Considering Maryland’s Perimeter Surprise: Pressure DefensePosted by KCarpenter on February 6th, 2012
The Terrapins lost to North Carolina on Saturday after a valiant and hard-fought game where it looked like Mark Turgeon had his old mentor Roy Williams on the ropes early on. How did Maryland get the jump on the Tar Heels? By relying on a tactic that Turgeon has been reluctant to embrace all season: perimeter pressure. On the season, Maryland has forced fewer turnovers than almost every team in the country, posting a defensive turnover percentage of 16.9% which puts them at somewhere around the 325th best in the country in this category. Worse, when it comes to steals, Maryland is the second worst team in the entire country, managing a takeaway on only 5.8% of defensive plays.
Yet, going into the under-eight minute timeout in the first half, sure-handed Tar Heel Kendall Marshall already had five turnovers. Mark Turgeon unleashed the dogs on the Tar Heels and their perimeter pressure rattled North Carolina. It was an effective tactic that kept UNC’s guards off-balance and helped key an early lead for the Terrapins. Certainly North Carolina rallied to win the game and Kendall Marshall going forward only turned the ball over once more on his way to a 16-assist game. Still, the game was competitive when it probably shouldn’t have been.
Maryland is capable of forcing more turnovers than they have thus far this year. Last year, the Terps were fourth in the conference in forcing turnovers. Looking at the individual steal percentage of veterans like Terrell Stoglin, Sean Mosley, Pe’Shon Howard, and even James Padgett in seasons past, each of these players are currently at striking career lows. It’s clear that this reduction in aggressive defense comes from the top: For most of the season, Coach Turgeon didn’t want his team to gamble on defense. It’s a sound principle in practice (trading turnover opportunities for better defensive position), especially if you are worried about guys fouling out, a legitimate concern considering that Nick Faust and Mosley both fouled out with Howard coming close with four fouls. Still, Maryland looked so good applying defensive pressure against North Carolina, should the coaching staff reconsider its defensive philosophy?
In short, yes. Maryland has the personnel (quick, athletic, and long guards) to effectively apply vicious perimeter pressure. History speaks to the abilities of Maryland’s veterans to manage steals effectively, and the freshman Faust is the current team leader in steal percentage. The argument that gambling for steals would increase the amount of fouls on defense is a little more susceptible to criticism. While this year’s team has managed a low ratio of opponent free throw attempts to field goal attempts, last year’s defense (which forced many more turnovers) actually managed to foul opponents less. Would a gambling defense allow for more penetration by opponents? Probably, but the emergence of Alex Len (who played sensationally on Saturday) as one of the ACC’s best shot-blockers means that Maryland should be able to effectively mitigate guard penetration. Finally, while Maryland’s offense has been fairly good so far this year, there is no better way to supercharge an attack than with easy fast break points.
With a different group, perhaps declining to gamble on defense might be the most sound strategy. The guys on this Maryland team, however, have the skills and talent to make life for opposing guards very difficult. Considering the relative success this tactic had with North Carolina, and the relative ineffectiveness of this team on defense for most of the year, the Terrapins should at least consider using pressure more often.