ACC Team Previews: Maryland TerrapinsPosted by KCarpenter on October 23rd, 2012
Throughout the preseason, the ACC microsite will release a preview for each of the 12 teams. Today’s victim: the Maryland Terrapins.
Mark Turgeon had a rough first year in College Park, but no one said that following Gary Williams was going to be easy. Maryland technically scraped by with a 16-14 winning season but went only 6-10 in conference play. While the team notched some early non-conference victories against Colorado and Notre Dame, they wilted in ACC play, with their best win a home victory against Miami. This inability to win on the road haunted the Terrapins all season, with the team walking away with a true road victory only once, at Clemson. A single road win, the loss of the starting backcourt (and the conference’s leading scorer in Terrell Stoglin), and a not-so-graceful exit from the second round of the ACC Tournament make this year seem potentially bleak. Yet, there is reason for a measured amount of excitement in College Park if you look in the right places.
Turgeon has brought in a whole unit for his freshman class and reinforced his other positions with transfers. Connor Lipinski and Seth Allen will most likely be counted on to play some key minutes off the bench, depending on how the starting guard situation plays out, but won’t be counted on to contribute immediately. Some of the other freshmen, however, may be thrown into the fire right away. Gifted swingman Jake Layman and the twin towers of Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell all stand a good chance of playing heavy minutes for the Terrapins this year, and it wouldn’t be too terribly surprising to see one or two of the three as starters by the end of the year.
Maryland will also benefit from a few incoming transfers. Logan Aronhalt, a senior wing from Albany, has been cleared to play immediately under the graduate student transfer rule. More interestingly is the case of Xavier transfer Dez Wells. Wells had a brilliant beginning to his career as a gifted scoring wing for the Musketeers until an accusation of sexual assault led the university to dismiss him, though the prosecutor ultimately didn’t even pursue a case against the young man. Maryland has applied for a waiver for Wells to play immediately given the extraordinary circumstance of his wrongful dismissal, but the school is still awaiting official word. Wells has impressed in open scrimmages and his addition to this year’s roster would give the Terps a lot of extra punch.
The Terrapins don’t return a lot of seasoned players, but each of those coming back is expected to play a major role for the team. James Padgett, the underappreciated senior power forward, is a wizard on the offensive glass (no one in the ACC was better, except for Miles Plumlee) and the most efficient of all of Maryland’s post players last season. While Mark Turgeon has yet to declare any starters outside of Alex Len, the proven skills of Padgett and veteran leadership make him a likely candidate to get the start at power forward. Speaking of Len, he returns to the excitement of many. The gifted and athletic big man showed flashes of brilliance as he played the back half of Maryland’s schedule, but also showed his inexperience with his frequent turnovers and lapses of attention on both ends. Still, the Terrapins believe they have something special in Len and the willingness of Turgeon to declare the center a starter already indicates the high expectations that Len is facing.
Some combination of Pe’Shon Howard and Nick Faust will make up the starting backcourt, although it’s not yet clear who will play where and for how many minutes. Howard had a nice rookie year and a solid beginning to his sophomore season until an injury forced him to sit out for most of the year. Meanwhile, Faust came to College Park as a highly-regarded gunner, but couldn’t find his stroke for most of his freshman campaign, instead finding his niche as more of a slasher and playmaker. It’s expected that Howard will most likely start at point guard with Faust at shooting guard, but the versatility of Faust might tempt Mark Turgeon to play the big guard as a sixth man/back-up point guard in the vein of Jamal Crawford or Jason Terry.
Potential Breakout Player
It would be shocking to see anyone but Alex Len mentioned here. Len is startlingly gifted and the flashes of talent that he has shown so far have been electrifying. If Len had played more last season, he may very well have led the ACC in blocked shots. On a tempo-free basis, Len blocked 10.1% of all shots by the opposing team when he was on the court. For reference, the defensive standard bearers of John Henson and Bernard James blocked 9.6% and 9.5% shots while on the floor, respectively. In addition to standing 7’1″, Len is also a dynamic leaper, meaning that not only does he have the tools for shot-blocking and rebounding, but he also has the scary ability to finish with power from just about anywhere remotely close to the rim. Now, the sophomore still has lots of flaws as a player: He turns the ball over too much and is prone to foul trouble. But, consider this: Len has been given the go-ahead to attempt three-point shots if he has the opportunity. If he manages to put things together in his sophomore campaign, the rest of the conference will tremble.
A neutral site game with Kentucky in Brooklyn is obviously the centerpiece of the Terps’ non-conference schedule, but beyond that, it’s hard to find many slated challenges. A road game against Northwestern as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge will likely be a very competitive game and a bout with George Mason in Washington DC could get interesting in a hurry. The toughest non-conference home game is a tilt with Morehead State, a school that often fields a competitive team but one that was also largely unimpressive over the course of the last year.
In conference play, the Terrapins have a tough row to hoe. Two games apiece with North Carolina and Florida State as well as two against rival Duke is pretty tough. Fortunately for the Terrapins, they will play North Carolina State only once and it will happen in the friendly confines of College Park. Likewise, Maryland will get two shots at probable bottom-dwellers Wake Forest, Boston College, and Virginia Tech. The best case scenario is that the team gets a lot of shots at a signature win will still racking up notches against the bottom of the league. The worst case scenario is that the team gets beaten down by the better teams of the ACC and has plenty of opportunities to embarrass themselves against significantly worse teams.
Prediction and Conclusion
Maryland is going to be a lot better than they were last year, but it probably won’t make much of a difference unless a lot of things break in favor of the Terrapins. Worse, the team is very thin in terms of experienced and capable backcourt players. If Howard were to re-injure himself while Faust fell into another scoring slump, this team would have a lot of trouble doing much of anything against most teams. Yet, this team has plenty of potential with a nice cadre of big men with great upside and a game-changing wild-card in Dez Wells and his eligibility. Plenty can go wrong with this team, but plenty can go right as well. For the sake of prediction, however, let’s split the difference. Maryland will take a step forward and finish the conference at 9-9. More importantly, the team will be setting itself up for a 2013-14 season where Maryland will finally be ready to truly contend for the ACC title. This year, however, Maryland is probably going to have to take its lumps and wait.