Mark Turgeon’s insistence on inside-out principles bordered on stubborn last season, until the Maryland basketball team hit rock bottom and something finally clicked. The Terrapins’ fans left Comcast Center disappointed on Feb. 10, 2013, after a double-digit loss to Virginia further crushed their team’s NCAA tournament chances. Maryland still had seven more regular season games remaining, but the letdown caused some serious introspection from Turgeon.
“I think when we lost at home to Virginia last year, we changed everything,” the Maryland coach said Tuesday. “We threw it out the window.”
The Cavaliers exposed a flaw that had bubbled beneath the surface for Maryland but had never quite hurt the Terrapins until that cold winter night. Virginia’s packed-in defense aggressively denied post-entry passes to center Alex Len, and without a successful inside-out game, the Terps were rendered almost helpless, forcing deep jumpers they had no business taking.
The next game, Maryland beat Duke. The Terrapins still missed the NCAA tournament, losing four of six to close the year, but hit their stride during postseason. Wins over Wake Forest, Duke, Niagara, Denver and Alabama powered the Terps into the National Invitational Tournament semifinals and, to a certain extent, a new season with a new mantra: Go small or go home.
Turgeon anticipates using more four- or five-guard lineups this year, a concept that hinges on the stretch-four versatility of transfer Evan Smotrycz. The Terps won’t be tall this season, but they hope to hound opponents with lanky perimeter threats like Smotrycz (6 feet 8), Jake Layman (6-8), Nick Faust (6-6) and Dez Wells (6-5). Even freshman point guard Roddy Peters clocks in at a healthy 6-3, though Turgeon on Tuesday called him “almost 6-5.”
“Offensively we will be different,” Turgeon said. “When you add Evan Smotrycz to the lineup, who can really shoot it, improved shooters in Seth [Allen], Nick Faust, Dez Wells. I think it’s going to open things up a little more for us. I think we can be pretty explosive at times. I think at times we’ll be able to rattle off eight or 10 quick ones.”
At his best, Len was a shot-altering machine who struggled against smaller, scrappier post defenders. Maryland will miss him most on defense and the glass – it ranked 11th nationally last season in opposing field goal percentage and fifth in rebounding margin – but his absence will change everything offensively.
Rather than force post-entry passes – one of the team’s most glaring weaknesses last season — the system will operate fluidly around lane penetration. Allen, Wells, Faust and Peters are slashers at their core. Smotrycz and Layman are best as spot-up shooters.
Last season, Maryland started just one four-guard combination in five games during the season’s final month. But this season, against teams lacking a dominant center, a hypothetically potent lineup of, say, Allen-Faust-Layman-Wells-Smotrycz won’t be uncommon.
“A lot of freedom here,” said Smotrycz, a transfer from Michigan who sat out last season. “A lot of room to be creative. A lot of pick and roll, a lot of dribble drive stuff. I think we have guys who can get into gaps and get other guys shots. Our dribble-drive offense will be big.”
Center Shaquille Cleare, the sophomore chiefly tasked with replacing Len, all but shrugged his shoulders over the systematic change.
“It doesn’t really matter to us,” he said. “We’ve got good low-post scorers and great shooters. If you take us one-on-one down low, or we can light it up from the outside. It’s going to be a fun season. I’m really excited to see how this team is going to play this year, with Alex being gone.
“We don’t know what to expect from defenses, but I know if it’s one-on-one down low, our bigs will get the bucket. If you double-team us, our shooters will just shoot it all night. Coach Turgeon’s real excited about the offense. If it comes together, everything will work.”