Monday Terps Mailbag: On Alex Len and NCAA tournament chances

February 11, 2013

Welcome to the Monday Terps Mailbag, a weekly feature where you ask questions and I try not to deliver snarky responses. Up this week, following Maryland’s 80-69 loss against Virginia, an edition featuring plenty of Alex Len, a few NCAA tournament questions and our first “hot seat” reference of the season. Enjoy. 

is the turnover issue more of a personnel, coaching, or experience issue? Or hybrid? (@Boogs79)

Experience, experience, experience. Most of the turnovers result from either panicked decision-making, like throwing away passes in traffic, or overzealous players trying to do too much, like over-dribbling in transition and watching the ball bounce off their feet.

Turgeon isn’t lying when he calls these turnovers fixable. That Maryland finished with just 13 turnovers against Virginia’s 16 was pretty miraculous, by the way, but they actually took care of the ball fairly well. Of course, lacking a true point guard in the starting lineup doesn’t help matters, and neither does facing aggressive defenses like Virginia’s, which relies on wreaking havoc. But the issue has persisted, longer than anyone expected or cared, so it’s about time the number started coming down.

do you think all of the talk about Len being a first round pick should stop? Went from most surprising to most disappointing (@TerpFanTim)

Unless NBA scouts stop coming to Comcast Center and a few come out and say how their organizations won’t touch Len with a Len-sized pole, the next-level buzz probably won’t stop.

Clearly, there’s a disconnect between perceived potential and reality. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone to consider Len NBA-ready. Perhaps he’s quick and athletic enough, but all facets of his game still need work. Still, teams aren’t going to draft Len based on his college resume. They’ll give him lottery looks because of his potential. And he’ll reciprocate because of the dollar signs. One more year in College Park would do Len wonders for his actual game. It’s only a matter of whether that can outweigh the gaudy paychecks.

why aren’t there plays for Len? Why did he kick it out instead of driving inside? (@sarah10021)

What can be done to get Len going? He has looked horrid on offense. Why does he fade-away so much? (@JimboJones3)

Virginia doubled Len more aggressively than any other team this season, and to much effectiveness. Len looked surprised when a weak-side defender came bounding at him the second the post-entry pass was released. Sometimes he passed out, other times he got caught, with no other option but to slam the basketball off his defender’s knee and hope it bounces out of bounds. Future opponents likely won’t double Len in that way, but it’s possible they’ll take some cues from the way the Cavaliers shut him down.

The Terps employ a few set pieces for Len. They ran a perfect quick-hitter off a high screen when Len rolled to the hoop for an alley-oop, but didn’t do it again Sunday afternoon. Otherwise, the plays are mostly cross-screens designed to free Len up on the block, or at least give him a one-on-one back-down scenario. He’s long fancied himself a finesse player, rather than a bulldozer inside, so his post moves are still developing in that regard, hence the fadeaway jumpers. As hard as it is to believe, Len is still very much a work in progress.

Len likes to come to the top of the key and then lose the center. Also likes to punch the ball, not rebound. Why? (@Eric03755)

Turgeon addressed Maryland’s ball-screen defense at Saturday’s media availability. I asked him specifically about Charles Mitchell’s showing against Virginia Tech, but he provided an all-encompassing explanation that might address your question.

“Sometimes kids can become robots instead of basketball players,” Turgeon said. “And just because it’s a screen, you show and you show long, even though we already have it covered.”

As for his penchant for punching potential rebounds, he’s often out of position for rebounds or just straight boxed out of the lane. Consequently, he’s not in place to actually grab the basketball, but he can keep it alive in traffic and swat it back to the perimeter.

does turgeon have any plays? Seems to be just pick and rolls followed by a terrible shot (@BondJustin2)

Reporters aren’t allowed in practice, so it’s hard to track Maryland’s offensive sets across multiple games. That being said, the Terps have noticeably expanded their playbook since ACC play began. In those earlier games against Miami and Florida State, the offense was almost entirely high screen-rolls and this little single-man motion off multiple back screens along the baseline. Turgeon has since added some things and tweaked others, so it’s no longer just one player running around and four standing there.

As for the “terrible shot,” that’s not a byproduct of the offense. That’s more poor individual shot selection or frustration leaking out than anything else. The system hums through crisp cuts and solid screens. When those don’t happen, everything else lags behind.

Lets start here: can we make the tournament without beating Duke or UNC? (@WhatUpJAlessi)

Does “yes, but only if Maryland wins the ACC tournament” count as an acceptable answer?

if things don’t improve this season will Mark Turgeon be on the hot seat next year? (@mike_bergerking)

Ah, the dreaded “hot seat.” Doubtful, given the length of Turgeon’s contract, which lasts until 2019. Even if Turgeon’s deal was expiring sooner and contained a more manageable buyout clause, it’s silliness to consider him “on the hot seat” or wonder if he will be next season. Chalk 2011-12 up as a totally overachieving season. Going 17-15 with that group put Turgeon on a Stefon Diggs level of wizardry. Sure, this season has been quite maddening from a consistency standpoint, and I certainly understand the widespread ire that seems to be emanating, especially given that these Terps seem to be collectively underachieving considering the massive hype that surfaced this preseason and endured through non-conference play. But to suggest that Turgeon’s job might be in jeopardy when the program still appears, on a macro scale, on the upswing? Well, that might be a little hyperbolic.

But that’s just my opinion. What do you all think? How would you grade the job Turgeon’s done so far at Maryland? Drop your thoughts in the comment section below.

For the mailbag: Is Duke now a must-win game if Terps are to have any hope of making the tourney? Only game left to raise RPI? (@tomrousseyABC7)

is there any hope of beating duke and any hope of making the tournament? (@josh0714)

Beating North Carolina would technically raise the RPI, but getting that home win over Duke seems Maryland’s best – and possibly only – opportunity to make one final statement to the selection committee, save an impressive showing in the ACC tournament.

Of course there’s hope against Duke, and a win at Comcast Center this weekend would do wonders for Maryland’s tournament chances. The Blue Devils, like most ACC teams this season, have struggled away from home, and the Terps played them close for the first half at Cameron Indoor. Take away two Rasheed Sulaimon three-pointers, and it’s a one-possession game by intermission. So there’s certainly hope for the Terps in that regard.

As for widespread implications, I get the sense that, looking back on this season, the 80-69 loss to Virginia will either signify a new beginning for Maryland, or simply the beginning of its end.

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 · February 11, 2013