Maryland Madness primer: A Terps preview

October 11, 2012

With media day in the books, Maryland Madness is just around the corner. Here’s a primer to get you ready for the first Terps practice of the 2012-13 season and beyond.

THE COACH

Mark Turgeon enters his second season with the Terps, by all accounts more comfortable, happier and far more relaxed than he was during his debut campaign. “It’s completely different,” he said during Tuesday’s media day. He has a better feel for the ACC and for his players. With a coaching staff he says is much more together, led by ace recruiters Bino Ranson, Dalonte Hill and Scott Spinnelli, everyone appears on the same page. Turgeon and the Terps went 17-15 in 2011-12, including a 6-10 mark in the ACC that had them finishing eighth in the conference. Now, a year under his belt, his style firmly cemented within the Comcast Center, Maryland appears to be trending upwards.

THE RETURNERS

Pe’Shon Howard: Healed from that ACL injury and back to practicing full speed, Howard should open the season as Maryland’s starting point guard. In just 14 games last season, Howard averaged 6.5 points and 3.7 assists. “Just making the easy play is the whole thing for Pe’Shon,” Turgeon said. “I expect him to be tremendously better. He’s already better in this last week and a half that he was at any time last year.”


(Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Nick Faust: After an offseason of bulking up and working on his jump shot accuracy, the sophomore guard is looking to build off his 8.9 points per game last season. Turgeon said that Faust may see time at the point to spell Howard, but that he’s “still [trying] to do a little too much” in practice so far.

Alex Len: Well, where to begin with the 7-foot Ukrainian center. He’s bigger, savvier with the English language and has added a back-to-the-basket dimension. Turgeon said even the occasional three-pointer is a strong possibility. “He’s really gotten better, understands everything defensively, the game’s much more physical than what he was used to and he’s gotten used to that,” Turgeon said of Len, who averaged 6.0 points and 5.4 rebounds in 22 games his freshman season. “Still has his moments where he’s 19. He only played 20-some games last year, so he has his moments. Each day he gets a little better with more confidence. It’s fun.”

James Padgett: Turgeon, care to take this one? “James really stepped up. There’s natural-born leaders, then there’s guys who forge their way into it. James is the second one. He’s led by example now he’s trying to lead by his voice. He’s learned a lot and our guys listen to him.” Padgett was third in the ACC in offensive rebounds, and is Maryland’s second-leading returning scorer, just behind Faust, at 8.8 points per game.

John Auslander: The junior has yo-yoed his way on and off scholarship, but he’s back on after Sam Cassell Jr. was ruled ineligible by the NCAA. Turgeon raved about Auslander’s leadership skills, and the Herndon native has coaching aspirations down the road. He probably won’t see much floor time, but Auslander’s impact will come in the locker room. “He’s like another coach out there,” Turgeon said.

Spencer Barks: The sophomore forward played just 16 total minutes as a freshman walk-on last season, scoring two points in the ACC tournament against Wake Forest. He’s a St. Albans graduate.

Jacob Susskind: Like Barks, Susskind is a sophomore walk-on, and only appeared in six games.

THE NEWCOMERS

Dez Wells:  Big offseason pickup for the Terps. Whether he contributes this season remains to be seen, but whenever Wells steps onto the floor, he’ll likely have a major impact. As a freshman at Xavier last season, the athletic swingman averaged nearly 10 points per game, and dropped a double-double on Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament. “Good basketball player, high character, blends into what we’re trying to do,” Turgeon said. “It’s close to home. I just felt it was a good place for him to continue his career.”

Logan Aronhalt: The Terps are getting the gunner for only one season after he transferred from Albany, but Aronhalt excels in the inside-out game as a spot-up shooter. A two-time captain at Albany, Aronhalt put up 13.8 points per game last season, including 13 against Maryland. “If they can create open shots for me, then it makes my job really easy,” Aronhalt said of Maryland’s big men. “I think my balance is what I’m going to be out there for.”

Evan Smotrycz: A Michigan transfer with NCAA tournament experience, Smotrycz averaged 7.7 points for the Wolverines last season, including two 20-point efforts against Oakland and Bradley. He was named Michigan’s sixth man of the year, but will sit out 2012-13 per NCAA transfer rules. “He has really practiced well,” Turgeon said. “He’s been to the tournament and knows what it takes, so he has been a great addition.”

Shaquille Cleare: Big name, big man, big hype. Rated among the top-10 centers nationally, Cleare was a huge recruiting score for the Terps. With 20 pounds shed, Cleare is more mobile in the post. Still, as one teammate said, he still loves to bulldoze through things. “I don’t go out and literally look for big and strong guys, I look for good basketball players who know the game and I think we found that,” Turgeon said. “Guys who have instincts for the game – you can’t teach that. Guys either have that or they don’t and we have guys who have that.”

Charles Mitchell: He and Cleare might often be mentioned in the same breath, if only because of their size and personalities. Mitchell, an Atlanta native, flew under the radar, likely because he was overweight. But, like Cleare, he’s lost some poundage, and will likely contribute off the bench. “He has a great feel for the game,” Turgeon said. “He had the best practice yesterday because he was at his lowest weight total.”

Seth Allen: A “world-class athlete” according to Turgeon, Allen could challenge Howard for playing time at the point. He’s a charismatic freshman guard who has surprised Turgeon with his defensive skills. “He’s such a dynamic scorer, and when the ball’s in his hands he can get it to the rim,” Turgeon said. “He’s been shooting the ball better. When you’re watching him play, he’s so dynamic offensively.” Allen, for what it’s worth, considers himself more of a facilitator. 

Jake Layman: A four-star recruit, Layman has added strength to his 6 foot 8, 190-pound frame, and Turgeon said he could challenge for time at the power forward spot. He played on Team USA at the FIBA under-18 championships this past summer, averaging 7.6 points per game. “He really had a great September and early October for us,” Turgeon said. “He has come a long ways.”

Conner Lipinski: A preferred walk-on who earned a scholarship in May, Lipinski was the all-time leading scorer at Annapolis Area Christian School. He’s a 5 foot 10, 155-pound freshman guard.

Varun Ram: A walk-on transfer from Div. III Trinity (Conn.) College, Ram might not earn any playing time, but has all the makings of an end-of-the-bench crowd favorite. Undersized at 5 foot 9 and 150 pounds, he’s a local guy out of Cambridge, Md. who was the MVP of two tournaments while with the Bantams.

THE STORYLINES

Load up the young guns: Turgeon’s first recruiting class came prepackaged with equal parts hype and beefiness. Cleare and Mitchell have each lost weight, but are still immensely strong post players who will give the Terps added depth in the paint. Both also happen to be two of the team’s most personable players, as evidenced by their first public appearances during media day. Turgeon had high praise for Allen, another under-the-radar player like Mitchell, who committed almost immediately after Turgeon became Maryland’s coach. Add Layman, who may see some time down low, to the mix, and the Terps have a strong freshman corps, none of whom will be counted on to shoulder too large of an initial burden.

Leadership at the top: An intangible cliché, sure, but much of the media day buzz surrounded the newfound leadership stemming from relative veterans like Padgett, Auslander, Faust, Howard and even the newcomers Smotrycz and Wells. From the short, one-hour summer practices to its Navy SEAL workouts, the Terps are preaching collective internal accountability. They hope to reach the point where all players act as headers, holding each other accountable no matter what age or experience level. But it starts with those aforementioned players at the top, those who have been around for some time and have fully bought into Turgeon’s way.    

The Wells waiver situation: Speaking of Wells, getting the reigning Atlantic-10 Freshman of the Year would be a huge boost for the Terps. He has NCAA tournament experience and all-world hops, and could easily start right away. There’s no word yet out of College Park – or Indianapolis, for that matter – concerning the status of Maryland’s waiver, but a decision could come soon. Granting Wells immediate eligibility, however, would certainly be an unprecedented move from the NCAA’s standpoint, but keep an eye on how this one plays out.  

THE SCHEDULE

By Turgeon’s own admission, he softened up the nonconference schedule to ease this young roster into the rigors of ACC play. Granted, some of the mid-major matchups, all at home, won’t exactly be cake walks. The season opener against defending national champion Kentucky in Brooklyn is the obvious marquee event. The Terps are hyped about this one. Freshman Charles Mitchell called the ESPN game a “coming-out party for Maryland basketball.”

Traveling to Northwestern for the ACC/Big 10 Challenge could prove, well, challenging, as could early matchups against LIU-Brooklyn on Nov. 16, George Mason at the Verizon Center on Dec. 2 and Stony Brook on Dec. 21. All three teams are legitimate contenders for their respective conference championships, but Maryland’s deck otherwise contains eight nonconference games, all at home.

Maryland has a nice eight-day break straddling Christmas, a Turgeon priority so his players could go home for the holidays, before the Terps return to campus for two games, including one on New Years Day – another Turgeon priority, for obvious reasons – before ACC play tips off on Jan. 5 against Virginia Tech.  

THE LINKS

Comfortable and happy, Dez Well is fitting in with the Terps

After ‘grinding all summer,’ Alex Len readies for sophomore season

With depth and size, Terps frontcourt is full steam ahead

How Maryland wound up scheduling Kentucky

Motivation, weight flux and favorite moments from media day

Training with the Navy SEALs

THE MADNESS

What: Maryland Madness

Where: Comcast Center

When: Friday, 7 p.m. (Doors open at 6, introductions start at 7:30, scrimmages at 8:30)

Who: Maryland men’s and women’s basketball teams

What Else: Team introductions, jersey unveilings, scrimmage and a student dunk contest judged by former Terps greats.

Watch: Comcast SportsNet

How much: Free

THE QUESTION

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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Alex Prewitt | October 10, 2012