The University of Maryland’s Men’s Basketball team is preparing to enter their last year as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. That back-drop will linger all season as a major story; but the true focus of this 2013-14 season is for the Terrapins to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.
What is the path back to the Dance for the Terps?
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
1) Maryland was 294th in Turnover Margin last year. Unless that number drastically changes for the better, there really is nothing else to discuss. Sophomore Seth Allen is going to get first crack to run the offense, and Coach Turgeon has been fairly enthusiastic about Allen’s development overall – and as a PG in particular. In the open court I think Allen will be excellent. Will he be able to run the offense in the 1/2 court? Overall though, Allen is really a 2G in a PG body. MD is also going to need Allen’s scoring ability. Will Allen be able to find a balance between scoring, and getting his teammates involved?
1a) Many Terps fans have the opinion that Allen will eventually be moved to the 2G, with Peters taking over PG at some point this year. I’m not sure that happens, but Peters is going to be extremely important to this team regardless. Like Allen, it sounds like Peters will be outstanding in the open court, and be a work in progress in the 1/2 court. The Freshman has good size, and in several interviews he has talked about how he believes he will be able to help right away. That he wants to be a facilitator. After missing pretty much all of his Senior year of HS with a labrum injury, Peters has been re-working his shot. He’s also added strength since arriving on campus. He has to give effective minutes from the beginning, and improve month-to-month.
2) Maryland’s season begins in Brooklyn November 8th vs. UConn. The other notable aspects of MD’s Out-of-Conference (OOC) schedule is the Paradise Jam (Marist / Loyola Marymount / Northern Iowa / Providence / Vanderbilt / Morgan State / La Salle) in the U.S. Virgin Islands, a trip to Ohio State for the ACC / Big Ten Challenge, George Washington at the Verizon Center for the BB&T Classic in DC, and games vs. Oregon State, and Tulsa at home.
Beating a Top 10-15 team like Ohio State on their floor would obviously be a huge scalp. Outside of that, beating UConn (who looks like a Top 15-25 team) on a neutral court would be a win that helps all year.
The field at the Paradise Jam is pretty middling. There is an opportunity for a couple of Top 100 RPI wins though, and that needs to occur.
The three games vs. GW, Oregon State, and Tulsa are also games MD should (and needs to) win. Last year, the RPI of those three teams ranged from 128th to 181st. Losing any of those games would likely constitute a ‘bad loss’. Each of those teams are probably capable of beating MD if the Terps are off on a particular night. Last year MD had 6 teams on their schedule with an RPI at 264th or worse. Adding Oregon State and Tulsa should help avoid that happening again, but you only benefit if you win.
Bottom-line is that the Terps have 13 games on their OOC schedule, and need to win at-least 11. Clearly any crazy upsets to Marist (opening round of the Paradise Jam), Abilene Christian, Morgan State, Florida Atlantic, or Boston University would greatly hurt the overall resume.
3) With the arrivals of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame; the ACC appears to be the premier Conference for this coming year. In the Pre-Season Media Poll, Maryland was projected to finish 7th. If the Terps finish 7th in the best Conference in the Country; MD figures to be squarely on the bubble come Selection Sunday.
Before 1 game has tipped off, MD should not be relinquishing any higher aspirations they may have (such as competing for the Conference out-right); but what we are attempting is a realistic conversation here in October of what MD needs to do to Dance in March. The minimum goal to me should be a Top 5 finish. Even without round-robin play, a Top 5 finish in the ACC; should have MD in good shape. Ideally, you want to finish Top 4, as the Top 4 teams will each receive a bye in the ACC Tournament.
Duke, North Carolina, and Syracuse will each head into this year as Top 13 teams. Right now you would expect them to finish 1-3 in the league. The Terps get Syrcause at-home, and do not travel to the Carrier Dome. They do travel to Durham, and Chapel Hill; but do not face the Blue Devils or Tar Heels at home.
That means that MD only plays those teams 3 times in the 18 game league schedule. You don’t get the benefit of adding to your Strength of Schedule, with home-and-homes with each of those powers, or the additional opportunities of getting notable wins vs. those teams. If you want to actually compete with those teams, those 3 games head-to-head will be important.
Realistically, you have to figure at this point that Maryland will be competing with UVA, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Boston College, Florida State, and NCST for positioning within the Conference. The Terps have home-and-homes with the Cavaliers, Panthers, and Seminoles. They host the Irish. They travel to face the Eagles, and Wolfpack. The 9 games against these teams will be very telling. MD needs to defend their home-floor in these games.
4) Maryland is not going to be a great shooting team, but they do have some players (particularly Layman, Smotrycz, Allen, Wells, & Faust) that should knock down their share of 3′s. If Layman and Smotrycz can be stretch 4′s; that will help open up spacing for everyone else.
5) The Terps were 3rd Nationally in rebounding last year. They were also 38th Nationally in FG%, and 11th in FG% allowed. Obviously the play of the departed Alex Len was a large part of those successes. MD figures to play differently without Len. Mitchell is strong on the offensive boards, but he is not 7’1. I’m optimistic on both both Mitchell and Cleare being able to provide a little bit more than garbage put-backs; but the offensive game for both is raw. Certainly the Terps are not going to have an offense where the focus is getting the ball inside to either one. The FG% allowed last year was excellent, but the Terps were unable to force turnovers. They sat back in a sound defense, and allowed Len to defend the rim. They don’t have the shot-blocking presence this year (Dodd looks to be an athletic big, but he’s going to be more of a rotation big – like Cleare and Mitchell last year – vs. pushing for starting minutes).
As imperative as it is for the Terps to reduce their own turnovers vs. last year, it will be just as important for this MD team to consistently force turnovers of their own. Coach Turgeon has mentioned multiple times this Fall about wanting Faust to adopt the roll of defensive stopper. Will Faust commit to that? If so, with him, Allen, Wells, Layman, Peters – MD has the athletes to actively press, trap, and play the passing lanes. Even if Mitchell and Cleare are not providing a lot of easy buckets in the interior, if MD is scoring in transition; they can keep their FG% relatively strong.
6) The best bet for returning to the Dance is having players you can rely on in each game. Players whose performance is consistent to the point where you know what to expect. The best bets for that with this team are Wells, and Layman. If MD consistently puts the ball in Wells hands, and allow him to drive and attack; MD should hear their name called on Selection Sunday.