I’m going to try and atone for the lack of anything Terps related on New Years Day. As usual, it was spent paying for my New Years Eve, and all of my focus was spent trying to ward off the evenly spread pain all over my body. Predictably, after yet another shaky opening, Maryland shed the Jaguars to finish the 2012 Boring Games at 11-1 (Kentucky was many things, but not boring).
So, before Maryland gets their first ACC matchup of the year on Saturday, I want to recap what I gleaned from a majority unimposing non-conference slate. I was going to call this “What we know/what we don’t”, but after figuring out that most people don’t eat their ice cubes when they drink water, I don’t know what you all are thinking anymore (it’s just more water, AND IT’S COLD. Did you not eat the sugar stick in Fun Dip either?) So we’ll just go with what I know.
3 Things I Know
Dez Wells is an All-ACC caliber player: This one hasn’t surprised me at all. Wells’ pedigree was of the highest order when he came into CP: a 4 star recruit who produced as a freshman at a major program. He’s lived up to that and more, and while I think there are certain players that will shrink from the conference play spotlight, I think Dez has only shown the tip of the iceberg. Turgeon’s strategy to keep the starters’ legs fresh while stretching out the bench has essentially capped Wells’ scoring at 12.3 ppg. Now that the big time games are starting, Wells’ odometer should start turning noticeably faster, which means his numbers should catch up to his quality. In games where he’s played at least 25 minutes, his averages stack up with the best players in the conference, even including his putrid opener against Kentucky (15.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 59.2 FG%). 59.2% shooting from a 6’5” guard is borderline unheard of, and reflects Dez’s ability to get his shot from anywhere on the floor. The increase in minutes will result in Maryland’s first All-ACC first team guard since Greivis Vasquez.
Mark Turgeon should run a big man boot camp: There are a lot of overweight big guys in college basketball: Miami’s Reggie Johnson, UCLA/Georgetown’s Josh Smith, Maryland even housed one for two years with Braxton Dupree. But even with all the talent in the world, conditioning eventually wins out in college basketball. Which is why it’s been so great to see that Charles Mitchell and Shaq Cleare have gotten that message loud and clear. Shaq’s talent was obviously more on the radar, but Turgeon’s description of Cleare in high school did include the words ‘fat kid’. Cleare looks like he’s going to be a solid bench contributor all season long. His good footwork around the basket has been nearly as surprising as his competent free throw shooting. There’s not one team in the ACC with a second forward off the bench as talented as him. The real revelation though, has been the newly minted starter Mitchell. Even though he was a little undersized and overweight coming out of Georgia, I’m now legitimately shocked that more programs didn’t take a look at this kid. Mitchell has been one of the most tenacious and more importantly productive rebounders in all of Division 1. He’s 11th in the ACC with 6.8 rebounds per game despite playing replacement minutes (16.7 mpg) up until the last two contests. Considering he’ll ideally be getting starter minutes now (about 20 mpg), there’s no reason not to expect between 8 and 9 rpg from him the rest of the way.
Logan Aronhalt needs more minutes: And those minutes should be coming at the expense of Padgett, Allen, and Layman. The best 3-point percentage shooter in the ACC (55.8%, 5th in NCAA) should not be relegated to fewer minutes a game than Layman, who has contributed very little to this point. Logan does have a kind of Bruce Bowen thing going on where he’s unreal from three while somehow struggling at the line (4/8 may be a small sample size, but still). With the competition getting better, running effective half court sets will be the key to a coherent offense. Aronhalt’s presence on the perimeter will give teams pause when they think of doubling down on Len or Wells.
3 Things I Don’t Know
Can Alex Len dominate? If every college basketball expert in the known world are to be believed, Maryland is home to at worst a top 10 pick, and at best the possible #1 overall selection in the 2013 draft. It’s pretty obvious that Turgeon has been trying to keep his starters rested for conference play. But in his time on the floor, Alex Len hasn’t really dominated the way you would expect a high pick to (at least on the offensive end). There were several games where the competition dictated that Len could’ve finished with 20/10 with his eyes closed, and those numbers never materialized. The chicken or the egg argument is whether Len isn’t getting enough minutes to get comfortable, or whether he’s just not comfortable enough as a player to try and take over a game. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in front of my blurry laptop screen bewildered about Len not pushing around some 6’8” scrub guarding him. It’s like Batman and his utility belt: you know all that cool stuff is there, why doesn’t he just use it more often? For better or worse, now everyone from Maryland fans to NBA scouts will get to see what happens when Turgeon takes the reins off his finest import.
Is there a backup point guard? I’m not sure about everyone else, but this is DEFCON 5 for me. Throughout the first two weeks of the season, I was waiting for what I thought was the inevitable demise of Pe’Shon Howard. He looked slow and his offensive game had all but vanished. But what’s exciting about Howard is how truly unexciting he is. He rarely inspires supreme confidence or supreme doubt, and he just consistently pushes along while grabbing a few boards and putting up an outstanding assist to turnover ratio (3.13 A/T, 1st in ACC, 36th in NCAA). What’s actually scary is what’s behind Howard: if you’re looking at it from a realistic standpoint, Seth Allen is the only other point guard on the roster. If you’re looking at it from a “warm bodies” standpoint, Nick Faust or Logan Aronhalt could also probably play there in a pinch. All three of those things are bad: the best A/T of the three belongs to Faust at 1.64. At this point in his career Pe’Shon’s legs are probably as sturdy as the wood in Angry Birds. If he goes down, or even just gets in foul trouble a few games in a row, the already high turnover numbers will skyrocket.
What is Nick Faust? At this point, I’m not even sure he knows. Faust has been the equivalent of Brian Matusz thus far in his career: a brief window of success surrounded by a forest of question marks. His athleticism is undeniable, but in areas where he reportedly made offseason strides (his decision making and more importantly his shot), Faust has shown little to no progress. He’s still taking WAY too many threes for a 27% 3pt shooter, he still has issues with bowling through people on his way to basket, and there are games where you question whether he’s deserving of the big minutes that he gets. Faust’s defensive prowess and solid rebounding should keep him in the starting five for at least the next month, but at what point does he start losing minutes to sixth man Seth Allen or hot shooting Logan Aronhalt? I’m still hoping that Faust finally discovers his identity. If he does and can conceal some of his shortcomings, Maryland has a chance to have an extremely talented top 3 players. But at this point, you have to start wondering if another big time Baltimore recruit is going to underwhelm again.