Back-court changes make sense for Terps entering BB&T Classic


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As the Maryland men’s basketball team regroups from the shellacking it suffered Wednesday at Ohio State, Coach Mark Turgeon continues to search for answers. Changes were necessary, Dez Wells told his teammates during a players-only meeting this week. Exactly what changes are coming remains uncertain, but switching up the back court seems the best option.

“Do we change everything?” Turgeon said Saturday. “Absolutely not. Do you try to try to figure some things out? Yeah I think you always try to do that. Wins or losses, you try to make your team better.”

Losing to the fifth-ranked Buckeyes wasn’t necessarily the problem. Rather, it was the manner in which the Terrapins buckled from the opening tip. Leading scorer Jake Layman found little breathing room along the perimeter and missed whatever open opportunities he received on an off shooting night. Wells, again starting at point guard, had two points at intermission, but after beginning the second half at shooting guard, he finished the game with 19.

Turgeon said he didn’t know who would start against 7-1 George Washington on Sunday at the BB&T Classic, but permanently moving Wells off the ball makes sense. This would mean either thrusting freshman Roddy Peters into the fire and dealing with the youthful mistakes that come with it, or perhaps starting Varun Ram, like he did in the second half against the Buckeyes.

“It made me feel good about myself,” Ram said. “Obviously he has confidence in me to start me that half. It was good. Definitely helped me. I feel like whatever this team needs me to do, I have the ability to do. Run the offense, run the team, I think I’ve been preparing myself for this opportunity.”

A transfer from Division III Trinity who only earned a scholarship because Maryland had several available, Ram has worked his way from scout-team defensive pest to rotational regular, valuable off the bench with Seth Allen still rehabilitating his broken foot. But giving Ram starter’s minutes means sacrificing both offense and playing time for others like Peters or Nick Faust.

“He’s by far the hardest working player I’ve ever been around, from redshirting last year, still playing his heart out, from playing a lot of minutes this year, knowing Seth is down,” forward Charles Mitchell said of Ram. “He just gives us all he’s got every time he’s on the floor. You need those types of players around.”

But in the starting lineup? Perhaps. Both Mitchell and Ram emphasized that Wells is markedly better on the wing, something the numbers support. Even Wells acknowledged in Columbus that he is more comfortable off the ball, but said he would do whatever Turgeon asked.

After Ram played just two minutes in the season opener against Connecticut, Turgeon said it required “guts” to insert the guard who is generously listed at 5 feet 9. Since then, Ram has played double-digit minutes over the past five games, including 17 against Ohio State.

“I started him in the second half against Ohio State at Ohio State so I’m obviously not afraid to play Varun,” Turgeon said. “He’s a really good defender. He’s our most complete point guard right now. I think the guys believe in him, the coaching staff believes in him. That said, Roddy has a tremendous upside so you’ve got to make sure both are playing with confidence and helping our team.”

Whatever Turgeon decides, one or two minor shakeups seem imminent at this stage. A loss to George Washington would put the Terps in danger of soon sinking to .500 with their ACC opener at Boston College looming later this week. The third-year coach said his confidence hasn’t wavered in the Terps, and pointed to their four-game winning streak before the Ohio State disaster as proof.

For Turgeon, starters matter far less than finishers. But against Ohio State, the second half was almost entirely meaningless. And so Turgeon seemed frustrated at the faulty offensive execution and swinging-door defense while Wells called a players-only meeting. On Saturday, those players who addressed reporters vowed things had changed since Maryland’s worst loss ever in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Whether that translates into a game environment has, really, been a challenge Turgeon has faced over the past two seasons.

“It’s not an overnight thing you can do,” Ram said. “It’s something we have to work on over the course of the season. But I think things are starting to change.”

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 · December 7, 2013