Several months from now, Coach Mark Turgeon will begin his 3rd season as the Head Coach of the University of Maryland, as the Terrapins as a whole begin their last season as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
It will be an important year for Turgeon, and the program as a whole. To help preview what awaits, Baltimore Sports and Life (BSL) has reached out to ESPN’s Jay Bilas for his thoughts.
In addition to his work with ESPN, be sure to check out Bilas’ book ‘Toughness‘, about developing strength on-and-off the court.
Baltimore Sports and Life is extremely appreciative of Mr. Bilas again taking his time to respond to a few questions.
(You can discuss this Q&A on the BSL Message Board, here.)
BSL: Maryland is preparing to enter their 3rd season under Coach Turgeon, which will be their last season as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. This year will see the inclusion of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame to the ACC. As you look ahead, do you believe the ACC will be the Nation’s best Conference this coming year? CBS Sports recently previewed the ACC, with their early guess at the Top 5 being Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Virgina, and Notre Dame. Does that look about right to you?
Bilas: I guess it’s never too early for predictions, but it’s too early for me. I believe all of those teams will be very good, and the ACC will be an improved league with the addition of Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame. I think Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse will be the top teams, but after that, it’s up in the air and pretty hard to predict. Once we get to October, everyone should have a better feel and idea where things might shake out.
BSL: Out-of-conference, MD will face Connecticut in Brooklyn, participate in the Paradise Jam (Marist / Loyola Marymount / Northern Iowa / Providence / Vanderbilt / Morgan State / La Salle) in the U.S. Virgin Islands, travel to Ohio State for the ACC / Big Ten Challenge, face George Washington at the Verizon Center for the BB&T Classic in DC, and take on Tulsa at home.
Clearly the games vs. the Huskies, and Buckeyes highlight the O.O.C. schedule. What are your general thoughts on how UConn and OSU project?
Bilas: Ohio State is going to be a Top Ten team, and UConn has terrific guards and should be competing for an NCAA Tournament berth. Those are two high-quality non-conference games.
BSL: The primary issue the Terrapins faced last year was with their PG play, particularly in the half-court. Despite finishing 44th overall in assists, MD was 294th overall in Turnover Margin. Pe’Shon Howard has left the program, and transferred to USC. Highly regarded Freshman Roddy Peters joins the guard mix, but had his Senior season ended with surgery to fix a torn labrum in December. Even if he wasn’t coming off that injury, he is often described as a combo guard, and it would be a lot to ask of any Freshman to run the offense.
Since Steve Blake does not have any remaining eligibility, there are no great answers for MD here. None of their guards are pure lead guards. My sense is that if MD is not going to be better with the ball, they have to create more turnovers (311th in steals last year) defensively. Agree here? Disagree?
Bilas: Point guard play is important, no question. But, the point guard isn’t responsible for every turnover and every questionable shot, which is the same thing as a turnover. To be a more efficient team, limiting turnovers is something every player on the roster has to embrace. Turnover differential is important, but I do not believe that Maryland has to change the way it plays defense to offset turnovers. Maryland just has to be more efficient offensively. There is more than one way to win, and more than one way to play defense. If any team can limit easy baskets, limit lay-ups and open threes, and force the opponent into one, challenged shot, that team can win, and often does.
Baltimore Sports and Life: On the other-hand, MD was 11th Nationally in FG% Defense. That was largely attributed to Coach Turgeon preaching to Maryland’s players to get back and play sound defense, with Len defending the rim. If MD commits to more of a pressing / trapping defense, will the trade-off likely be easier scoring chances for opposing offenses?
Bilas: Pressing creates opportunities. It creates an opportunity for the defense to create a turnover, and an opportunity for the offense to beat the pressure and get easy baskets. But, you can also use presses for different reasons. You can press to speed a team up, and you can press to slow a team down. Pressing and pushing tempo may work for some, but it is not for everyone. It comes down to what you believe, and Mark has proven that his teams can and do play tough, hard nosed defense. With better depth and athleticism, Maryland may decide to press more in certain situations. We’ll see.
BSL: Len’s departure to the NBA, leaves MD’s primary post players as Sophomore’s Shaq Cleare, Charles Mitchell, Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz, and Freshman Damonte Dodd. Cleare and Mitchell are both below-the-rim players who eat up a lot of space. Both move well, with Cleare showing some offensive skill, and Mitchell being an impact player on the boards. Smotrycz’s game is said to resemble Duke’s departed F Ryan Kelly, and he apparently performed well in-practice all of this past year. Dodd has good size and athleticism, and will be asked to give minutes off the bench similar to what Cleare and Mitchell provided as Freshman. Thoughts on how this group should match-up in league play?
Bilas: (This question was overlooked by Mr. Bilas. BSL has followed-up, and will edit in his response if/when received.)
BSL: As a Freshman, Jake Layman’s play was often a barometer of how the Terps were going to play overall. What did you see out of him?
Bilas: Layman can really shoot it, and he was able to stretch the defense at times last year. He is still a young player, but he had a good start to his college career and played very well in some big games. I don’t know whether Layman is a barometer, but any time you have players that can make shots, it really helps your team win. Layman can make shots, and he can do much more than that. As he gets stronger, I think he will.
BSL: While miscast as a PG, Seth Allen showed explosive ability during this Freshman year. The undersized lefty showed an ability to score in a variety of ways, from knocking down shots, to floaters, to scoring off the bounce. His Freshman year ended when he a broke bone in his shooting hand (he’s elected not to have surgery). Am I overestimating him when I say the undersized Guard looks to have major scoring ability?
Bilas: Allen is dynamic as a scorer. I really like him, and as he matures, he should be even better.
BSL: Nick Faust ended his Sophomore year playing his best ball from the end of February on. For the season, his FG%, 3pt FG%, and FT% all improved. What does he have to add to his game this Summer, to take the next step?
Bilas: If Faust improves his handling and decision making, and improves his shooting consistency, he will take a major step forward. He has really good talent and is a good player.
BSL: Maryland was at their best last year, when the ball was in Dez Wells hands, and he was committed to driving and attacking the rim. Do you look at him as being a guy that should be an All-Conference talent this coming year?
Bilas: Wells certainly has that level of ability. But, the best way to become an All-ACC player is to win. Unless you lead the league in scoring, very few players from non-winning teams take home awards. I tend to think that if Wells or any other player in the league dedicates himself to doing what it takes to win, the rest will take care of itself.
BSL: The Terrapins Coaching staff has excited Maryland fans with the verbals of Class of 2014 Guards Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley, and Jared Nickens. Looking at who should be part of the roster going into ’14-’15, the first season as part of the Big Ten has the potential to be very promising. Do you think MD will enter their new conference, coming off of a return to the NCAA Tournament?
Bilas: I think that Maryland is capable of reaching the NCAA Tournament. I believe that Mark Turgeon is an outstanding coach and is doing a really good job of building the Maryland program. The move to the Big Ten will be a challenge, but Maryland is capable of going into the league with another NCAA appearance. I see them as a Tournament team, but what I believe doesn’t carry the day. You have to win games. Everyone does.