Games that are played later on in the season against serviceable competition will definitely get a full breakdown, but when Maryland leads for 95% of the game against a clearly inferior team, 5 thoughts should cover it.
Early on, Maryland’s perimeter defense was sluggish and porous. Because of this, Morehead State had about 5 extra minutes of shoot around from beyond the three-point line. Fortunately, the basketball gods were present in College Park, and Morehead State (who as a team shot 9/23 from deep in their previous game) couldn’t knock down a trey to save their collective lives. After that initial stretch of lethargy, Turgeon must’ve gotten on the team because every Morehead three attempt was obstructed from then on.
To those of you reading the box score incredulously and thinking “well Alex Len came back to earth”, he didn’t. When you read the acronyms across the top, start at the beginning with the one marked “MIN”. In only slightly more than one half of basketball, Len was a productive offensive player and a defensive game changer. Although credited with only 3 blocked shots, Len visibly altered at least 4 more and did exactly what he should have done: dominated. Morehead had no answer for him on the inside and he knew it. I can’t see +/- in the ESPN box score, but when Len was on the court, this team went from good to dominant defensively, and they were able to focus offensive sets around his myriad of skills. A new wrinkle was Len’s comfort with the ball on the perimeter. Where most big men look clumsy and helpless, Len threaded a few needles with a dime to Faust for a layup and a few passes out of his jump, something he’s clearly worked on.
Like many teams around the country, Maryland does not have that one guy capable of filling it up from downtown. Plenty of teams have won without one, Kansas made the finals last year with only Tyshawn Taylor shooting over 35% from beyond the arc (not counting Thomas Robinson going 7/14 on the year). With such a dominating post presence though, Maryland would benefit greatly from having one guy capable of keeping a defense from crowding the post and double-teaming the forwards. The purest looking shot belongs to Layman, who also has the quick release coveted in marksmen. After knocking down an early bomb tonight, he managed to miss the following three. Aronhalt being lauded as a shooter is a slight exaggeration. He shot 35.5% last year at Albany, good not great. Allen has a pretty looking jumper as well, and it was productive in the Kentucky game, but he’s definitely more valuable taking the ball to the hole. If I were coaching at the end of games, I would have Layman in and give him the green light to launch. Just getting him some confidence in game situations could be very beneficial when the games stop being 20-point blowouts.
Both had their moments, with Allen looking better in the first 20 minutes and then Howard outshining the freshmen after halftime. What’s frustrating about Pe’Shon is that no one quite knows if he’s all the way back yet. It would be completely understandable if he were still healing, but if this is as good as Pe’Shon is going to get, I’m worried. He can still create on the break, and he’s definitely more in control than Allen, but his ability to break down a defense appears almost gone. He creates very little in the half court, and his current lack of a first step is the main culprit for that. Allen on the other hand blew by his man a number of occasions tonight, but also looked every bit of his 18 years in turning the ball over 5 times. There’s little doubt in my mind that when Allen is 22, he’ll be the kind of star that Pe’Shon never has been. Despite that, and despite maligning his seemingly mundane handling of the offense, I still prefer Howard’s consistency and levelheadedness to Allen’s mercurial playmaking ability.
Dez and Faust both showed off their explosiveness tonight. Len showed that his size will give fits to teams all season long. Even James Padgett showed off an impressive array of dips and ducks in the low post. But none of those things will matter if Maryland can’t make their free throws, it’s a curse of being able to get to the basket. Eventually opponents will just start fouling Wells and Faust on drive, and grabbing onto Padgett and Len underneath to force them to shoot free throws. Tonight the team shot barely over 50% from the charity stripe, good enough against Morehead State but not a model for success against stiffer competition. The only way I see for the team to solve this is to all take lessons from Shaquille Cleare whose shooting form would make Rick Barry vomit before seeing the results (a convincing 6/8).