With Pe’Shon Howard (flu) left behind in College Park, Seth Allen similarly hampered by sickness and Alex Len benched with foul trouble during Wednesday’s loss at Florida State, Coach Mark Turgeon had an easier time mixing and matching his lineup — a rarity this season — settling on a veteran-heavy group for the stretch run that included Maryland’s two seniors, Logan Aronhalt and James Padgett.
“It was easier that night, obviously,” Turgeon said Friday, preparing to channel his inner Forrest Gump. “The hardest thing for personnel decisions is I never know what I’m going to get. That’s the hard part. We have subbed a little bit different, the last four or five games, right or wrong. So I can’t tell you. I just did a lunch and they asked me the same question. I don’t know.”
The Terps have fielded 10 starting lineups through 21 games, including seven in eight ACC games. All 10 players in Turgeon’s rotation have started at least one game. Only Aronhalt hasn’t started at least two. The thing is, Turgeon typically prefers to settle on one specific lineup, bringing continuity to his players and allowing them to settle into predictable roles.
Only that hasn’t happened this season. As January turns into February and the midway point of conference play rapidly approaches for these inconsistent Terrapins, very little has been settled.
“You know, basketball is a funny sport,” freshman Shaq Cleare said. “One night your bench guy could go off, and the next one of your starters could go off. We have such a deep rotation, he just wants to make sure everyone plays and everyone’s happy. That’s why he’s been switching up the rotation and starting lineup. He’s just doing what’s best for us and best for the program. With a deep rotation, we’ll be all right.”
The temptation has existed for Turgeon to shorten the bench, but inconsistencies have rendered that nearly impossible. And if Turgeon’s comments Friday hold true, the Terps will field their 11th lineup against Wake Forest at Comcast Center on Saturday afternoon.
“Nah,” Turgeon said when asked if he knew Saturday’s starting lineup yet. “Just been watching a lot of film. We’ll start putting in our game plan today, working on it, after today’s practice I’ll have a good feel of what I’m going to do.”
Dez Wells has proven himself to be Maryland’s most consistent weapon on a nightly basis, but the guarantees stop there. Even Alex Len struggled with foul trouble against the Seminoles. Allen earned his fifth career start in Tallahassee after missing the first half against Duke because of disciplinary issues, but played just 16 minutes. Jake Layman and Cleare have each started the past two games, but Turgeon could easily shake things up again against the Demon Deacons.
“I like guys to know when they’re going to play and not going to play,” Turgeon said. “Historically I’ve done that. This has just been a very strange year for that. I am trying to shorten the bench. I am trying. But you never know, so it makes it difficult.”
Turgeon has preached all season that starting lineups matter far less than the group that finishes games for the Terps. But even that fluctuates daily. Padgett played 10 more minutes against Florida State than he had in the past three games combined, while Aronhalt was two minutes away from tying his seaso -high.
“It’s definitely not typical for any college team to be this far into the season without having a regular rotation,” Aronhalt said. “But Coach is in a tough position with 10 guys who can play, and play well and score. I don’t think anyone’s really stepped up enough to demand 35 minutes a game. Guys just have to be ready to play with whoever, and that’s all there is to it.”