I’m excited to write this preview. I’m excited because it’s finally opening day for college basketball season (one of my favorite openings days), and for the first time since my senior year of college, I’ll be at the first game. Also, the game happens to be against a team that I spent my entire childhood rooting for in varying degrees of fervency (my following the Huskies pretty much came to an end when Caron Butler left).
There’s a lot of stuff I need to get to in this preview, and I’m going to try and keep the length within reason, so let’s dive right in.
The 2013 Maryland Terrapins (A Brief History)
Hey, Terps are back! Should I have written more about this team leading up to the season? ABSOLUTELY! But it turns out it’s slightly more difficult to carve out time for combing through the roster of every ACC team when you have a full time job. At this time last year, I was slowly melding into my couch in Baltimore. Writing encompassed literally all of my daily productivity (outside of developing an encyclopedic knowledge of the Die Hard movies).
But you’re here to get the answer to questions like “how are the forwards going to fare without Alex Len?”, “is Dez Wells actually going to play point guard?” and “how do you pronounce Evan Smotrycz’s name?” I can answer two of those.
I could talk your ear off about why Alex Len didn’t work last year (in fact I just deleted two paragraphs about him that had previously taken up this space). But I’ll keep it short and sweet so we can get to this year. This team functions best when running in the open floor, Len’s game would perfectly complement a team comfortable in the half court that could spread the floor with shooters. So really, the rest of the roster and Len were oil and water.
Neither Charles Mitchell nor Shaq Cleare will be looked to be a focal point of the offense. What they lack in finesse (although I was consistently shocked by Mitchell’s footwork for a guy built like an offensive lineman) they make up for in pure size. One big question I have is how Cleare will respond as a starter. He was significantly outplayed and outhustled by Mitchell last season, and although his talent is evident, it remains to be seen if he’s in good enough shape to give Maryland 30 good minutes night in and night out. I think Mitchell is primed for a breakout season, he’s a voracious rebounder with some sneaky offensive talent.
On to the never-ending point guard question. Every answer is an imperfect solution, and that includes Dez Wells until he shows that he’s fixed the one hole in his game and stops making more turnovers than a Dutch bakery. He’s definitely not perfect, but despite what some people may think, Roddy Peters is not a better option.
It’s not that I don’t think Peters is a talented player, but just like nearly all talented high school guards, he’s never REALLY been a point guard. After all, dishing it around to your teammates is nice, but when it got to crunch time in high school, Roddy was the best option. No longer the case. Now when it gets down to the final minutes, he won’t be called upon to create shots for himself, but to try and create for everyone else. Better that he gets to sit back and take everything in than learn on the job in the toughest basketball conference in America.
And the last question, I still don’t know, and I won’t until he gets announced tomorrow at Barclays. What I DO know is that this team’s ceiling will raise significantly if more people have to learn the pronunciation. Everyone else is a known commodity: Wells is the #1 scorer, Faust combines streaky offense with Strawberry-lite perimeter D, Mitchell is an energy rebounder, etc. Smotrycz and Jake Layman are the two question marks: Layman was up and down last year, on the up days, he looked a heck of a lot like a young Kyle Singler (I mean that in the best way possible).
Smotrycz? According to the scouting reports, this guy can literally do everything: he’s a 6’9” floor spreading four who can shoot the three and rebound. Then again, I remember Braxton Dupree’s freshman write up being glowing. Maryland’s offensive potential will swing completely with these two guys. If neither pan out, expect a ton of games in the 50’s (especially against Cuse’s 2-3 zone). If both do? The Terps will be a handful for any defense.
Who Are The Terps playing?
The #18 UConn Huskies.
Three Things To know
1. Things go better with Bazz and Boat: Last year at the Barclays Center, Maryland faced an incredibly imposing frontcourt in Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. This year, they’ll get tested by one of the best backcourts in the country; Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright.
The 6’1” Napier is the headliner; a senior who improved steadily in his first two years before blossoming into a star last year. With his 3-point percentage improving to 39% last season, he’s now about as complete of a scorer as they come. Not jaw droppingly athletic, but quick enough to get to the basket, and able to knock down a 15 footer with just a few inches of space.
The Huskies have a more than capable second option in the lightning quick Ryan Boatright. The 5’11” dynamo averaged 15.3 PPG last season, creating most of his havoc on the inside and at the free throw line (6 games of 10+ free throws last season; 78.5% FT). The strategy would seem to be to give him some space and let him launch it from deep (33.3% from beyond the arc).
Maryland’s backcourt does hold one major advantage: size. Faust and Wells are uncommonly tall for guards at 6’6” and 6’5” respectively. This game could swing on whether the length of the Terps guards can frustrate the smaller Huskies into turnovers and difficult shots, or if the bigger guards are too unwieldy to keep Napier and Boatright out of the lane.
2. Equals on the Inside: The biggest place Maryland will miss Alex Len is on the glass, where his 7.8 RPG combined with Charles Mitchell and solid rebounding from the guards to give the Terps one distinct advantage in nearly every game. This year, the frontcourt features two familiar faces (Mitchell and Cleare) and two new ones (Smotrycz and Dodd).
UConn’s got length in the frontcourt to match up. The two that got the most PT last year were DeAndre Daniels and Tyler Olander. While Olander is more of just a big stiff with one semi-dangerous skill (only 3.7 RPG), Daniels is a legitimate threat on par with the two guards. While it took him a while to find his stride in 2012, his last four games were tremendously productive (21.2 PPG, 9 RPG). While Daniels is more of an athlete on the inside, it should be interesting to see how he and the rest of the Huskies forwards (and possibly the very raw but very tall freshman Amida Brimah) deal with the beefier Terps frontcourt of Mitchell and Cleare.
3. Bright lights of Brooklyn: Just so nobody is surprised by the crowd tomorrow night, this is a road game. Barclays is a relatively short ride from Storrs, and plenty of UConn alums live in New York City. Tomorrow night will be a very hostile crowd, a situation that gave this team fits last season. However, the team has one year of hostility now under their belt, and more importantly, nearly all of them were on this same court versus Kentucky last season. Maryland played one hideously ugly game that night, and the game was still decided at the buzzer.
There’s not a doubt in my mind that the Maryland defense will show up tomorrow, Mark Turgeon will make sure of that. The offense is a much bigger question, especially with Wells shouldering the point guard burden. The road was incredibly unkind to the Terps last year until they end when they nearly reeled off three straight ACC tournament wins. Hopefully that calm under pressure remains, and Turgeon remembers to pack his offense this time.
This is really tough call because there are so many drastic changes from last season. I know the defense will show up and play hard, but there were just too many instances last year of the offense completely melting down when faced with adversity for me to predict a win here. If Maryland can keep their turnovers low, the defense will give them a shot, but I think trying to adjust for the Allen injury is just too big of a task in too short of a time.
UCONN – 72, MARYLAND – 63