Rebuilding Maryland looks to hold its own in tough ACC
When Maryland’s 7-foot-1 star center Alex Len departed for the NBA this offseason, the Terrapins and head coach Mark Turgeon had their work cut out for them. Len, who the Phoenix Suns selected fifth overall in June’s draft, brought an invaluable presence to the court, evidenced by his 11.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game last season.
Given Len’s absence, a decline from last season’s 25-13 record, which included an NIT semifinal finish, would seem inevitable. But through sound recruiting and impressive player development, Turgeon and Maryland will be doing anything but declining in the coming season. Though unlikely, a top-five finish in a stacked ACC -- the conference is adding former Big East behemoths Syracuse and Pittsburgh -- isn’t out of the question.
Turgeon landed two key signings in center Damonte Dodd and point guard Roddy Peters. The incoming freshmen are set to help fill the void left by Len and point guard Pe’Shon Howard, who transferred to USC in April. Dodd, a 6-9 four-star center (according to Scout.com), is set to come off the bench in relief of center Shaquille Cleare, while Peters, a four-star point guard who grew up in District Heights, Md., will see substantial minutes immediately in the wake of Howard’s departure. “Roddy’s going to play a lot of minutes,” Turgeon says, “but it remains to be seen whether he’ll start or come off the bench.”
To compensate for the loss of Len’s inside presence, Turgeon plans to shift more offensive responsibility to his outside scorers without abandoning the team’s inside-out approach. A good deal will be expected of swingman Dez Wells and his ability to generate offensive production. The 6-5 junior led the team in scoring last season at 13.1 points per game, and will have to shoulder the load that comes with being the team’s primary offensive focal point in the coming season.
“Our guards will have to do a lot of scoring for us,” Turgeon explains, “but we’ll still have an inside presence with Claire, Charles Mitchell, and Evan Smotrycz.” Smotrycz, in his first year of eligibility since transferring from Michigan in 2012, will be particularly effective in Turgeon’s offensive gameplan as an outside shooter. In his lone season in Ann Arbor, the sharpshooting forward scored 7.7 points per game on 43.5 percent from beyond the arc. If he can build on those numbers, Maryland will have plenty of offensive firepower in 2013-14.
The aspect in which Maryland is expected to suffer is in their ability to contest shots, especially in the paint. “It’s going to be hard to find shot blocking like last year,” Turgeon says. “You can’t just replace [Len] around the rim.” Instead, Turgeon plans to use the team’s experienced players -- three projected starters are juniors -- to play unified team defense. The impressive height of the team’s guards will be put to use: “Whether it’s 6-8 Jake Layman, 6-6 Nick Faust, or 6-5 Dez Wells, our tall guards will really have to help us.”
The Terrapins recently returned from a four-day offseason tournament in the Bahamas, where the team won all three games. The talk of the tournament was Layman, who averaged 21.3 points per game and concluded his trip with five three-pointers in the finale. The sophomore swingman’s breakout performance comes as a great relief to the team after a rocky freshman campaign left Terrapin fans expecting more out of the four-star recruit. Layman, who has drawn interest from NBA scouts, is expected to play a critical bench role in the coming season. He will need to produce similar performances if Maryland expects to challenge in a deep ACC. There’s no quick fix to rebuilding a team depleted by the loss of a star center and talented point guard. Nonetheless, Turgeon has done a solid job remedying the situation thus far. A tough slate of non-conference opponents, including Connecticut and Ohio State, will have the Terrapins prepared for a grueling ACC schedule. Though Maryland isn’t brimming with hyped talent, this team will rely on its maturity, confidence, and trust to weather whatever storm the coming season has in store.