Monday Terps Mailbag: Offensive issues, tournament chances and learning from the Duke loss

January 28, 2013
Coach Mark Turgeon likely is asking many of the same questions Maryland fans are about his squad.(Associated Press)
Coach Mark Turgeon likely is asking many of the same questions Maryland fans are about his squad.(Associated Press)

Welcome to the Monday Terps Mailbag, the weekly installment where I solicit questions, you ask them and I answer them. Pretty simple give-and-take we’ve got here. 

(Related note: Submit your questions via email to alex.prewitt@washpost.com or on Twitter. Thanks, friends.)

Do you see an inability to execute? (I do). Does that fault lie with coaches or personnel? No true PG hurts, obviously. (@gkenyon)

You’re not alone, my friend. In fact, it’s painfully obvious each game. Feel free to evenly distribute the blame, however. It lies with the coaches, for not having the players prepared. It lies with the team at large, for not properly executing the system. And it lies with individuals for missed assignments or mistakes that derail possessions.

Coach Mark Turgeon runs a complex and dynamic system, but he has said repeatedly that he has had to scale back on options because the players aren’t grasping the concepts quick enough. Perhaps that’s on the staff to adapt and evolve, rather than water down the plays to high ball screens and back cuts. The screening continues to be an issue as well. The system flows much smoother if actual screens are set, rather than allowing defenders an easy path around.

Often, the Terps don’t allow the offense to develop, firing up shots after the first or second option rather than working through the motion, whipping passes around the perimeter and counting on the defense to botch a switch or assignment, leading to an open shot.

It’s why Charles Mitchell, after the 84-64 loss to Duke, said for the second straight road game that the Terps’ problems away from College Park stem from trying to match the home team’s tempo, rather than play at their own pace.

“We like to run teams, because we’re deep on our bench, to get them tired,” Mitchell said. “Deep in the second half, we can still run so we have open layups, primary breaks and open threes. That’s why we run a lot. But they try to score a basket in seven seconds, so we try to score one in seven seconds. Which we don’t necessarily need. We should slow the ball down, get a great offensive possession.”

Anyone know if Turgeon and the staff are looking at JUCO PG options for next year? (@bigmanvan)

Anyone? Bueller? I certainly haven’t heard whispers, but will keep my ears to the Comcast floor on such matters. That said, the Terps do have Roddy Peters coming in next season, while both Seth Allen and Pe’Shon Howard will have another year under their belts. It’s pretty clear folks are becoming restless with the point-guard situation, and justifiably so, but placing the entire offense’s future on an incoming freshman currently healing from shoulder surgery might be a large burden. Although I have been fielding a number of questions about his status recently, so there’s certainly plenty of excitement surrounding his impending arrival which, as many of you note, can’t come soon enough.

what does the Terps’ conference record need to be to make the tournament? (@WhatUpJAlessi)  

Because of their weak early schedule, do you think the Terps need to win 19-20 games to reach the NCAA tournament? (@NFLSkins)

With February just one game away, now seems like a good time to break down Maryland’s remaining ACC schedule.

Of its 11 remaining games, just two are against teams with above-.500 conference records (Duke and Virginia). Granted, just four teams are above .500, but the Terps already beat North Carolina State and lost by seven on the road at Miami, a loss that’s looking better each day.

That said, after visiting Florida State on Wednesday, the Terps round out their season with two games against Virginia (14-5, 4-2 ACC), two versus Wake Forest (10-9, 3-4), and single matchups versus Duke, Boston College, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and North Carolina. On paper, there’s a dearth of quality wins available for Maryland.

Winning just 19-20 games would not serve the Terps well. With 11 games remaining and 15 wins already, you’re taking about a sub-.500 stretch from here on out, which would certainly burst their bubble. Though it’s not unrealistic to perhaps expect an 8-3 record to close out the season, which would put them at 23-8 entering the ACC tournament, where they would likely need to do a little damage to gain the selection committee’s attention.

Given Maryland’s terrible non-conference schedule, though, it will have to leave zero doubt in the committee’s mind. That means taking care of business at home, beating inferior opponents on the road and stealing a couple quality wins here and there. The non-conference slate made things more difficult for the Terps, but there’s enough season left that they still control their own destiny.

what is Rowes progress? (@PCA_Guy)

For context, this question came after senior C.J Brown tweeted that he ran Monday for the first time in five months, continuing his progress from preseason ACL surgery.

As for Caleb Rowe (I assume you mean Caleb and not Holly, Mike or Jamaican jurist Ira DeCordova), he spent winter break in College Park, rehabbing and strengthening his torn ACL. Nothing I’ve heard suggests he’s off his timetable, though that means he will still miss spring practices.

why do you think [Alex] Len doesn’t get more shot attempts? He should be the focal point of the offense. (@DoronTam)

Getting constantly double-teamed hurt his chances against Duke, which allowed him just six shots, but look at the Boston College game, when he had 14, as a prime example. He was receiving passes deep in the lane after posting up and sealing hard, essentially leaving the Eagles no choice but to allow the post-entry and square him up. When Len receives passes far from the basket, defenders can simply sag back, either daring him to take jumpers or put the ball on the floor, which typically results in a smaller defender swiping at his knees for a potential steal.

The general consensus, even among the Terps, is that Len should be the offense’s focal point. They want to run inside-out motion through him, but the issues seem to arise everywhere. Sometimes, Len doesn’t position himself properly to seal off his defender. Other times, he needs to be more aggressive and demand the ball. Still other times, the offense is just run too poorly to find him an open look. The blame’s spread around, but it’s pretty clear that Len shouldn’t be getting six shots per game. That simply won’t cut it, especially with the way Maryland’s offense is operating these days.

Obviously, PG play needs to improve. Has coach given serious consideration to have Wells play extended minutes at point? (@edgar_wang)

The coaching staff has explored virtually every option at point guard short of getting  additional eligibility for Turgeon and throwing him out there. Wells got extended run at point guard against Boston College, but saw his time running the offense fade a little versus Duke. I expect his opportunities bringing up the ball will continue to arrive on a situational basis, playing the matchups and reacting to how Maryland’s other point guards are doing.

for the bag: what can the Terps learn from the Duke loss to inform their play in the rematch in February? also, what do they need to overcome their clear lack of confidence on the road at big ACC venues? (@JackT144)

Like Charles Van Doren and Herbert Stempel (bonus points if you can name that reference), I will take the first part last.

Simple maturity overcomes confidence, as does winning, which of course won’t happen so long as the confidence lags behind. The Terps actually appeared far less skittish against Duke than they did at either Miami or North Carolina, perhaps an encouraging sign given that their only remaining road games are against Florida State, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Virginia. The latter four are the conference’s four worst teams.

Concerning your first question, Turgeon actually seemed quite pleased with Maryland’s play against Duke, even though it lost by 20 and allowed the Blue Devils to simply stomp them in the final 15 minutes. The first-half difference was obviously Rasheed Sulaimon, who got hot on his own, though some defensive lapses in transition didn’t help matters, and Amile Jefferson, who simply out-muscled the Terps at times down low.

But once Mason Plumlee got going in the second half, the rout was on. The Terps simply have to be more consistent offensively, not panicking beneath the combined weight of a Duke run and the Cameron Crazies cheering section. Being at home will certainly help. That they hung with the Blue Devils for the first half and out-rebounded them throughout the game is an encouraging sign. But the offense broke down in the second half, leading to rushed shots and poor decision-making.

The Terps were behind eight at halftime without Seth Allen, trading runs and shots with Duke, gaining confidence that they could hang with the nation’s top-ranked team. For the last 15 minutes, however, the Blue Devils blew them out and danced on the graves too. That should leave a bad taste in Maryland’s mouth, making it far more motivated for the rematch, all while maintaining the memory of a time when it actually was competitive too.

what do I have to do to get some official MD basketball shorts? Preferably black-ops. (@UMDTaylor)

Having money helps. Scoring official shorts – rather than replicas – might be tricky though. Check the Comcast Center store, although no guarantees.

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 28, 2013