Playing three games in four days against legitimate and talented competition tends to reveal quite a bit about a team. Such is the case with the Maryland Terrapins, who faced their first three real challenges of the Mark Turgeon era in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off over the past week, going 1-2 and experiencing a few ups and arguably quite a few more downs.
It's early to be making any concrete conclusions about the quality of Maryland or the potential this season holds in store, particularly given that two contributors - including the starting point guard - aren't in the lineup and won't be for another month or two. But it's impossible to go to a tournament like that without some takeaways.
In fact, a few in particular stood out to me. The obvious one being that:
Maryland lacks a true point guard; it shows, and it hurts. Pe'Shon Howard isn't going to be a cure-all for Maryland's offensive woes. He was a good freshman point guard last year off the bench, but I'm pretty sure he isn't Kendall Marshall, or even Scott Machado, for that matter. Expectations for his comeback probably needed to be scaled back a bit, especially given that he won't have practiced for months and will be returning from injury.
Despite that, though, it's pretty obvious that he'll have a starting spot waiting for him when he gets healthy, unless something really major changes between now and late January. Nick Faust, for all of his scoring talent and surprising court vision, is overwhelmed as a freshman playing out of position against up-tempo and suffocating defenses. Terrell Stoglin, for as much as Maryland needs his points, has always been more about the scoring than the distributing, and that has the unfortunate effect of disrupting Maryland's offensive rhythm.
The deficiency at point guard couldn't have been more painfully obvious than it was against Iona, a defense Maryland should've lit up - heck, Western Michigan, which went 0-3 in San Juan, hung 88 on the Gaels. Instead, the Terrapins often couldn't even in-bound the ball, and when they did they just as often threw it away when faced with full-court pressure. And even when they avoided that, they then had to run a set and try to find an open shot, which also proved a problem. Put a steady and confident ballhandler in charge - or, for that matter, two of them, if you move Stoglin to the 2 - and the press not only becomes easy to break, but you have to wonder if the half-court offense runs significantly more smoothly, too.
It's a counterfactual, of course, and for all we know Howard would throw the ball away, too. Somehow, I doubt it. While Maryland's offense will still struggle even after MVPe' returns, they aren't likely to be so incredibly neutered that they have trouble getting the ball inbounded or up the court. And for that reason alone, I think the redshirting rumors for Pe'Shon should probably be put to rest: if he's healthy, he needs to play. Maryland doesn't really have another choice, unless they're content to finish at or near the bottom of the ACC. I'm guessing they won't be.
For the moment, as goes Terrell Stoglin, so goes Maryland. And I don't think I like that. The second part, for what it's worth, has nothing to do with Stoglin, and everything to do with the constitution of Maryland's roster at the moment. Maryland is inefficient enough offensively that they're forced to rely heavily on Stoglin, easily the best scorer on the team and capable of moments of brilliance.
The problem is that Stoglin is also prone to moments of self-indulgence and forced shots, which often come in spurts and outside the rhythm of the offense. Against Colorado, he can get away with them. Against Alabama, he most certainly cannot.
That leads to some very erratic performances, of which we got a nice up-close view in Puerto Rico. Against Alabama in the opener, he had a disastrous game, going 0-9 from the field and finishing with only six points. Of course, he followed that up with a career-high 32 points that injected a fair amount of (perhaps misguided) optimism into Maryland's fanbase. That was before an average 7-17, 17-point, 4-turnover performance against Iona, where he did okay but not nearly well enough for Maryland to win.
And that isn't his necessarily his fault. With the way Maryland's roster is situated right now, Maryland has no consistent secondary or tertiary scorer. So when Stoglin can't go utterly H•A•M, it hurts a lot. And, if he has an Alabama-type 0-fer, you might as well write the whole thing off. Last year, they could look to Jordan Williams to put up points in the post, or even an occasional big game from Cliff Tucker or Adrian Bowie. The pressure was distributed. Who are those guys this year? Do they exist? I'm not sure they do.
That has the potential to change a little in the short-term and a lot in the long-term. Right away, it looks like Sean Mosley may be emerging as an offensive option, which would be huge. In a few months, too, Howard's return could have a domino effect, allowing Stoglin to become more efficient off the ball and Faust to settle in on the wing. (Importantly, too, Howard would be able to deny Stoglin the ball if he isn't feeling it.) And, of course, some reinforcements are on the way, with Shaquille Cleare, Jake Layman, and hopefully at least one big-time scorer coming in next season. (I think it's unrealistic to expect big things out of Seth Allen right away.)
Until that happens, though, Maryland is likely going to need strong performances from the Arizona native to pull out games.
Speaking of needing other offensive options, is this really Sean Mosley? You're excused if you're a little skeptical about Sugar Sean finally turning the corner offensively. After all, we've seen this before. Like when he had 19 at UNC in his freshman year, or when he started his sophomore year with ten double-digit point totals in eleven games, including 26 against Villanova and a 14.1 ppg average. We know what that led to: disappointment and offensive struggles. For as good as Mosley has been defensively and all the great little things he does, most people simply accepted that he doesn't have the scoring gene.
Which is why we're both surprised and untrusting of Mosley's scoring outburst in San Juan. He, like everyone else, struggled against Alabama, shooting 1-8 and finishing with four points. After that, though, he scored 16 against Colorado, and then 21 against Iona. Those two performances included eight total three-pointers, which equalled his total in all of ACC play last season. The man shot 56% from three during the tournament, for Juan's sake.
So the question on my mind: is this the real Sean Mosley, or is it just another tease? If it's real, and if Maryland can harness his newfound offensive potential, then perhaps some of the issues mentioned above about Stoglin evaporate. I don't think Mosley will ever be a primary offensive option, someone who you run sets for every trip down the floor, but if he really has recovered his shooting stroke, it might be able to take the slightest bit of pressure off the rest of the perimeter players. And, once Howard returns and distributes the ball as we all hope he will, the offense will be only stronger for the discovery.
Assuming, of course, it isn't a hoax.
As a defensive coach, Mark Turgeon might have some qualms. Have no doubt that Turge is building this team defensively. Also have no doubt that he was occasionally frustrated by what he saw at that end of the floor.
That's because Maryland's closing out on open jump-shooters and their defensive rotation was found wanting more often that not. It just wasn't up to snuff for any team, let alone one with a defensive-minded coach. The walk-ons, if nothing else, consistently ran out to pester shooters, which is something that the other players struggled with, especially against Alabama. (Who's idea was it to give Tony Mitchell a bunch of open threes?)
The good news is that that's easily correctable. And once they do correct it, they should be okay. Rebounding, especially, looked like a step-up from the Gary era, possibly because players are now encouraged to box out. That gives quite a bit of potential for this team to be solid defensively, especially with the post players looking serviceable.
Nick Faust isn't there yet. But should we have expected him to be? The answer to that question, in retrospect, is probably "no." It's easy to get caught up in the hype of a talented, highly-touted, local wing coming into the program and impressing everyone with his play in practice and exhibitions. It's also irresponsible, no matter how miserly it may make you seem at the time, particularly when he's playing at the wrong position.
The practices and exhibitions are done, and Faust hasn't done quite as well as everyone expected in the real games. He did have an impressive 15 points against Colorado, but managed only four points against Iona and Alabama combined, including an 0-6 performance from three. And it hasn't only been the numbers; he hasn't even looked the part, shooting 40% from the free throw line and missing his threes by wide margins - even one of his made treys banked in off the glass. For someone who was supposed to be a lights-out shooter, that's certainly not what everyone hoped for.
Perhaps it should've been what everyone expected, though. Hindsight is always 20-20, but freshmen are fickle by nature to begin with. Remember when Harrison Barnes went to Puerto Rico and shot 4-24 in unexpected losses to Minnesota and Vanderbilt? Or when Ryan Kelly was certifiably terrible his freshman year? Stuff happens, particularly when you're a freshman.
But on top of that, Faust is running point for Maryland when Stoglin isn't, which is actually most of the time. He's struggled with it, which is understandable given that he isn't a point guard. It's a bit unrealistic to ask a freshman swingman to play point guard, break the press, distribute the ball fairly, and on top of all that put up points in the rhythm of the offense, particularly against a) One of the best defenses in the country, and b) A team that plays at a ridiculous break-neck pace.
I'm not saying it's a certainty Faust will turn it around, but it's hardly a certainty - or, at this point, even a likelihood - that he won't. Patience. Now isn't the time for panic.
Which is good advice for Maryland's entire team, by the way: don't worry. This is a building year. I'm skeptical by nature. I'm not 100% lock-down sold, as many are, that Turgeon will have the program up-and-running in no time. There's plenty of promise, but it's far from guaranteed. So don't take this as a "don't worry, everything will be fine in a year's time," sentiment. Either it will be or it won't be; there's no reason to try to figure that out now.
But there's no way you can look at the current season and expect to see results. There are simply too many things working against Maryland and Turgeon to hope to achieve that. There is absolutely no shame in going 1-2 in Puerto Rico, particularly when the two losses were to the best team in the tournament (Alabama) and the third-best team in the tournament (Iona, who lost to second-place Purdue by a point).
This season can't be judged by results, because there's no reason to expect results. Instead, it needs to be judged by performances and progress. I'm not sure if I was happy with what I saw in Puerto Rico, particularly offensively, but the team and individual performances are what needs to be evaluated, not the wins and losses. And given where Maryland is as a team right now, I think you can wait and see how those performances progress throughout the year before fretting too much.
As expected, Maryland isn't going to be good this year. It sucks, but it's the truth. The sooner we all embrace that and use it as our starting point for our expectations, the easier this'll be. Wins would be nice, but I'm much more concerned with the progress of the offense, the development of Nick Faust and Mychal Parker, Turgeon's coaching prowess, and, frankly, recruiting. That's the focus, because that's how Maryland gets out of where they are now.