To hear Mark Turgeon discuss his front-court situation, the third-year Maryland basketball coach sounds like he’s describing parlor activities, such as 20 Questions or Pictionary.
“It’s a guessing game,” Turgeon said, because at this point, in this Terrapins-themed box of chocolates, who knows what he’s going to get? Entering Saturday’s ACC home opener against Georgia Tech, the team’s post struggles have been well-documented in this space, and it appears Turgeon’s quest to find consistency has landed Maryland back where it started.
“Tomorrow,” Turgeon said, “I’m leaning towards Shaq starting.”
That would be Shaq Cleare, the sophomore center who started 12 straight games in November and December but played just 13 total minutes off the bench against Tulsa and North Carolina Central. However, the big-bodied Bahamian might match up best against Yellow Jackets center Daniel Miller, who’s averaging 10.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, particularly since neither Damonte Dodd nor Jonathan Graham distinguished himself in spot starts.
“But I think we’ll continue to play guys,” Turgeon said. “What we’ve done is we’ve built depth. We’ve really created competition. They know they’ve really got to earn the playing time. Getting them all in has really helped us.”
With four wing players averaging double figures in points, Maryland doesn’t exactly need eye-popping offensive numbers from its big men. Maybe a dunk here, a hook shot there, anything to help space the floor for shooters like Jake Layman or slashers like Dez Wells. But defense – both interior and on ball screens – and rebounding have taken top priority. If anyone can perform those tasks consistently, he will remain in the rotation.
“As we go into tomorrow’s game, I want our post guys to defend and rebound,” Turgeon said. “If they get four or six points or eight points, that’s great, that’s icing on the cake. But defending and rebounding is what I want out of them. That’s why Shaq started as much as he did for so long, because of his defense. Now Jon Graham’s given us some really good defense, Charles [Mitchell] sitting on the pine has made him guard a little better and getting his minutes down. That’s where we are.”
Asked if Graham, who started against North Carolina Central but played just 14 minutes, his fewest since he cracked the rotation in early December, is more suited to coming off the bench, Turgeon had a familiar answer.
“It’s a guessing game with me at that,” he said. “I just know that we’re really comfortable with Jon. He plays hard. He does what he’s supposed to do. He’s one of our best defenders. We’ve got a lot of guys. I’m going to keep trying. Last game, Charles played well for us. Who knows who it’s going to be tomorrow. Hopefully a couple guys will play well for us at that position.”
>> Check out this game-by-game chart of Layman’s usage rate, essentially the percentage of time a possession involves him. This season, the sophomore has been Maryland’s most efficient scorer, averaging 1.28 points per possession, even though his usage rate ranks sixth on the team.
(Data culled from Kenpom.com)
Notice several valleys in this chart too, particularly against Connecticut, Oregon State, Ohio State and Boston University. Simply put, when Layman doesn’t get the ball, the Terps struggle. Perhaps the only exception was the New Years’ Eve victory over N.C. Central, when Layman basically just sat in the corner and watched for 28 minutes, participating in only 9 percent of possessions.
>> Layman’s jump-shooting comrade, forward Evan Smotrycz, continues to struggle on three-pointers and has seen his season percentage dip below 39 percent. The junior, however, is shooting 63.9 percent at the rim this season according to Hoop-Math.com, a better rate than any Maryland perimeter player except for point guard Roddy Peters.
“If my shot’s not falling, I’ve got to find some way to impact the game,” Smotrycz said. “My mentality is that I’m going to make the next one, but just finding ways to help us win is my mentality.”
Though he lacks the athleticism to beat defenders off the dribble, Smotrycz can weasel his way into the lane with crafty moves and pump fakes, often reaching the rim in improbable ways.
“I like him driving the ball more and scoring around the basket,” Turgeon said. “He’s capable, he’s crafty around there. Jake, I think he’s going to make it every time, but if not he’s got to figure out a way to get to the foul line and drive the ball more, because he can do that. He’s got to get more of a mid-range game. It’s all part of the process with them, but if it’s not going well they’ve got to realize it early.”
>> One quote, apropos of nothing, from point guard Seth Allen:
“Every team has to get better. We have things that we have to work on. We’re not young, but we make dumb mistakes. We gamble a lot. We need to be more solid defensively, and we’ve been doing that. We had a great practice today. It’s coming. It’s coming. And we’re getting better at the right time. It’s a good time.”