The time may ultimately come for the Maryland basketball team when the rotation dwindles, when tougher ACC foes arrive and Coach Mark Turgeon begins redistributing playing time. Through 11 nonconference games, the Terrapins have fielded the same starting lineup nine times, featuring three sophomores, one junior and one senior.
With four freshmen regularly playing and still working through the youthful kinks, Turgeon isn’t quite ready to lock into a standard formula. But the second-year coach still fancies himself blessed with the luxury of a 10-man rotation, which affords flexibility on a game-by-game basis.
Pe’Shon Howard, Nick Faust, Alex Len and Dez Wells have received the bulk of playing time, all hovering between 25.3 and 25.9 minutes per game. Seth Allen and James Padgett average 20.5 and 19.8 minutes, respectively, before another drop-off to Charles Mitchell (15.3), Shaquille Cleare (14.0), Jake Layman (13.5) and Logan Aronhalt (11.5).
But with the ACC opener against Virginia Tech looming on Jan. 5, Turgeon hasn’t settled on a seven- or eight-man rotation for two reasons. First, he hasn’t seen enough separation among the Terrapins. Second, there are still two games and eight days left to make an impression. The latest opportunity comes Saturday afternoon at Comcast Center vs. Delaware State.
“We’ve got such a young team, we’ve got so many guys who are improving,” Turgeon said in a Friday teleconference. “If we had a really close game tonight, I know who’d I feel comfortable with playing in that close game, more so than others. I think our rotation will change on who we’re playing, where we’re playing and how guys are playing. The good thing for me is, I have 10 guys I feel comfortable with, and I have 10 guys who are all improving and getting better.”
For Allen and Cleare, for instance, improvement derives from consistent play. For others such as Mitchell and Layman, it’s been a conditioning issue. According to Turgeon, Mitchell only recently got back into shape, while Layman has focused on intensified weightlifting sessions.
“I think it’s a little bit what you expect,” Turgeon said of Maryland’s freshmen. “I think Seth’s probably been the most consistent of that group. What I am seeing is this: It’s what I expect, and different games some guys have had more opportunities than others.
“For the most part, they’d all like to play more, but they’re happy with their minutes and happy they’re making us better. There’s so much basketball that lies ahead. We’ve got better games coming up that will test us a lot more. The young guys, have they been as good as I thought they’d be? Yeah. At other times have they not been as good? Yes. I think you’re talking about some young players who are adapting to a new situation.”
Turgeon has met individually with certain players to discuss the potential of diminishing minutes, but hasn’t addressed the team as a whole. Ever since the Terps (10-1) returned from Christmas break, settling in with film sessions Wednesday night, two practices Thursday and one Friday, Turgeon has been impressed with their hard work. Perhaps, he said, the hiatus helped with focus.
Even with Delaware State (5-7) on the docket Saturday and IUPUI on New Year’s Day, the Terps have primarily worked on themselves rather than scout opponents. Turgeon still spent a day preparing for Delaware State’s slow-down offense, which is similar to the one employed by South Carolina State that gave Maryland some trouble, but returned to offensive execution and “time-and-score” situations.
It’s also allowed Turgeon to see improvements among his four freshmen, many of whom are still fighting for a rotation spot.
“Are they totally ready for what lies ahead? Maybe not,” Turgeon said. “Some might be further along than others. But they’ll respond. They’re good basketball players.”
When: 12:30 p.m.
Where: Comcast Center.
Internet: Game televised on ESPN3.com.
Radio: WTEM (980 AM).
Records: Terrapins 10-1; Hornets 5-7.