Terps Basketball: Additions and Subtractions Coming
I read with interest a day or two ago that sportswriter/statistician/smart guy Ken Pomeroy pointed his computer toward the 2018-19 for an early look at the top teams in NCAA basketball and he had the Maryland Terrapins listed as the 11th best team. Included in the top ten were the usual suspects – Kansas, Villanova, Duke, Virginia, etc.- and used the assumption that everybody in the DraftExpress top 40 left to play professionally and everybody listed above 40 came back to their respective schools. In the fluid world of college basketball there is only one thing certain about that his prospective top 11 teams. The list will almost certainly look completely different by the time the cutoff date (June 11th) for players to decide to leave or come back rolls around.
It’s likely to be a long couple of months.
(You can discuss on the BSL Board here.)
At this point there is zero need to elaborate on what could happen in between now and then. There could be a couple of key players leaving the program in Bruno Fernando and Justin Jackson. There could be a surprise or two in guys who just decide they want to “test the waters” (God, I’ve come to hate that phrase). It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Kevin Huerter decided to go to the NBA combine. All it takes is for one NBA team to say “yeah, we’d like to see this guy” and there is an invitation extended. Give me a real quick show of hands for all of you that wouldn’t take that invitation.
The guess here is that at least one of the three returns and, hopefully, two of the three. If they get two back then the Terps will likely have enough talent to compete at a pretty high level, assuming that the incoming recruits are as good as most reports make them out to be. Still there are some things that will have to change.
He’s not on my speed dial but I consider Mark Turgeon a good man and a good coach. I can assure Maryland fans that he is well aware of the fact that he’s getting killed by a lot of the fan base and the fact that it is a base that requires some accountability. When your season ends with the kind of thud that this past one did then somebody has to answer and, literally, he’s the only adult in the room. To be brutally honest, it ended up being a Murphy’s Law kind of season – anything that could go wrong did. The Terp schedule reflected some uncertainty about who would be eligible and yet the team never took advantage of scheduling down. If you do schedule that way you need to win the games you’re supposed to win and steal a 50/50 game or two. Neither happened.
It’s amazing to me how seasons can change so quickly and you never know which game might be a “directional’ game that can propel you in one direction or another. On the first day of December Maryland had a much anticipated conference game against Purdue in College Park. The Purdue team that came to CP that day already two losses and had not started the season particularly well for a veteran group loaded with senior talent and ridiculous size. The game ended up being as good as advertised except that the bad guys won 80-75.
So, instead of getting a certified conference win against a top 20 opponent you get a disappointing loss on your home court. Shortly after that the team would lose Jackson and Ivan Bender for the season and things never got a whole lot better.
By the way, it would be February 7th – over two full months later- before Purdue would lose a game. Ask Purdue coach Matt Painter if he thought a win on the road in the first conference game of the season was directional.
If you’re Mark Turgeon right now the best thing you can do is to honestly and candidly assess the season and what you need to do better in all areas. Addressing the noise publicly is like arguing with a fan or a twitter troll…it gets you nowhere and is a complete waste of time and energy. He’s won a bunch of games at a bunch of schools. He may not be everybody’s cup of tea but he knows how to win. He needs to schedule better and he’ll take a long hard look at late game miscues this season to see what went wrong in the waning minutes of so many conference games.
I’ll digress for a minute here. One of my favorite coaches and guys to deal with is Michigan’s John Beilein. Coaches in this day and age should pay him royalties for the offensive style that he has been using for 30 years. He’s innovative to the point that (after 700+ wins) he embraces the use of analytics to the job and actually uses the concept of offensive and defensive coordinator on his staff. He has boundless energy and runs the kind of sets that look like they’re a boatload of fun to diagram and run.
To top all of it off at the advanced age of 65 and over 1100 college games coached he is everybody’s COACH OF THE YEAR. Every account you read is about just how brilliant this guy is at his craft. And he totally and completely is.
Right here is where we all need to check ourselves a little bit. That same John Beilein who is being understandably celebrated now is the exact same guy that Michigan fans were destroying after a 16-16 season in 2014-15 and then again after an 8th place conference finish and first round tourney flame out in 2015-16. He was getting killed on twitter. His style was “unwatchable.” He couldn’t recruit. He couldn’t win close games, etc.
Back to Turge…College hoops can be a fickle business. Deal with it. Put on your big boy pants and be honest with yourself, your staff and your team and try and do something to get better every day. The noise is just noise.
On to the players…
I get the thrill of doing a podcast with Gary Williams every Monday night (shameless plug – Basketball Coaches DC podcast). We’ve had some interesting discussions about the value of coaches vs players in some of the more hotly contested tournament games. When I suggested, for instance, that Jim Boeheim had outcoached Tom Izzo in the recent Syracuse-Michigan State game his response was, essentially, that the media and fans in this day and age buy into the notion that college hoops is a coaches game and that the NBA is a players game. To that point fans seem to think that it’s the coaches that always win or lose the games at the college level. He acknowledged the fact that the coaches are clearly more important in college but that the players never get enough of the credit or blame for things that happen down the stretch of a game. Some of that may be due to a natural reluctance to crucify a college kid for a critical mistake or even that the mistake was so subtle that fans didn’t recognize that it had even been made.
The point is simply that you need every bit as much accountability from the players as you do from your head coach and your staff.
As the point guard Anthony Cowan had as hard a job as anybody this past season. He led the team in scoring and showed a vastly improved offensive skill set from the season before. He was third team All-Big Ten, made the All-Defensive team and placed in the top ten in the conference in several offensive and defensive categories. Oh- if that’s not enough- he led the conference in minutes played. Clearly he responded to the offseason challenge in 2017 of getting better and stronger and diversifying his offensive game. The challenge this offseason has to come in a more intangible way. He has to become more of student of the game. He has to master the film room. We can argue ad nauseum about college hoops being a coach’s game but it sure as hell is a Point Guard’s game. Anthony has to get better down the stretch of games. He has to be more trusting. I suggested in a preseason preview for BSL in November that he would lead the team in scoring this past season and it happened. Similarly I will suggest right now that if he is the leading scorer next season (assuming that most of the guys are back) then the Terps will not have had the season that they hoped.
Last thing and I’ll move on. You have to love the effort that Cowan plays with. He’s a heart on his sleeve guy and will play hard from start to finish. All of that said, he has to change his body language and, further, the way he is perceived by officials. Candidly, he is seen as a pouter and an actor. Some guys just have that rep. It can be changed simply enough. First, no glares at the ref. They all suck. Come to terms with that. Second, you’d be shocked at what an occasional smile and chuckle will get you in the heat of battle.
Assuming he is back and everything else being equal, this should be Huerter’s team next year. He has been selfless to a fault for two years. That changes now. The offense may well morph into one where – between the combination of him hunting shots and Maryland running plays specifically for him- he gets 15-20 shots a game. With that kind of talent comes a certain kind of responsibility. Ideally he leads the conference in scoring next year and goes in the top 20 in the 2019 draft.
I was completely amazed by the season Fernando had. Once he learned how to keep himself in the game and out of foul trouble he was a complete force of nature. He does a textbook job of pick and roll defense (a must in this day and age) and has incredible footwork on both ends. You have to remember that he was hurt for much of the preseason with a high ankle sprain but his on-the-job growth was still really impressive. I’m sure that Bruno will get an invitation to the NBA combine. The obvious worry is that he’ll get there and do something eye-popping (beyond the body type and wing span and other measurables) and, all of a sudden, there are teams willing to take a chance.
If the Terps are fortunate enough to get Bruno back then his responsibility is pretty clear to me. He should be a double-double guy next year. Sure, they’ll run a bunch of stuff for him but if he just concentrates on running the break and hitting the glass his numbers could be off the charts. Ideally he comes back and leads the free world in rebounding and becomes a lottery pick.
I refuse to play the “what is he thinking” game as it applies to Justin Jackson. I don’t have a whole lot of inside information but I will tell you that the one thing you never really completely know about any of these guys is that you never really know where they are getting all of their information from. Pressures and advice from parents, family, prospective agents, and your friends all play into this. You can have thorough heart to heart with a 20 year old in your office one minute and feel like come common ground was found one day only to find that the wind blew differently after he left the office and a completely different decision was made fifteen minutes later.
Clearly the progression of Darryl Morsell becomes is critical to the cause given the questions about who is back. This is an industrious kid…I expect a quantum leap and figure that the usual leap between freshman and sophomore seasons combined with his work ethic will pay huge dividends. At the end of the day this is the least of the concerns.
There are a few dates to keep in mind in the weeks ahead. If a player wants to be draft eligible he needs to declare that by April 22. The NBA combine will be in Chicago May 16-20. After that players will have until June 11 to decide if they want to return to school. Obviously those that formally hire an agent will not have the option of returning. There will be hundreds of kids who will want to make themselves available for the reality of it tells you there may only be actually 25-30 open NBA spots when the music stops.
Over the next couple of weeks and months ahead there will be some additions and subtractions to the Maryland hoops roster just as there will be across the country. Mark Turgeon and his guys have been pretty damn consistent about pulling rabbits out of the recruiting hat late in the recruiting process pretty much every year.
With all the ‘coulds’ and ‘ifs’ It may be more important now than ever this year.