Courtesy of the Washington Times

In my experience, there are two types of under-performing sports teams to root for, and I have the distinct pleasure of having a basketball team in each camp right now. The Maryland Terrapins basketball team is the kind of under-performing that’s ultimately forgivable. They kind of remind me of every round of golf I’ve ever played. Every once in a while, for a streak of 2 or 3 holes, I look like an actual golfer. My drives are straight, my irons are smooth, and when I chip it doesn’t look like I’m trying to butcher a live cat. Things are good.

And then, just as quickly as that blissful oasis appeared, everything crashes back down to earth. My drives develop a wanderlust, my irons go from smooth to chunky, and you couldn’t identify the aforementioned cat by its dental records. But ultimately, I don’t really get that upset about it, and why? Because I know I’m not good enough to adequately correct my mistakes mid-round.

Maryland has the very same issue. In the first halves of the Cornell and Wake Forest games, they played some beautifully cohesive basketball. The ball moved effectively, Stoglin looked like he was playing pop a shot, and Alex Len’s strengths shone brightly. All was right with the world.

But the issue with that “zone” is the same as the one I encounter during golf. They don’t find the zone, they stumble into it. And because they don’t know how they got there, once the slightest thing goes awry, they fight to try to figure out how the hell they found it in the first place. Forced shots and turnovers ensue en masse (see the 21-3 run by Florida State).

The Terps are more than likely not a tournament team this year, but it won’t be because of lack of talent. Any time you have the leading scorer in the conference, there’s always a chance that UNC or Duke have their Buster Douglas moment against Stoglin and company. I am going to suggest three things that Maryland can do to make their swings less violent, and their good play more sustained.

I Wanna Be Like Mych:
There haven’t been a lot of positives about Maryland’s play the last five games, but one that has really jumped out at me has been the play of Mychal Parker. I don’t think there’s a more athletic player on the team, and after spending last year in the best seat in the house, it finally looks like the game is slowing down for him. His jump shot looks cleaner, he’s fighting hard for rebounds, and his drives to the basket result in a blocking foul or points more often than not. All of these factors add up to him needing more minutes.

Clearly these won’t come at the expense of Mosley, the senior leader who -despite recently underperforming – is the anchor for this team on the floor. So it’s time for Maryland to make the Parker for Faust switch. This is no reason to give up on Faust completely. He’s just one of the many 18 year olds who can’t seamlessly adjust to college ball as a freshman.

Right now, he looks tentative and jittery with the ball, his assists are just as common as his turnovers, and his jump shot is an explosion of limbs with the accuracy of a shotgun blast (32% FG, 19% 3pt). Turgeon needs to limit his playing time in favor of a steadier hand.

A lot of people gave up on Mychal Parker after last year. As Maryland’s top recruit, he barely played (6 MPG), and when he did get in Gary had a quick hook for his constant mental errors. He’s now getting 19 minutes a game to Faust’s 26 even though he’s been a better shooter, rebounder, and defender for this entire season. In the last two games he’s outscored Sean Mosley despite playing 24 less minutes. At this juncture, we know what Mosley is (an undersized forward with a great motor and schizophrenic scoring), and we know what Faust isn’t (an ACC caliber starter). Parker’s play merits more minutes, and I personally want to know whether he’s the next Sean Mosley or the next Landon Milbourne.

James is hungry:
Feed him. Last year, I never thought I would say these words, but James Padgett needs the ball more. Alex Len may have a lot more raw talent, but Padgett is stronger with the ball, and has a wider array of post moves (another sentence I thought I’d never say).

Right now there’s an opening for the second scorer behind Terrell Stoglin, and I think the strongest argument is for Padgett. He’s far and away Maryland’s most efficient scorer (51.3%), and after a rough start from the line, he’s rounded into form since the start of ACC play (73% FT’s in last 5 games). Half the time the guy doesn’t even need to set himself up, he leads the ACC in offensive rebounds per game (4.0). Not to mention the benefits that an effective post presence yields for the whole offense: higher percentage shots, and better looks for outside shooters.

He may not be Jordan Williams on the block, but with Howard, Faust, and Mosley erratic at best and irrelevant at worst, Padgett would provide a steady presence to counterbalance Stoglin’s mercurial ability. For a team that serves up turnovers like a Dutch bakery, simplifying the offense with more post entry passes couldn’t hurt either. Maryland is 9-1 when Padgett scores double digits this year, and 3-0 when he takes 10+ shots, it’s time to test whether those numbers hold true against some stiffer competition.

Stop force feeding me Alex Len:
Not just for my sake but for his. A lot of people (myself included) thought that after his first few out of conference games, Len would be the player to make the Terps bubble relevant. He’s not. Not right now anyways.

It’s easy to be seduced by the package that Len offers. He’s a true 7-footer with a nice shooting touch and surprising athleticism. But behind that shiny packaging, the necessary parts just aren’t there right now. When he puts the ball on the floor (which he shouldn’t be doing as much in the first place) it looks like he’s dribbling with oven mitts.

Because he doesn’t box out well, he’s routinely beaten for rebounds by guys who can’t reach his nose. And he’s just not in shape to play 30 minutes a game of up-tempo ACC basketball yet. He’s always the last one back down the court on transition defense, and when the opponent has a mobile big man (Bernard James comes to mind) he ends up picking up bad fouls trying to cover for his mistakes.

I don’t know whose fault it is that he gets the ball on the perimeter so often, but nothing good can come of that. The kid looks like a victim from ‘Saw’ deciding what to do with the live grenade in his hands. Whoever is culpable for it, there’s really only one way to solve the issue at hand. Play Alex Len less until he’s in better shape – physically and mentally – to handle the demands of the college game.

Faust had to make the transition from apples to oranges, and he’s struggling. Just imagine what this 18 year-old Ukranian kid is going through trying to acclimate to ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING IN AMERICA. The only way Maryland can screw up a kid this gifted is by forcing him to be the savior when he’s the one that needs some saving right now.

So there are my solutions. I’d want to see a starting lineup of Stoglin, Howard, Mosley, Padgett, and Pankey. Use Len as a “super sub” of sorts off the bench, and if he’s gumming up the defense on the break, give him a breather to collect himself. Parker should be the first off the bench for either Howard or Mosley, and Turgeon should test the limits of where diminishing returns start with him. I think Howard is finally starting to get his touch back after returning from knee surgery (7/12, 15 points vs. Temple), but his eyes still have a way to go (1.9 A/T ratio).

Next up is one of the two biggest games of the year (UNC on February 4th is the other), and I think the more winnable one. Duke has some legitimate weaknesses (questionable defense especially from the guards, and only one elite rebounder). Just like the rest of the games this year, Maryland CAN win, they just need to relax and let the cat be.