In a broad sense, that’s the challenge facing the entire Maryland squad in this season’s early-going, as the short-handed Terps struggle to maintain a respectable record until reinforcements arrive in the form of 7-1 center Alex Len, who will have served his NCAA-mandated suspension on Dec. 28, and Howard, whose return isn’t expected until late January.
With just seven scholarship players on the roster and senior guard Sean Mosley ailing with a turned ankle, Maryland’s lack of depth has created a host of concerns and accommodations.
Inexperienced players, like Faust, are forced to play more (the freshman averages 30 minutes a game). Starters must guard against piling up too many fouls and, more importantly, avoid injury. And Coach Mark Turgeon has slowed the tempo of his offense, directing Faust and sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin to walk the ball up the court more than he’d like, to make sure his squad has something left down the stretch.
Turgeon seemed to be merely half-joking Monday when he said he had considered petitioning the NCAA to shorten college games from 40 minutes to 20.
That’s the vulnerability—the Terps’ lack of depth—that Illinois will surely look to exploit Tuesday at Comcast Center, where Maryland hosts the Illini in this season’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
“The thing that scares me with anybody right now is they have quality depth,” Turgeon said of Illinois (6-0). “They’re playing 11 guys 10 minutes or more. That right there kind of scares you: Their relentless 11 guys, pressuring the back court. And they do a great job in their motion; they’re hard to guard.”
Maryland has never lost a home game in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, compiling a 9-3 record in the series and winning its last six contests.
Keeping the streak going will be a tall order.
Illinois reached the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 last season. Maryland was shut out of that event. Illinois has yet to lose a game this season. Maryland has exhausted itself to reach 3-2, with Stoglin providing an ACC-high 20.2 points per game.
After a one-step-forward, two-steps-back performance in the Puerto Rico Tip-off, Maryland played far more disciplined, effective basketball in defeating Florida Gulf Coast on Friday. The Terps’ defense was stout, and their shot selection was improved — at least for the first 30 minutes, until fatigue set in.
“I want our guys to get better, to play as close to our potential as we can,” Turgeon said. “Each day I see a little more confidence.”