The most interesting place to start is at the 1, where well-established vet Pe’Shon Howard is finally healthy, but may be getting an unexpected push for minutes. Howard’s career as a Terp has been defined by a steady hand (except on his shots) and less steady legs. His injuries have really robbed Maryland fans of the capable floor leader the team has been craving since Greivis Vasquez’s departure, and someone with similar flair for the jaw dropping play. Howard’s size and plus defense would seem to make him a candidate at the 2 guard as well, but I’m not so sure.
Unless Turgeon is comfortable with running an offense with two point guards facilitating everything (similar to what the Knicks are doing right now with Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton), taking the ball out of Howard’s hands would seriously neutralize his offensive contributions. He’s far from a spot up shooter (36.9 FG % last season, unless his retooled shot proves otherwise), and is a proven asset setting up the offense.
Regardless, with Pe’Shon fully recovered from a torn ACL, this was supposed to be his year in the driver’s seat. But, in a good situation for Maryland and a tough one for Howard, incoming freshman Seth Allen seems intent in getting his hands on the wheel. Out of the entire 2012 class, Allen was giving the least pub (just look how bare his Scout.com page is).
He played high school ball in Fredricksburg against some light competition, and national recruiting websites barely took notice when Mark Turgeon snapped him up as his first official Maryland commit in May of 2011. But since the day of Allen’s commitment, Turgeon has been boasting that he went off the grid and landed a monster. Although there’s no definitive proof to that yet, the evidence is mounting and only got stronger with Allen’s exceptional game last week against IUP.
I still expect Howard to get the lion’s share of the minutes due to his experience. Adjusting to the speed of college basketball is a tall enough task as a freshman, and having to be the facilitator and keep everyone involved up’s the degree of difficulty considerably. It’s certainly been done (Greivis is a good example of that), but with an incumbent as experienced and proven as Howard, I can’t see Turgeon giving the starting job to a freshman even if it is his prized recruit.
The 2 should be filled, but it’s not going to be because the NCAA is ridiculous. Dez Wells fits perfectly at the 2, and would seemingly push all of the either lineup spots into place. Unfortunately for Maryland, the other options don’t fit as well in the puzzle. Nick Faust seems like the most logical choice, and there’s no doubt Faust will get his minutes somewhere. But Faust is a natural three, even more so now that he bulked up appropriately to better handle the physical rigors of a forward in the offseason.
Allen is also an option here, but his height would certainly be an issue, especially when staring up at Michael Snaer (6’5”, 220) or Durand Scott (6’5”, 202). At the end of the day, Faust is the best option because of the combination of size and ability to handle the ball, but his jumper had the accuracy of a shotgun blast last season (27.1% 3pt %). Reports are that he retooled it this offseason, and his repair job could very well be on full display at this spot.
The last option at shooting guard (at least the last one that could legitimately see playing time) is Logan Aronhalt. If you have a bizarrely photographic memory, yes he is THE Logan Aronhalt, the very same one that scored 13 points last year AGAINST Maryland while playing for Albany. Aronhalt definitely has experience (he’s already a college graduate), and is a slightly above average long ball shooter. He’s also something of a one-note player, only recording more than 2 assists in 30 games played last year, so he shouldn’t threaten for any time at the point. Aronhalt won’t average 11 field goal attempts per game like he did last year, which raises the question of how effective he’ll be as a scorer without the leeway to work through slumps. But without Wells eligible, his contributions are going to be necessary, so hopefully he can adjust accordingly.
The domino effect of Wells’ absence ends at the three, where Faust would ideally be a full-time employee. Instead, it looks to be a spot where Faust will make cameos, along with another new face in freshman Jake Layman. Layman’s height (6’8”) would make him seem like a natural power forward, but the way he plays certainly fits better as a swingman.
Like Allen, Layman’s high school resume reads heavy on numbers (26/14/5/4, and that five is referring to blocks) and extremely light on competition. Fortunately, he got picked to the U-18 USA basketball team this summer and thrived, so the questions about his ability versus high level competition were somewhat answered. Layman has said he wants to emulate former Florida forward Chandler Parsons, I think he reminds a lot of Kyle Singler. Considering both players won a conference player of the year award, I’d take either.
The biggest difference between the Maryland Terrapins now and a year ago is the depth in the frontcourt. Berend Weijs and Ashton Pankey (both average players with above average motors) have been replaced by two four star freshmen. Shaquille Cleare is the biggest recruit Maryland has gotten in recent memory, and at the very least should prove to be a borderline immovable force in the paint. Right now, that’s probably Cleare’s biggest skill considering he only started playing basketball four years ago.
If his workout video on YouTube is any indication, Cleare has spent the summer tuning up his post game. If the reports from the IUP game are any indication, those moves may need a little more time in the shop. Regardless the offense won’t run through Cleare, and his presence alone will make it much tougher to push around the Terps in the paint.
The polar opposite of Cleare is sophomore Alex Len. Although Len apparently tacked on mass this summer (Mark Turgeon says possibly up to 30 pounds), it’s more important that his demeanor changes this year, and that he cleans up some very fundamental mistakes (he struggled mightily with boxing out last year). I even advocated benching Len at one point last season, equally for the sake of the team and for the sake of him (there were long stretches where he looked totally lost, which makes sense considering he barely knew English).
Despite all of his flaws, it was still apparent that Len had an extremely unique set of skills for a 7-footer. His shooting touch is as delicate as you will find among centers, and he could also finish with some thunder on the fast break, two usually mutually exclusive skills for a big man. Along with Faust, Len is one of the support beams of this Terp team, which is to be expected for someone currently 12th on SI.com’s 2013 NBA Draft Big Board.
With a team so focused around young talent, it’s tough to forget about the lone Gary Williams holdover left, James Padgett. Padgett is a workmanlike power forward with very little flash to his game (although in four years his post game has progressed immeasurably). Unless Padgett has spent the summer at the Dino Gregory finishing school of mid range shooting, it’s pretty obvious what comes in the Padgett package. He lead the team in rebounds per game last season (5.8), and he’s particularly talented at getting Maryland second chances (3.34 ORPG – 3rd in ACC). With Padgett being the lone senior, what he brings to the table in a game is nearly as important as his influence off it. There are more talented players in the front court, but Padgett’s work ethic has shown tangible results on the court and off.
The last member of the front court was definitely the least heralded coming into the season, Georgia product Charles Mitchell. Even optimistic reports of Mitchell conceded that he had some major shortcomings: his height (6’8”, as tall as Jake Layman), and his athleticism (he was 265 lbs when recruited). Mitchell has taken care of one of those issues, subtracting unhealthy foods such as fried chicken from his diet, and dropping considerable weight. Immediately after committing to Maryland, Mitchell made at least one goal clear, that he was going to try to be “one of the best rebounders in the ACC.” He’s played one game this far, but even against less than stellar competition his level of production was eye grabbing. Mitchll yanked down 15 boards including a whopping 7 on the offensive end. Obviously his offensive game hasn’t even come up as a topic of conversation, and foul trouble is always an issue for underclassmen. Combining Mitchell with Padgett (a proven rebounder) and Cleare (a mountain in the middle) should yield a surplus of second chance buckets every game, taking the sting out of losing last year’s one proven shot maker in Stoglin.
Literally minutes after I posted this, Dez Wells was cleared to play immediately by the NCAA. I’m going to try and put together a coherent paragraph without sounding too excited, but this is a HUGE decision for Maryland that vaults them into legitimate contender status in the ACC. Wells’ addition should shift Faust to his more natural 3 spot, with Layman now being able to come off the bench and provide significant minutes at the 3 and 4. I’ve already written a boatload about Wells, but his game is explosive and he’s been accurately called “a one-man fast break” by Mark Turgeon.
With apologies to Faust and Len, Wells is now the most talented player on this team and gives them some proven scoring and experience that they were sorely lacking. He’s also been lauded for his defense, which combined with Faust, Allen, and Len, should make Maryland a legitimately imposing defense to play against.
Patrick Guthrie is a University of Maryland alumnus, co-host of the BSR Podcast and contributor at BaltimoreSportsReport.com. You can follow him on Twitter @patguth321.