ACC Team Previews: MarylandPosted by mpatton on October 27th, 2011
Maryland was very unlucky last season. It ranked 330th out of 345 schools according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistical “Luck” element, falling just in between ACC compatriots Clemson and Georgia Tech. However, the team’s flaws contributed as much to its close losses as anything else. First and foremost, Sean Mosley took a step back from a very promising sophomore season and became a virtual non-factor on offense. Terrell Stoglin‘s brilliant play masked Mosley’s absence for much of the season, but the lack of a consistent third option killed the Terrapins down the stretch. Additionally, Jordan Williams had an Achilles’ heel: poor free throw shooting. Williams was the rock of last year’s Maryland squad, but his inability to shoot foul shots well forced him to take on a reduced role at the end of games.
Looking back at Maryland’s year is like reading The Little Engine That Could(n’t). Gary Williams‘ squad was competitive, only being blown out twice by a middling opponent (once by Miami and once by Virginia Tech). Those two bad losses, though, were balanced byonly two decent wins (vs. Clemson and Florida State). For whatever reason Maryland couldn’t break into that next tier last year. The year was so frustrating that after hearing Jordan Williams was departing for the NBA Draft, Hall of Famer Gary Williams departed for the cool breezes of retirement. While inconsistency — especially on the recruiting trail — marked the last few years of his tenure, Williams-coached teams regularly flourished during ACC play in the early 2000s especially the 2002 National Championship team headlined by Steve Blake, Lonny Baxter and Juan Dixon. But the stresses of constantly having to reload from lost players and assistant coaches finally caught up to the head coach after Jordan Williams left his team with very few players and nothing to speak of in the front court. The good news is that the very capable Mark Turgeon was hired away from Texas A&M to take the helm in College Park.
Although the move was initially met with some hesitation, I think Turgeon is one of the top coaches in college basketball. His Aggie teams never dominated the national spotlight, but they consistently overachieved. The biggest question surrounding his tenure was whether the lack of star-studded recruiting classes had more to do with his recruiting skills or the isolated location of College Station, Texas. Turgeon doesn’t have a class to his name yet at Maryland, but keeping hometown player Nick Faust was the first step in the right direction. And College Park and its surroundings has much more basketball talent than College Station, which should allow Turgeon more freedom to pick the most talented guys that will fit into his system. The only possible road block I foresee is that he likes gritty teams that don’t usually run a pretty offense.
Had Jordan Williams returned, there would be no doubt in my mind that Maryland would be able to storm the upper ranks of the ACC, giving Florida State and possibly Duke a run for their money in the top tier. But without Williams, Maryland is just another undertalented ACC team in a rebuilding year. Like I mentioned before, the biggest problem facing the Terps is their lack of interior depth; they only have around eight minutes a game returning to their front court in the form of James Padgett. Currently, the team is waiting on the NCAA to rule on freshman Alex Len‘s eligibility, a seven-footer from the Ukraine. Should he be cleared, Len looks to be an answer. As you can see in the below video (credit: Baltimore Sun), Len’s coordination and speed make him less of a project than most young seven footers. But for now Maryland must make do without him.
The answer: play small. Turgeon already mentioned the posiibility of playing 6’4″ Sean Mosley at the four sometimes this year, and nearly everyone will be guarding bigger players. 6’6″ wing Nick Faust (ranked #37 by ESPNU, #48 by Rivals and #50 by Scout for the 2011 class) should be able to make an instant impact, but he needs a lot more meat on his bones if he’s going to bang bodies with college front courts.
But playing small creates mismatches on the other end of the floor as well. Here’s where Turgeon will need to augment his system. If the current group of players can thrive on a largely set offense predicated on waiting for the other team to make mistakes, there’s no reason to avoid the old system. However, as The Mikan Drill discovered in his profile of Terrell Stoglin’s strengths, he excels in transition. Playing a small and fast team will give Maryland a solid leg up on most opponents if the Terrapins can get out and run. Half court success is definitely still possible, but shooting percentages from key players will need to drastically improve. Sean Mosley’s leadership and skills will be absolutely critical to keep Stoglin from having to carry the team offense on his shoulders alone — and run the risk of becoming an inefficient, team-killing gunner in the process.
Looking at Maryland’s schedule, the non-conference slate is fairly uneventful. One interesting game comes against Alabama in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off: the Crimson Tide have a lot of talent returning, including interior beasts JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell. This will be Maryland’s first chance to prove something against an NCAA Tournament-caliber opponent. Another very tough test will be facing Temple in Philadelphia at the Palestra. Road games against quality out-of-conference opponents are often hard to find in college hoops, but I expect the Owls to give Maryland a good watermark for their season as conference play begins.
I don’t expect Maryland to make the NCAA Tournament but I do expect Mark Turgeon’s squad to exceed the media expectations of finishing ninth in the conference. There’s enough talent on this team to cause problems for many opponents, and I think Turgeon is enough of a coach to exploit the mismatches in his favor. Look for Maryland to sneak into the NIT this season with a strong run in the ACC Tournament after finishing the regular season in the middle of the pack.