The excitement around the Maryland men’s basketball team is palpable, emanating from a dynamic influx of freshmen and transfers, plus the presence of the key holdovers from Coach Mark Turgeon’s inaugural season in College Park.
But on Thursday, Turgeon said fans should temper their expectations for the time being, at least until the Terrapins develop more consistency.
“To be quite frank, I’m not sure I could start five guys. I’m not sure we have five guys practicing well enough to start,” Turgeon said. “I know I’m being critical today, but if you were at practice you’d feel the same way.”
With the season opener against defending national champion Kentucky in Brooklyn, N.Y., just more than a week away and a scrimmage against Indiana University of Pennsylvania looming this Friday night, don’t expect Turgeon to “go all ‘Hoosiers’ and play four or play three.” But picking five starters has proved difficult.
“Going into tomorrow’s game, we have to get more focused and more consistent in practice,” freshman center Shaquille Cleare said. “Right now, at this point, there’s no excuse for how we’ve been practicing. I think we need to pick it up for our game tomorrow. I think he’s been a little frustrated with us. We’re still catching onto things a little slowly, but we’ll get it together by tomorrow.
“The players have been taking it pretty well. We know we’ve been making little mistakes. The small problems, you can always fix them and clean them up. But going into next week against Kentucky, we know our practices are going to have to be much better. We’ll have to play better defense and communicate.”
Center Alex Len, who’s bulked up and developed a perimeter game this offseason, is a shoe-in to start. Turgeon imagines guard Nick Faust will also be tabbed, if only for his experience and improved jumper. The Terps will rotate four freshmen throughout the season, but will need to lean heavily on Len and Faust, both sophomores, in the early going.
“I think people are excited about our team, but they have to understand, we have four returning players and the rest are new guys,” Turgeon said. “We’ve just been really inconsistent. Our guard play has been quite poor, to be honest with you. Day to day, I don’t know what I’m going to get. Throwing the ball around the gym. Defensively, we really haven’t been consistent enough to be any good there. I do think we have a chance to be a good team, but right now we’re not practicing that way.”
With youthful energy and loaded depth, the buzz is certainly present within the Comcast Center. Turgeon and his staff have tried to add more things, like a zone or a press or another offensive set, but decided to trend in the opposite direction. “I don’t think we can do that,” Turgeon said. “I think we have to try to be a good man-to-man team, a good defensive team and execute what we have now to have a chance. That’s what I took home from practice yesterday.”
Assorted notes from Thursday’s media availability
>> Len deleted his Twitter account, saying he has blocked out all distractions. No word yet who will fill the void of Len’s daily “Rise&Grind” tweets.
>> Turgeon was asked about how different Maryland’s offense will look, especially given the absence of Terrell Stoglin, last season’s leading scorer. “I imagine we’ll have a lot more assists,” Turgeon said. “You’ll see more of a team. We’ll be a much more balanced team, and I think we’ll be a much better offensive team than last year.”
>> Dez Wells, who had his initial NCAA eligibility waiver denied but is waiting to hear back on Maryland’s appeal, will not suit up against Indiana University.
>> Evan Smotrycz, a transfer from Michigan who is sitting out the season per NCAA rules, has been Maryland’s most consistent player in practice, Turgeon said.
>> Senior Logan Aronhalt tweaked his ankle in practice but should be at full strength for the scrimmage. “He’s a weapon. Helps us space the floor. He can really shoot it,” Turgeon said.
>> When asked how the Terps have responded to his criticisms of their consistency, especially concerning the guard play, Turgeon immediately brought up freshman Seth Allen.
“I think Seth’s been really coachable,” Turgeon said. “I think Seth right now plays in fifth gear most of the time. He doesn’t really try to come out of it. He had to do so much for his high school team. There are still things he doesn’t see that you try to point out. Really coachable, a heck of an athlete and he can really score the ball. With most young people, when they make one turnover it leads to another.”