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Terps Basketball: Autopsy

I’m not altogether sure where to start in doing an autopsy on this past Maryland hoops season. To begin with, if you had told me that this group would win 24 games and end up tied for second place in what we now know to be a very competitive Big Ten I would have jumped all over it, just as I’m sure most of the Terps fan base would have.

But then December happened and the narrative changed.

And then January happened and the narrative really changed.

The Terps were 20-2 by the time they played their first game in February against Purdue. The result of that game was an almost inconceivable ‘how did that happen’ kind of a loss that is sure to stymie plenty of teams – especially those with three freshman starters playing huge minutes. Not only was the loss painfully brutal, in retrospect it foreshadowed issues to come that would have to be dealt with but never could be.

In the end all of those chickens came home to roost.

(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)

Before we count those chickens I need to make a quick disclaimer. If you’re looking for me to bash Mark Turgeon and his coaching staff then go back to your basement and chat with your friends anonymously on message boards. The fact that the season ended with two very disappointing losses is as painful as it is to him as anybody else. He’ll analyze tape and do a very critical evaluation in the coming weeks. Hopefully it’s a short period…he needs more players.

He was a national Coach of the Year candidate on the last day of January. If you believe what you read in some circles he got a whole lot more stupid in the next 5-6 weeks. The free-flowing offense that had fans gushing in January had them all bitching in March. It’s the way coaching works, I get that. If shots fall and you’re winning games, you’re the man. If they aren’t and you aren’t then you must suck.

The fact is that this team has won 79 games in three seasons and has never finished with lower than a three seed in the Big Ten tournament. I know everybody wants a ring now but maybe, just maybe, in a couple of years we’ll look back at these years as those where the groundwork was laid for better and better teams.

Those chickens I referred to….first and foremost, I love Damonte Dodd. Super guy. Great teammate and a character. He and Ivan Bender are both good guys but the lack of scoring and rebounding production at the center position was a killer after Michal Cekovsky went out. It wasn’t like you needed 20 and ten out of that spot but 12 and 8 would’ve been great, or maybe even 10 and 5.The rebounding, in particular, seemed to be a problem in every game down the stretch of the season.

Much was made of the Terps late game heroics early in the season and all of the plays made to win games. Most of the notoriety was given to the baskets that won games. Those always get the headlines. But to get to that point there almost had to be a critical defensive stop or two to get to the point where a bucket would win the game. At the end of January the Terps weren’t just shooting well over 40% from three on offense, their defensive efficiency numbers were off the charts. Whether do to fatigue or other teams figuring it out against them, the team stopped getting the critical stops it needed and stopped being able to limit teams over long periods. Think about how easily Iowa and Minnesota scored at Xfinity late in the season. It’s also important to note that when you are playing great D it’s a great way to get easy points when you’re offense is struggling or you’re not shooting the ball well.

Other issues are well documented…no offensive efficiency, not getting to the foul line enough, not enough easy baskets at all – be it on the break or half court (I know by the end of the season I really missed the regular alley-oop to Ceko we seemed to see when he was healthy). The one strength that had been so critical to the success early on- guard play- seemed to come and go down the stretch too. I never bought the whole “freshmen have hit a wall” thing at all. These guys are used to playing every day all day. What changed is that it’s a whole lot easier to be the hunter and to chase people down than it is to have everybody want a piece of your ass. Maybe where youth became an issue was in handling the psychology of all that.

The bottom line is that Turge and company need help. They have a nice nucleus and core that will only get better. Anthony Cowan needs to get stronger, work on his left hand and develop a real jump shot. He’s got a sweet stroke….it just takes way too long to get it off as a set shot. Kevin Huerter is the real deal on both ends. As good as he was this year, he’ll be a different player next year. If Melo Trimble opts to leave then Herter is probably looking to be a 14-16 ppg game guy next year. He better be. Same is true of Justin Jackson. He had a terrific year and was pretty much everything we could have hoped for aside from consistency issues late in the year. He needs to be able to finish around the basket better. He, like Huerter should focus on trying to get to the foul line 5-6 times per game. The effort will be rewarded.

Interior issues might be significantly addressed if Ceko heals as expected and if incoming freshman Bruno Fernando is legit. By all reports he is. Both offer far more offense than we saw at the position last year and the inside might be bolstered by a player – or two – should those scholarships become available.

Beyond that, things get interesting. You have to assume that Melo will leave at this point, I’m afraid. One of the things I’ve seen online is the notion that we would be better off without him. Somebody is smoking crack. That’s ridiculous. He’s a first team all-league player in a power five conference. Almost as silly is the thought put forward that Huerter should be point guard next year. He’s a great passer and unselfish to a fault but he’s not built to bring it up against pressure and be a primary scorer. If you’re going to turn a wing into a point guard (or try to) the most likely candidate might be incoming freshman Darryl Morsell. Don’t be surprised to see that should Melo bolt.

There will likely be further attrition on the roster. Whether it’s from one of the players wanting more time or the coaching staff suggesting that one or two guys move on, I would be surprised if the roster remained as-is by the beginning of the summer. One of the trademarks we’ve all grown accustomed to is the way Turgeon and staff have regularly found talent late in the impressive recruiting talent late in the process.

I understand all of the pain and angst that comes with a 4-7 finish after a 20-2 start. The fact is that this team lost four starters to professional basketball last year but the program has reached the point of stability where it was able to weather that and win 24 games – 12 in a conference that we now recognize is as good as any in the country. Next year we could be looking at four starters coming back from a 24 win team and the very real possibility the roster will be augmented by incoming freshman and, perhaps, a grad transfer. What program in America wouldn’t want that?

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Chris Knoche

Chris Knoche, a former player and head coach at American University who has worked in radio and television for the past twelve years, is in his 15th season as the color analyst for the Terps men’s basketball radio broadcasts. Knoche spent 17 seasons at American, playing the 1979-80 and 1980-81 seasons under former Terrapin coach Gary Williams before moving into an assistant coaching position and later servicing seven seasons (1991-1997) as the Eagles’ head coach. Prior to joining Maryland’s broadcast crew, he worked 40-50 games each of the previous two seasons as a color commentator, including stints on the Ivy League Game of the Week on Westwood One/CBS Radio and Ivy League Game of the Week for DirecTV and for HDTV. He has also worked telecasts for ESPN and CSN, in addition to doing radio and television analysis for George Mason University games. Currently he makes regular guest appearances on the highly rated “The Sports Reporters” on ESPN 980 in Washington, DC.

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