Terps need to clean up turnover issue; Maryland’s keys to finishing up non-conference play
With Maryland managing to split its two Big Ten games at the start of the month, following up a close loss to Purdue with an overtime win at Illinois, the focus for the Terrapins now is to finish up the semester strong both academically and with regards to its non-conference slate. With wins over Ohio and Gardner-Webb, Mark Turgeon’s team is 40 percent of the way there with a game against Catholic University set for Tuesday night. That game will be followed by a break of more than a week before Maryland completes the non-conference portion of its schedule with games against Fairleigh Dickinson and UMBC.
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It’s safe to say that Maryland will be favored in all three games, with Kenpom.com projecting blowout wins over both FDU and UMBC. It goes without saying that those games, should Maryland do what’s expected, won’t do much for Maryland’s non-conference profile with regards to the NCAA tournament. While the wins over Butler and Bucknell are both considered to be Top 100 wins by kenpom.com, going by the NCAA’s official RPI (not a fan of the RPI but they use it, so it is what it is) Maryland has just one non-conference Top 100 victory (Butler, which is ranked 40th). That will put some pressure on Maryland in Big Ten play, not just to pile up the wins but take advantage of the quality opportunities they’ll have (at Michigan State on January 2, especially).
With that profile, a shocking defeat in these final non-conference games would be especially damaging for Maryland. Results aside, what does Maryland need to do in those final three games before resuming Big Ten play with a home tilt against Penn State on December 30? Here are some keys for the Terps.
1. Get (and stay) healthy.
With the Catholic game and nine-day break in the schedule that follows, Maryland will have the opportunity to give guys who are a bit banged up some extra rest in preparation for the remaining schedule. Both Justin Jackson and Bruno Fernando sat out Saturday’s win over Gardner-Webb, with Jackson being hampered by illness and Fernando due to a sprained right ankle suffered in the win over Ohio. While it’s expected that Jackson will be able to go against Catholic, Fernando may need a little more time to get back to full strength. And that’s fine; he really doesn’t need to be used against a Division III opponents when Maryland has other options in the post.
Michal Cekovsky was solid in the win over Gardner-Webb, accounting for 12 points, six rebounds, two blocks and two assists, and Joshua Tomaic chipped in with nine points and six boards off the bench. Tuesday’s game will be a chance for those two, as well as Ivan Bender, to get more minutes — and hopefully added confidence — against a team Maryland should take care of.
2. Continue to work on the turnover issue.
For the season Maryland’s turned the ball over on 23.8 percent of its possessions according to Kenpom.com, which ranks 335th nationally and if it stood would be the program’s highest percentage dating back to 2002 (the 2007-08 team turned it over on 23.2 percent of its possessions). That number is way too high, and given how tight the Big Ten appears to be outside of Michigan State (and possibly Purdue) not cleaning up this area could cost Maryland close games in league play. In the win over Gardner-Webb the Terps took a step forward, committing just 11 turnovers and finishing the game with a percentage of 16.4 percent.
Of the four players who tend to have the ball in their hands the most, three have personal turnover rates of 24.6 percent or higher: Darryl Morsell (27.2), Jackson (25.6) and Kevin Huerter (24.6). One way for Maryland to account for the fact that they don’t have another “true” point guard besides Anthony Cowan Jr. is to let these other players make plays off the dribble, but that can be tough to do when they’re turning the ball over. While some miscues have come as a result of players trying to be aggressive offensively, there have also been plenty that come as a result of simple errors such as bad passes or mishandling the basketball. That should be a focus for Maryland as it tackles the remainder of its non-conference slate, and it would certainly benefit the team in conference play.
3. Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens stepping forward.
Here we are again, with the redshirt junior and senior wings in spots where they could be of value to Maryland if they can get going offensively. In the case of Wiley he’s started seven of the 12 games in which he’s played, averaging 6.1 points and 2.1 rebounds in just over 21 minutes of action per game. As for Nickens, he’s played just over 11 minutes per contest and averaging 4.3 points per game on 51.5 percent shooting from the field. Maryland clearly has primary scoring options, so neither one will be asked to suddenly become consistent double-digit scorers. But both Wiley and Nickens are in positions where they can provide the Terps with a boost offensively if they can get going.
Wiley scored eight points in the win over Gardner-Webb, just three fewer than he managed to score in the four games prior, while also grabbing five rebounds. As for Nickens he made both of his three-point attempts in the 82-60 victory, a nice development after playing a total of eight minutes in the wins over Illinois and Ohio. While Catholic won’t represent the level of competition that they’ll see for the remainder of the season, it could very well be a game that gets those two the shots (and hopefully resulting confidence) they need to help Maryland reach its goals moving forward. That all being said, we’ve been here before with both so it would be understandable if some remain pessimistic when it comes to Wiley and Nickens being able to improve their production.
4. Darryl Morsell continues to develop.
This plays into the second point, as Morsell has been one of the culprits when it comes to turning the ball over. He’s averaging more turnovers (2.4) per game than assists (1.6), which takes away from his ability to make plays offensively. After tallying eight points, four rebounds, three assists and three turnovers in the win over Ohio, his first start of the season, Morsell contributed 18 points, three rebounds, three assists and two turnovers off the bench against Gardner-Webb. He’s shown the ability to provide a spark off the bench for Maryland, and they’ll certainly need that moving forward.
And as he gains more experience, the hope is that he’ll managed to clean up the turnover issue (three or more in seven of Maryland’s 12 games) some as well. Morsell’s a player who can apply pressure to opposing defenses because of his skill set, and if he becomes a more efficient player that will only benefit Maryland in conference play.