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Pregame notes: Defense keeping Charles Mitchell from starting role

(AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

If basketball were football, Charles Mitchell would start on offense and that would be the end of that. But since this particular sport demands a command on both ends of the floor, and lacks the opportunity to exchange players between possessions, inconsistent defense has kept the sophomore coming off the bench.

“I think if we were basing it on offense, I think Charles would be a starter for us,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “But we don’t base it just on offense.”

So it remains unlikely that, when Maryland faces George Washington in Sunday’s BB&T Classic, Mitchell will replace his roommate and dear friend Shaquille Cleare in the starting lineup. Cleare has proven himself a capable, if not strong, defender through eight games this season, and even though Cleare’s offensive rating ranks last among the team’s regulars – discounting Varun Ram, who has attempted only eight shots this season – both Turgeon and Mitchell feel improved defense must precede promotion.

“My effort offensively is different from my effort defensively,” Mitchell said, in a refreshing moment of self-awareness atypical of college basketball players. “When I was watching film, my lack of defensive presence was a big problem. I just got to get better at it. If I had the same motor as on the offensive end as I do on the defensive end we’ll be a better team.”

If Mitchell produced defensively like he does on the offensive glass, he might count among the nation’s best post players. His 20.2 percent offensive rebounding rate ranks ninth nationally and second in the ACC. Against Ohio State, he mopped up for an absurd nine offensive rebounds and finished with his second double-double of the season. His turnover rate has curbed – just three total over the past six games – and his decision-making down low no longer consists of wild spin, nearsighted moves without much attention paid to open shooters.

So why not shake things up and reward Mitchell?

“I understand what you guys are saying,” Turgeon said. “Charles it actually playing more than my starting center anyway. I’m just trying to get us to be better as a group. It really doesn’t matter to me who starts.”

Mitchell neither, which may explain Turgeon’s hesitance. He continues to insist that Cleare, his prized four-star recruit plucked from Texas, will eventually cobble together a consistent stretch, and so long as Mitchell continues to provide a bench spark, whoever starts in the paint may not matter as much.

With a small offensive usage rate – between 12 and 16 percent of possessions used, according to – and even worse rebounding numbers – sixth on the team at 2.2 per game – Cleare’s value has been limited to the defensive end, where he continues to mimic a brick wall. Against Ohio State, Cleare kept Amir Williams to just two field-goal attempts and one defensive rebound in 28 minutes. Sunday, he will likely defend either forward Kevin Larsen (6 feet 10) or the hyper-athletic Isaiah Armwood (6 feet 9).

“He did a great job on that kid,” Turgeon said. “Shaq did a bad job on ball screens, but he did a great job on Amir Williams, who’s a heck of a player. Kid had one rebound. So Shaq hit him and hit him hard on box outs. I think his physicality helped us in that game. Defensively I really don’t worry about Shaq. I think he’s getting it. Tomorrow will be a big test for him. He’s been really solid for us.”

>> Point guard Seth Allen (broken foot) will have a six-week X-ray next Thursday to determine his rate of rehabilitation progress. The projected return timetable, issued when he suffered the injury during preseason practice, has Allen returning sometime around New Years’ Day, though it’s possible Maryland will ease him back into live action over the ensuing weeks. The Terps open 2014 against Georgia Tech at home on Jan. 4.

“Every report I hear he’s doing great,” Turgeon said. “Staying in shape, staying away from McDonalds. He looks good. I think the earliest they said was eight weeks, eight to 10. I think they’re still saying that. We’ll know more next Thursday.”

>> Nick Faust undoubtedly regressed against Ohio State, making just 1 of 7 three-pointers that plummeted his season average to 18.8 percent. During the Paradise Jam, the junior appeared to have discovered his role as a lockdown wing defender who penetrates off the dribble on offense and avoids hoisting deep jumpers early into the shot clock. That was not the Faust who appeared against the Buckeyes.

“He had a bad night,” Turgeon said. “I don’t know what it was. Maybe just the arena we were playing in. I thought we all got a little bit selfish at times because we were trying to do it ourselves as opposed to doing it as a team. We had about five or six bad shots. Nick’s been good. He had a step back. I expect Nick to play well tomorrow.”

In discussing his team’s matchup against Maryland, George Washington Coach Mike Lonergan mentioned Faust as someone “capable of getting 20 a night.” Indeed, Faust scored 17 points against both Connecticut and Northern Iowa, the latter drawing praise from Turgeon who called it Faust’s best game in a Maryland uniform, but the guard has just 16 points on 7 for 24 shooting over the past three games combined.

“Faust is the kind of guy we can’t forget about,” Lonergan said. “Even if he shoots like 18 percent from threes, he’s got good height, he’s got athleticism, he’s capable. I hope he has a jack-it-up, chuck-it-up night.”

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