It had taken 22 games to reach this point, but forward Charles Mitchell finally received his first start of the season for the Maryland men’s basketball team. He played 20 minutes versus North Carolina, by no means high for the sophomore given his bench production this season, and was again dogged on the glass, grabbing double-digit rebounds for the sixth time this season.
Though Mitchell ultimately fouled out and again scored fewer than one point per possession – the fourth time in five games this has happened – he has still proven himself consistently energetic on the boards, which is more than could be said about the classmate he replaced in the lineup, center Shaquille Cleare (10 rebounds in the past five games combined). Given this, Coach Mark Turgeon predicted Mitchell will start again on Saturday against Florida State.
“He practiced well the past two days,” Turgeon said. “He rebounds. Defensively he’s continuing, a work in progress for us. He at least rebounds and gives us second-chance points, which is big. I think our offense feels a little bit better when he’s in there too.”
It can, provided Mitchell mops up underneath and takes high-percentage shots at the rim. But he can be one-dimensional at times too, taking a post-entry pass and, like clockwork, backs his defender down, twirls one way and lofts a hook shot, regardless of the situation. More than 40 percent of Mitchell’s field-goal attempts this season are classified as two-point jumpers by Hoop-Math.com. These are essentially hook shots in Mitchell’s case and he’s only shooting 28.3 percent on those tries.
But with Mitchell moving into the starting lineup, the opportunity for bench production grows thinner. Nick Faust has been solid since accepting his sixth-man role, scoring 10.1 points per game in ACC play, but both Cleare and Roddy Peters have seen their production and minutes fall off a cliff recently.
Juxtapose this with Florida State, which has brought leading scorer Aaron Thomas (13.0 ppg) and guard Ian Miller (12.7 ppg) off the bench for the majority of this season.
“It’s kind of unusual for that to happen,” Turgeon said. “So no, you try not to think about it. You know he’s going to play starter minutes in the end that makes their bench scoring a little better. What we want to do is just play our game. If our bench is playing well, they’ll play more. If not, we’ll get our scoring from our starters. Last year, we’d have games where we’d have 40 points from our bench. It’s different. This year’s a little bit different. We’re not quite as deep, not as much firepower coming off the bench.”
As for using freshman Damonte Dodd more, given the center’s lanky arms and rim-protecting capabilities against a similarly tall team like the Seminoles, Turgeon was blunt in his response. It seemed to indicate either Dodd wasn’t ready or Turgeon didn’t have enough confidence in him yet to justify minutes.
“Am I saying he’s not going to play?” Turgeon asked. “I don’t know. But we are who we are and we’ve just got to figure out a way to play the best we can.”
>> Just over four weeks ago, the Terps got blown out of Tallahassee by a torrent of three-pointers. Florida State made 16 of 24 in a 24-point victory, including six from Miller and three apiece from Thomas and Devin Bookert.
“We were just really bad,” forward Jake Layman said.
Opposing teams seem to always get hot against Maryland and much of that stems from its three-point defense, which ranks 273rd nationally.
>> As far back as Maryland seems from the NCAA tournament field, the overall unpredictable landscape of college basketball this season has put the Terps within striking distance. Five of their last eight games are against teams ranked in the RPI top 50 and Clemson has an outside shot of cracking that plateau too.
But beating Virginia Tech and Wake Forest at home won’t help the Terps. They need victories against the likes of Virginia (RPI: 20), Duke (RPI: 9) or Syracuse (RPI: 5). It’s hard to put a magic number on it, especially because whacky conference tournaments could shake up presumed one-bid leagues, but Maryland possesses something few other at-large candidates have: a strong chance help itself.
“We’ll handle tomorrow, but like you said we do have a lot of teams on the schedule that will have a number in front of their name,” Turgeon said. “Gives you opportunities to beat good teams.”
Said Layman: “We have a bunch of ranked teams that we’re playing coming up and this is a big one tomorrow to get us started on that run. We’re excited.”
Of course, is it reasonable to expect the Terps to salvage their season against ranked teams? That’s entirely another issue.