Rarely will a 16-point, nine-rebound game cause a slide in confidence, but Alex Len holds himself to lofty standards. As the expectations mount and NBA scouts fill Comcast Center’s press row, Len has struggled over the past three games, averaging three points and five minutes below his season averages. By his own admission, Len “had a little slump.”
Much of Len’s struggles can be traced to facing undersize opponents who often double-team Len in a zone defense, fronting him with a smaller guard then sticking a post player on his back to prevent the lob pass. As a result, Len’s touches have decreased, with post-entry passes a near impossibility. Even Virginia Tech, which Coach Mark Turgeon expected to play big, benched power forward C.J. Barksdale and, at one point, had 6-foot-7 walk-on Christian Beyer guarding Len.
But Len will get a fresh start Wednesday night against Florida State, which regularly plays two 7-footers in its 10-man rotation and figures to allow Len more one-on-one scenarios on the block. Kiel Turpin, a 7-foot center from Illinois, has started all 14 games this season but averages just 12.6 minutes and 4.0 points, while Boris Bojanovsky has appeared in every game, averaging 10.7 minutes and 2.3 rebounds.
“I do think it’s good for Alex, having some size out there,” Turgeon said Tuesday. “This is our toughest opponent since the Kentucky game. Obviously both teams are much further along than the first game. This is really what we need. A physical team to come in here, see if we can be more physical.”
More so than Len, Turgeon said, facing a physical Seminoles squad will provide an opportunity for Shaquille Cleare, Maryland’s freshman center who hasn’t really seen much of an opportunity the past few games, primarily because of the opposition’s size. The Terps, however, have practiced tall lineups with Cleare and Len playing together, so seeing that against Florida State wouldn’t be a surprise.
“You can see, they’re coming,” Turgeon said of Florida State. “You watch film from early until now, they’re really starting to get into a groove. Defensively, those new guys are starting to get it. They’re the best defensive team we’ll have played so far.”
Even as Len’s offensive production has dipped, including a season-low six points in just 17 minutes against Delaware State, he’s worked on kicking out passes along the perimeter, finding open shooters when defenses double down. After the Delaware State game, Len and Nick Faust had an extended workout session, firing jumpers and free throws to shake off another frustrating night.
As their hour-long extra practice neared conclusion, Len and Faust grouped together beneath one basket. They took turns shooting layups, while the other hacked away, trying to simulate contact and physicality.
“I just try to keep working hard every day,” Len said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s a good or bad game. Just get extra shots up, get better. Exactly, just be stronger with the ball.”