While it’s true Maryland has already begun Big Ten play and is currently 1-1 in one of college basketball’s best conferences, the bulk of the interleague gauntlet lies ahead of the Terps. The 12-point road loss at Indiana looked worse than the score indicates. The narrow, overtime win at home against Penn State wasn’t exactly inspiring, but the Terps found a way to buckle down and pull off a win.

But those two lackluster glimpses into the progress Maryland has made since its three-game losing streak in mid-November are still leaving Terps fans asking, “Can this team put on a respectable showing in the Big Ten this season?”

It’s a fair question seeing as how all of Maryland’s non-Big Ten wins this season have come against opponents ranked 183 or lower by KenPom. They have also all come in the friendly confines of the Xfinity Center in College Park.

The latest of the victories came Tuesday in a 40-point win over a 1-9 Alcorn State team (ranked 311 by KenPom). The Braves are truly one of the worst teams in college basketball and one of the easiest opponents on Maryland’s schedule. But could a cupcake matchup like that and the Terps’ next one against Nicholls State (ranked 268 by KenPom) be just what the doctor ordered right now before heading West to challenge blue blood UCLA?

Taking it a step further, Maryland will come home after its bout with the Bruins and have one more non-conference game before Big Ten play begins. That matchup will be against Coppin State, the lowest rated team on Maryland’s schedule according to KenPom.

If playing three of the worst teams in college basketball over a four-game stretch isn’t enough for a team to work on itself and get some confidence back, I don’t know what is. It’s no secret that the Terps have numerous areas where they have to improve if they want to compete well in the Big Ten. Here are some of the glaring ones:

Offense

Shooting: Perhaps the most glaring and obvious need for the Terps is their shooting, or lack thereof. Maryland currently ranks 282nd nationally in effective field goal percentage and the three-point percentage is even worse, ranking 352nd in college basketball. To put that into perspective, there are only 10 teams in all of Division I men’s basketball shooting worse from deep than the Terps, and Maryland is the only team of the bunch from a high-major conference. A lot of it has to do with the lack of off-the-ball movement and spacing in Maryland’s offense right now. Guys aren’t getting many open looks from deep and the numbers are reflecting that. But there are still a lot of misses on open shots and Kevin Willard and his staff have to find a way to improve this team’s shooting before conference play picks back up. Maryland did make fourteen 3’s against Alcorn State. Maybe seeing the ball go in the basket some, raises the collective confidence.

Turnovers: When you’re not shooting well, you have to be extra efficient on offense to stay in games. The Terps have not been, ranking 192nd nationally in offensive turnovers. They’re simply not putting enough pressure on opposing offenses to force them into mistakes. Willard was brought to College Park with hopes of him implementing more press defense like he did at Seton Hall, but that has yet to come to fruition this season, so the Terps aren’t getting many easy buckets or extra possessions in games.

Free Throws: This is the team stat that’s baffling because Maryland is one of the best team’s in the country at getting to the free throw line, which you would think could help offset their poor shooting. But the bad shooting has extended to the charity stripe and the Terps are only hitting 70.4% of their free throws, ranking 209th in college basketball. Maryland is still getting close to 27% of its points from the free throw line, which is fifth in the nation, but if they start hitting those shots at a higher clip that number could even grow higher.

Defense

Rebounds: Simply put, the Terps are doing fine at rebounding on offense, ranking 34th nationally, but have been pretty on the other end, giving opponents numerous shots per possession far too regularly. In the loss against Indiana, the Terps allowed the Hoosiers to rip down 15 offensive boards, which was a major factor in the game. It seemed like they were starting to turn things around after holding Penn State to just nine offensive rebounds, but then the Terps allowed 14 to Alcorn State.

Post defense: To be clear, Maryland’s post defense hasn’t been bad. The defense overall hasn’t been bad, ranking 19th overall by KenPom. But the numbers clearly show how teams are choosing to attack the Terps, and that’s by pounding the ball inside. More than 58% of Maryland’s opponent’s points are coming on 2-point field goals, which is the 19th highest rate in the country. Teams also shoot the second-lowest percentage of three pointers per game against the Terps, which helps bolster this trend. Knowing this, being solid in the post is a must for the Terps.

Defending passing lanes: Given how offenses are attacking the Maryland defense, the Terps could do a better job of shutting down passing lanes and being aware of cutters in half-court sets. Maryland’s opponents get an assist on more than 45% of their made field goals against the Terps, which ranks 72nd in the nation. Since teams are so hesitant to shoot from deep against Maryland, most of these assists are going to back door cutters or big men in the post. The Terps need to be aware of this and use their length to disrupt these passing lanes. That should only improve a defense that appears to be the strength of this team.

Pat Donohue
Pat Donohue

Terps Analyst

Pat has been covering sports in the DMV area since 2012. He is a former Washington Redskins beat reporter for PressBoxDC.com and has been covering University of Maryland football and basketball recruiting and daily beats for Rivals.com’s Terrapin Sports Report since 2013. Pat graduated from College Park with his master’s degree in journalism and has received bylines in publications such as USA TODAY Sports, The Philadelphia Inquirer, SB Nation, and Yahoo! Sports. A Philadelphia native, Pat enjoys fishing, golfing, and playing fantasy sports when he’s not covering or watching a game.

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