As the basketball season progresses, one question remains in the minds of Maryland basketball fans: can this team make a run and win it all?
The talent is evident. The Terrapins possess five starters that average double figures, three projected picks in the NBA draft, a player at the four position who can stretch the defense out to the three-point line, and a point guard who has been named a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award.
On paper, no question Maryland has the size and talent to make some serious noise in March. Unfortunately, Maryland has not played up to their potential at times during the 2015-16 season. Even a team chock-full of talent still has to take care of the little things. At times the Terps have struggled to protect the ball and box out on the defensive glass. For Maryland to cut down the nets in Houston, they have to get back to the basics and execute the fundamentals of basketball.
That starts with taking care of the basketball. In Maryland’s four losses this season, they have committed more turnovers than their opponents. In the last three losses, Maryland has committed no more than 12 turnovers, but it still haunts them even in wins. In road wins at Nebraska and Ohio State, the Terps committed more turnovers than the home team, but were able to scrape by with two five-point victories. With the Terps talent at every position, giving away free possessions leading to transition buckets by their opponents could prove to be costly.
Rebounding has also severely hurt the Terps over the last month. In last Saturday’s loss to Wisconsin, every time Maryland appeared to make a push to cut into the deficit, they surrendered a costly offensive rebound. With just under 11 minutes to go, Maryland had sliced a 16-point deficit to just six at 45-39. Wisconsin went one-of-two at the free throw line and with a rebound, Maryland could have had a possession down seven to keep the momentum on their side.
However, Maryland surrendered an offensive board and Wisconsin hit a jumper to push their lead back up to nine points. After a Diamond Stone dunk trimmed the Badger’s lead back to seven, guards Jaylen Brantley and Rasheed Sulaimon failed to connect on open three pointers.
As Maryland failed to convert on the offensive end, their inability to grab a defensive rebound hindered their chances of a comeback. The next two Badger possessions consisted of two offensive boards that led to five points and the lead being extended back to double digits at 12 points.
That was the closest Maryland came in the second half. Surrendering offensive rebounds can be demoralizing, and Maryland will certainly need to clean up their work on the glass if they are going to cut down the nets in April.
Lastly, Maryland’s five starters are consistent scoring threats but what happens when they need a rest? Or if someone gets in early foul trouble and the Terps have to look toward their bench early in the first half?
Diamond Stone may have not started every conference game, but he has played starter minutes all season. If we include Stone as a starter, no one on Maryland’s bench on the season averages more than 5.4 points-per-game. In conference play, no one off the bench is averaging more than 3.4 ppg. This has to improve for the Terps before March Madness begins. Maryland’s opponents don’t have to fear anyone as a scoring threat off the bench.
Forward Jared Nickens, one of the first reserves off the bench, is averaging the most points at 5.2 ppg. However, he is shooting an abysmal 19% from deep in conference play. What is Nickens role off the bench? To knock down the open look from deep on the wing.
If he is struggling with his shot, defenses will not respect him and in turn can double down low on Robert Carter or Stone if they are still in the game. Until Nickens proves he can hit the open jumper consistently, defenses can sag off and shift their focus elsewhere.
Damonte Dodd is the first frontcourt reserve off the bench for coach Mark Turgeon. Dodd has never been relied upon for his offense, or asked to score the ball for that matter. During the offseason, Dodd added a mid-range jumper to his arsenal. He knows his role and only takes this shot maybe once every other game. Dodd’s role is to secure rebounds, and be a defensive presence.
Michal Cekovsky, the next big man off the bench for the Terps, has the same role as Dodd. Cekovsky’s job is to secure rebounds, disrupt the other team’s offense in the paint, and do not force anything on offense. If Cekovsky and Dodd can come in off the bench and block a shot or two, they can play an important role for this team in the coming month.
The last two reserves to see substantial playing time for the Terps are Brantley and Varun Ram. Turgeon elected early in conference play to have Ram step in to handle the point guard duties when Melo Trimble and Sulaimon needed a rest. Ram provides energy, and ironically for his 5’9 frame, toughness.
He does the little things that may not show up on the stat sheet. Ram hounds opponents on defense the whole court, as well as take charges and play smart. What Ram lacks in size and talent, he compensates with energy, toughness, and experience. He is a leader on the court who knows his role but struggles to contribute any offense.
Brantley is someone that Turgeon needs to play more.
Brantley was able to gain confidence against Bowie State, which Maryland fans hope will translate to the rest of conference play. Unlike Ram, Brantley is a scorer. He averaged 14.3 ppg in the JuCo ranks and shot 36 percent from behind the arc.
He obviously isn’t going to being a prolific scorer playing behind Trimble and he doesn’t need to be. However, Brantley has the experience at the point guard position and is extremely capable of running offensive sets for the Terps.
Brantley may not provide the energy Ram does on the defensive end, but Brantley has the skill set and quickness to be able to dribble penetrate on a defense and shoot the ball if he is open on the perimeter. With Nickens struggling mightily to hit the open jumper in conference play, don’t be surprised if Brantley starts playing more and more minutes on the big stage.
Every team has their areas of weakness. Can Maryland fix theirs before the season comes to a close? Only time will tell.
One thing all Maryland fans do not want to see, is a team with this much talent at all five positions underachieve.