The Washington Post

Film review: High post the key for Terps zone offense

Few items of consequence could reasonably be extracted from a 17-point victory over the conference’s worst team, but here are some quick observations after reviewing the film from Maryland’s romp over Virginia Tech on Tuesday.

>> Hastiness and impatience have been recurring problems for the Terrapins all season, things that surface in their worst, least effective moments on offense. This department brought a mixed bag before halftime, at which point Maryland trailed by one point, but the team was at its best against the Hokies’ zone defense when serenity won over all else.

As proven against Miami and Syracuse, the Terps have no better counter to a zone than putting guard Dez Wells at the high post around the free throw line, right in the soft spot of the zone behind the first line, getting him the basketball and letting him create. When that happens, this happens:

Such quick ball movement is atypical for Maryland in a half-court setting, but here it is perfect. The swings around the perimeter occupy the top two defenders, allowing Wells to slip into space. Once the posts help up – the ideal result for the offense in this situation – forward Charles Mitchell goes unnoticed, dives from the short corner and gets an easy layup.

“I think it opens up a lot because we have really good shooters and guys know how to space and relocate and get into my line of vision once I catch it and face up,” Wells said.

The numbers back this up, too. In the first half, the Terps ran 23 half-court possessions. On 10 of those, the high post received a touch. Five of those possessions resulted in baskets, and the other five offered quality looks that were missed: Wells on an off-balance floater to open the game, Nick Faust and Jake Layman on wide-open threes, Mitchell on a traveling violation despite having a wide-open layup and Evan Smotrycz badly missing an open jumper from the free throw line.

(A side note: Three of Maryland’s five turnovers, which happened to be the program’s fewest since 1998, came on entry passes into the high post. These can probably be excused in Coach Mark Turgeon’s book, because at least the offenders were looking for the right thing.)

On Maryland’s 13 possessions without a high-post touch, the team scored nine points and committed two turnovers on bad passes intended for Wells. After the game, Turgeon said the Terps tried a new principle: let the post touch it.

“The shots I don’t like are the quick ones,” he said, “or a pass is thrown at your feet and you bobble it and you still shoot it anyway. You know what I’m talking about. There were probably four or five of those. I thought we shot four or five threes with 20-25 on the shot clock.”

The second-half numbers were somewhat skewed because the Terps got so hot they all but abandoned the plan for high-post touches, making three-pointers on four straight possessions to blow the game wide open. But when they came, even when Smotrycz took his turn as the middle man instead of Wells, it generally helped spacing and generated open looks:

This pinball action gave Layman his third three-pointer of the night, in his sweet spot in the right-hand alley, without much to do except catch and shoot.

“We moved the ball great,” Layman said. “We got the ball inside, which is huge against their zone, and I got some open looks to knock them down.”

>> It has become a bittersweet ritual for the Terps, every few weeks receiving a glimmer of hope from center Shaq Cleare. That a six-point game could elicit optimism speaks volumes about the sophomore’s struggles this season, but playing without Mitchell seemed to light a spark underneath Cleare.

“He came out, really gave us a huge presence inside, had some huge dunks, some huge rebounds,” Layman said. “He was great tonight. Everyone was all fired up for him. Everyone was happy to see him play well.”

Those six points were more than Cleare had scored in his previous five games combined and his 17 minutes were his most since Jan. 25. The sheer joy in how his teammates reacted to his first dunk shows they’re aware of his tough season, but know moments like this are big for his confidence:

Perhaps as impressive was the one-handed, slung-over-the-shoulder swing pass Cleare threw on the ensuing possession, a smart way to beat the defense before it arrives:

>> Wells has spoken about improving his defense and he played a large role in holding Jarell Eddie to 14 points on 13 shots, three of which came when Smotrycz was chasing him around screens. In the second half, Wells drew a charge and had several big blocks, including this monstrosity:

“I feel good, regardless of whether I would have blocks or steals,” he said after. “I just have to come out and defend well. That’s something I feel like I haven’t done well in the past couple games is defended. That’s something I want to do today.”



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