“Well, they can’t get in a half-court game,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said at the outset of the Maryland-Virginia game on Monday night. “The tempo is Virginia’s if it’s a half-court game.”
In this manner, the Terrapins were faced with a conundrum. The Cavaliers rank among the nation’s 15 slowest teams, even though their revamped offense has enjoyed a slight uptick in scoring this season. The natural inclination, then, would be to force the tempo. But if the Terrapins did this, they might force themselves into the scenario of defending for 35 seconds, then playing offense for less than 10, then rinsing and repeating. That, in itself, was a recipe for extremely tired players.
So Coach Mark Turgeon did a little bit of both. He installed a soft press, not so much to rattle Virginia’s back court but to ensure Maryland didn’t have to guard sets for as long. (The several turnovers forced were a nice byproduct.) He also implemented something that rankled many Terps fans after their 61-53 loss at John Paul Jones Arena: a three-man perimeter weave.
Most of the time, this did nothing. Seth Allen would dribble right and hand off to Dez Wells. Wells would dribble left and hand off to Nick Faust. Around and around they went, until the original left-to-right formation was reinstated, six dribble-handoffs later. From there, the Terps went into their offense.
The reason for this was simple. Maryland is clearly not the most patient team. When the players rush shots, things like this happen, with Evan Smotrycz stepping back for a contested three-pointer in the left corner and Seth Allen jacking up the long rebound almost as soon as he got it, all with a wide-open Jake Layman flapping his arms for the ball.
So it basically reached the stage where Turgeon forced the Terps to burn 10 to 15 seconds off the clock by simply dribbling around without much aim other than to control them from not shooting fast and sucking the energy from the building. In hindsight, it didn’t happen nearly as often as it felt on Monday night. Maryland only ran its three-man weave eight times, four per half. At one point, play-by-play man Sean McDonough speculated that the formation could help the Terps stretch the floor and attack, but they never did. It always turned into a set or a motion.
Tracking these possessions on a film review, Maryland produced seven points off these eight possessions, a rate of 0.88 points per possession which was slightly lower than its 0.94 points per possession otherwise. That said, it produced several open looks after going into either motion or its two-post-at-the-elbow horns look, like a Wells three-pointer, a Jake Layman three-pointer or, in the best set the Terps ran all night, a Layman duck-in layup.
Let’s look at that last one. Maryland runs this exact play once for Layman every game, but sometimes it fails because of how hard teams dog the sophomore. Here, the screens weren’t exactly pretty – Layman and Evan Smotrycz kind of ran into each other before breaking – but Smotrycz cutting up high was enough to cause confusion among the Virginia defense. Layman then pushed off Akil Mitchell and effectively sealed Justin Anderson, who tried to recover, before ducking in for the layup.
Some other things the film review showed:
>> Allen is relatively small, but he’s fearless attacking the rim and quite crafty at bumping defenders off his path. His go-to move is an up-and-under from the left side, using his non-dominant hand to essentially stiff-arm any would-be blocker. He got called for an offensive foul on this once, but for a long first-half period, he was essentially un-guardable when driving.
>> Yesterday’s blog post looked at Smotrycz’s shooting struggles and contained a vote of confidence from Turgeon, who said the shot that went in and out was exactly what Maryland wanted. This is one of several three-point sets the Terps run and it was executed well, largely thanks to Charles Mitchell.
The forward first screens for Allen, then hedges like he’s screening for Wells before doubling back onto Smotrycz. This brief deke makes Mitchell hesitate, as if he thought about helping onto Wells. Meanwhile, Smotrycz loops up through the paint and around the arc for three. If the ensuing shot doesn’t slam in and out of the rim, it’s a one-point game.
>> On that out-of-bounds dunk before halftime: With no one guarding the inbounds passer, Maryland had five defenders guarding four players and still gave up a dunk at the buzzer. Virginia stacked, Mitchell curled and was hopping up and down by the rim for several seconds. It was Smotrycz’s man to mark, but he was helping up – a big no-no — because Nick Faust got clipped on a screen.
No one noticed Mitchell, which is silly because, with 1.8 seconds left, why wouldn’t Virginia at least set up a lob toward the rim? Smotrycz recovered nicely, but he couldn’t jump as high. Basically, Malcolm Brogdon made the pass Colin Kaepernick couldn’t against Richard Sherman and the Seahawks.
>> Faust played well. He took smart shots (nine points on 3-for-5 shooting), committed zero turnovers in 27 minutes and made a key steal/dunk that cut the Virginia lead to 54-50. Wells, meanwhile, had a rough shooting game. He air-balled two shots, had another miss everything but the backboard, another get swatted away and got called for charge late in the evening. Still, he reached double-digit scoring for the ninth straight game, grabbed four rebounds and handed out four assists against one turnover.
>> Jon Graham, who played a quiet 12 minutes (two points, three rebounds, one block, zero fouls), really enjoyed the taste of his shirt.