball handling ability and would be more aggressive this season attacking the hoop, and in this line-up he would be able to show off those new skills. Defensively, I worry about having three freshmen covering guards, but Layman and Dodd should be able to provide some cover behind them with their length.
Fortunately for Maryland, they have a lot of flexibility this year with their line-ups, which should make adjusting to the Big Ten a little bit easier. Like every year, it is difficult to know in October what a team will get from their freshmen and transfers. However, the core of Maryland is built around Dez Wells, Jake Layman, and Evan Smotrycz, who are three players that coach Turgeon knows what they will bring every game. As long as Smotrycz’s injury recovery goes well, then it might become a blessing in disguise, given how Smotrycz broke down at the end of last season. Last season we saw Maryland play a 1-3-1 zone on more than a handful of occasions, and I believe we will still see that this year. The rule changes last season pushed teams to play more zone defense, and Maryland has a long and athletic team that is suited to play zone. With the amount of new players Maryland has, it will make the cupcake games more interesting. It will be a trend to see who Turgeon trust playing together, and which players on the bench will push for more minutes.