Terps Basketball: Opportunity Still Exists
Some of these are a little harder to write than others.Currently the Maryland Terrapins sit at 15-7 overall and 4-5 in the Big Ten Conference. The situation they find themselves in now is one borne of both bad luck and their own doing. Lack of performance and results in any sport can be especially frustrating to a team and its fan base. The good news is that – for this team- there is still an opportunity to turn things around and make something of this season.
They just better hurry.
For the want of a couple of possessions we could be discussing a team on a three game win streak and 6-3 conference record – good enough to be in the top four in the Big Ten standings. The losses at Michigan and Indiana may actually end up being more heartbreaking than they were when they happened if those two L’s should keep the team out of the NCAA tournament in March.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
So instead of a team on a mini-heater going into an enormous weekend battle with Michigan State,we’re talking about a team thats reeling some and trying to figure out what in the world it has to do to get a win.
The good news is that, when the NCAA tournament selection committee goes to pick its at-large field of 37 teams, they have to pick someone. The Terps are among a number of teams in Division 1 that find themselves needing to do some work to get to the Dance.
While I think this team – as it is currently constituted – is plenty good enough to get to play in the tournament, they have a lot of work to do.
A couple of weeks ago I thought they were good enough to win 11 or 12 games in conference play. To accomplish that at this point would require pulling a rabbit out of the hat this weekend against MSU and/or winning at Purdue next week. Realistically you could be looking at 9 or 10 wins in the league at this point. Nine would almost certainly mean you have work to do in the conference tournament. Ten might mean the same depending upon who they beat on the way to the Big Ten Tournament in New York City. And any of this will also be predicated upon what other D1 teams are doing elsewhere.
Again, there have to be 37 at-large teams to fill out the brackets.
To find some success – whether it’s this weekend against Sparty or any remaining game on the schedule is going to require certain things from this team – all of which they are capable of. In no particular order… This team needs point guard Anthony Cowan to play like the distributor he was against Minnesota and not the shoot-first point he was against Indiana. Watching Oklahoma’s all world Freshman Trae Young completely tone down his game last night and incorporate his teammates in a season defining win over arch-rival Kansas should be a template for all scoring point guards to emulate.
The Terps also need to find Kevin Huerter twice as many shots per game as he is currently getting. Every coach loves to put in an assortment of new plays and looks this time of year. Let’s put in the “Huerter series.” Include in there some options for him playing out of the post. With his size and touch and passing ability he might just kill in there.
With Huerter and Cowan playing all the minutes they are currently playing its up to Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley to produce off the bench in their limited minutes. For the most part you can’t play them together because of defensive issues and you don’t need each of them to step up every game…but one of them has to for sure.
I’m not sure what to make of the interior play. Senior Michal Cekovsky plays a couple of games where you think he has finally seen the light and becomes the player we always hoped he would be. And then he has a game like Indiana where can’t cover anyone and, worse, cannot finish anything around the basket. With Freshman Bruno Fernando being both banged up and young there’s so much that falls to Ceko. He simply has to be way better than he was against the Hoosiers.
Freshman Joshua Tomaic has been one of the most pleasant surprises on the team. He may find himself playing the minutes he is because of injuries to others but he has more than earned his keep with his play. He has a knack for being at the right spot at the right time and is a good enough shooter to keep defenses honest as they defend Huerter and Cowan. If Bruno is unable to play for some time because of the ankle sprain he had against Indiana then Tomaic becomes a 25 minute per game guy.
I won’t lower expectations of getting to the tournament for two reasons. The first is simply the fact that this is a basketball school where there should ALWAYS be the expectation of getting to the tournament and beyond. Plenty of schools have injuries like Maryland. There’s still enough talent to get to Dance.
Another reason not to move on to next year is because the college basketball landscape is so liquid next year might as well be five years from now. Rosters have become fluid…guys come and go all the time. The roster you hope to have for next year on this day in January may never be close to what you end up with next November. Add to that the fact that the NCAA is considering removing the one year residency requirement for transfers and the Wild West just got wilder and anarchy may well prevail.
The lineup and prospects for next year look intriguing enough but there are still so many variables. The Terps should return Cowan and Huerter and that alone should comprise one of the best backcourts in the country. They’ll add depth at most positions in the backcourt which is very positive given this season’s attrition. I suspect that current Freshman Darryl Morsell will be a completely different player next year than he is this season. He currently has no confidence at all in his shot but it is structurally sound and he works his tail off on it. Because he really isn’t making perimeter shots defenses are allowed to jump high ball screens that Cowan likes to use and they’re allowed to help off on Huerter.
The most obvious questions about next season revolve around the return of Justin Jackson and Fernando. Jackson probably showed his hand when he opted to have shoulder surgery mid-season rather than play with the injury (as he had been doing) for the remainder of the season. While the move (surgery) definitely would allow him to be health by the time NBA training camps roll around next fall; he almost certainly will not be ready to participate in the NBA combine in May. Would he enter the draft without any kind of certainty that he would actually be picked? Would he even be a likely NBA pick given the fact that the last time NBA scouts will have seen him prior to the draft he was struggling this year as a Terp?
The intentions of Fernando are every bit as puzzling. There is no question he is not ready to play in that league. Would he be the first guy ever drafted by the NBA who wasn’t ready? Of course not… we all know that league drafts as much on potential and upside as anything else. I’d love to see Bruno have one season with incoming freshman Jalen Smith but it’s a completely new day in college hoops. You almost have to assume they’re all here for one year and then be pleasantly surprised if they opt to come back.
That’s enough talk about next year.
There’s still plenty to play for over the next month.
Let’s start with Michigan State.