Pregame notes: What’s up with Maryland’s offense?

January 19, 2013
(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Today’s pregame advance in the print edition explores the Maryland basketball team’s much-improved defense, which has helped the Terrapins weather some brutal scoring stretches, keeping them close in games against Miami and North Carolina State. Part of that can understandably be attributed to their opponents’ stingy defense, but what’s to be said about Maryland’s offensive state?

The Terrapins have insisted that the problem lies with execution, not confidence. But they got open looks against North Carolina State, failing to convert open layups, dunks and jumpers. During his Friday news conference, Coach Mark Turgeon said executed properly on around 80 percent of possessions, nearly double the number versus Miami.

“I thought we shared the ball better, I thought we screened better, I thought our spacing was better, I thought our shot selection was better – wasn’t great at all times, but it was better,” Turgeon said. “As a coach, you try to teach execution. And I thought as a coaching staff, our execution was better the other night than it was versus Miami. And once again, I was really impressed with North Carolina State’s defense. It was good, it was physical. We were allowed to play. So I felt better about it.”

Yet the Terps have produced just 14 and 22 points by halftime in their past two games. So how do they take the next step from executing properly to actually scoring?

“That’s a hard one,” Turgeon said. “If you guys go back and watch the film, just point-blank layups, tip dunks, really wide-open shots, if we make half of those we get to 60, which sounds a little better. And the way we’re guarding, it’s probably enough. I do think the win is going to give us confidence. Obviously we’re going on the road for three of our next four, playing a team that pressures us [in North Carolina]. Could be good or bad. Could be bad if we don’t handle it, could be good because it could open up driving lanes and different things to help us get some easy ones.”

North Carolina State made its run in the second half after switching to zone, which forced rushed shots from the Terps, allowing the Wolfpack to climb back from a double-digit deficit. Turgeon stood by Maryland’s zone offense, saying the drought was more a matter of circumstance than anything.

“We’re a really good zone offense team,” Turgeon said. “What made it difficult was intensity of the game, the timing of the zone and not being able to put our best shooters in. We tried Logan and our guys didn’t look for him. You have to use Logan as a weapon to spread the defense. If it had been in the first half, you put Jake Layman in, try different things. But it was not cutting time. You better do the right thing. When they took the lead, we went all veterans and Dez, and that wasn’t a great zone offense team, but that was the team I felt most comfortable with.”

>> Embedded within Maryland’s pregame notes is a section titled, “Looking Like a Turgeon Team.” It centers on the Terps’ stellar field-goal percentage defense, which tops the ACC at .351, as well as the nation’s second-ranked rebounding margin and its assists average, second-best in the conference.

Noticeably absent is another vital characteristic to Turgeon-coached teams: free-throw shooting.

Maryland is averaging 21.1 free throws per game this season, which is tied for 10th among Turgeon’s 15 teams. It was hardly a concern during nonconference play, when the Terrapins could bully their way inside and draw fouls against weaker, smaller teams. But it’s become a concern once conference play rolled around. Maryland attempted just eight from the stripe against North Carolina State, 18 at Miami and 14 against Florida State.

“We’re not getting to the foul line, one thing my teams have always done,” Turgeon said. “The last three games my teams have not gotten to the foul line. That’s taking away points there. Only got eight free throws. That’s not enough, especially at home. We have to figure out a way to get fouled more, get to the line more, shoot 20-24 free throws. Got 18 at Miami but we missed 10.”

Maryland’s .687 free-throw percentage ranks around the middle in the ACC, as does its attempts per game. And though part of its low numbers versus the Wolfpack can be attributed to a physical, relatively foul-free game by the referees, free-throw shooting has still been an emphasis in practices.

“We feel like we need to get to the line, get our offense going at times,” Nick Faust said. “But we do everything we can to pound it inside first.”

>> Somewhere in between Friday’s lawsuit madness and actually flying out for the game, I was able to catch a little of Roy Williams’ press conference, simulcasted online. Here’s what the North Carolina coach had to say about Maryland:

“They have he strength up front, they rebound well, their defensive field goal percentage is one of the best in the league, best in the country. They’re giving up 29 percent from three-point line. If we had done that in two of our games, we probably would have won. They have tremendous depth, Mark’s done a great job of keeping everybody involved, changed his lineup two or three times, so there’s a sense of urgency in the way they play.”

Williams and Turgeon are old friends, and regularly talk during the season. Turgeon was an assistant under Williams for four seasons at Kansas, Turgeon’s alma mater, including the 1991 season when the Jayhawks reached the national title game.

>> Per Maryland’s game notes, the Terps-Tar Heels series has seen a bevy of winning streaks over the past 10 years. Maryland took five of six in the early 2000s before Carolina won five straight from Feb. 2004 to Feb. 2006. Maryland then took four of five from 2007 to 2010 before the Tar Heels opened their current four-game winning streak.

Overall, North Carolina leads the all-time series 57-118, dating to 1924.

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 · January 18, 2013