Admittedly, my recap of last night's game was a little light. Not quite as much substance as usual. That's a shame, because a seven-point, non-conference win over a Big East team is usually prime conclusion-jumping material.
To rectify that, I've put pen to paper (finger to keyboard?) on a few thoughts on Maryland's win last night over Notre Dame. And I'll give you one guess as to whom we start with.
Terrell Stoglin may have his faults, but his scoring ability is as good as it gets. I think we already knew this to some extent, but it seems Stoglin's performances get more and more sensational with each game. It appears he bagged 31, not the 33 that was my count, but his stat-line and his performance were still worthy of any superlative you want to throw their way. And hey, he even did it on a respectable 11-20 shooting with only one turnover.
I'm actually reminded of when Stoglin came out of high school; the adjective that was most-used to describe him was "savvy." Little did we know how on-point that'd be. He's not the quickest guy in the world, not the most athletic, certainly not the biggest. But, in addition to superb skill, he has an acute understanding of how to create space, fantastic body control, and a touch that is at times otherwordly. Sure, he's a chucker: he'll always take shots out of the rhythm of the offense, always look for something that might not be there. But he's so good that, more often than not, you'll take the end result.
That's usually what happened last night, with the obvious example being the ridiculous three-point dagger that sealed the game. Turgeon put the ball in the hands of his best guy, and told him to make a play. And that's what Stoglin did: he drifted right, stepped around a screen, took a quick hop step to get an extra few feet of space, and went up for an off-balance, contested three. In all honesty, it was a pretty poor shot ... for anyone that wasn't Terrell Stoglin.
In fact, I now feel comfortable labeling Stoglin as one of the nation's elite scorers. Don't believe me? Look at the stats. He has the highest scoring average in the country among the high-major conferences, a full point and a third above Vanderbilt's John Jenkins. I'd put his natural skill up against anyone in the country. (I want to see Stoglin go one-on-one with Tu Holloway.) And that just as a sophomore.
I have no idea if he can retain the same effectiveness in a year or two, when his usage rate is cut in half and Maryland has other talent. He's the type of guy who thrives when the ball is in his hands, and when he has it less he might be less efficient. (Not that he's terribly efficient as it is.) His scoring average will certainly drop. But if he happens to be somehow near as good ... well, buckle up. In two years or so, we might be going on quite the ride.
Three words: Free. Throw. Shooting. Maryland's been so bad at it for the past year and a half that it must've cost them a solid 10 games or so. It certainly cost them a win over Illinois - which, by the way, just beat ranked-and-undefeated Gonzaga.
Before last night, they were 326th in the country in free throw percentage, at 59%. Then they proceeded to hit 25 of their 35 freebies, which is 71%. That's an extra five points over what they would've had at the previous rate - a five points which, obviously, proved pretty important, if not exactly critical. And that's despite getting another 0-4 performance from Nick Faust, who in all honesty should be expected to be a 75% shooter or so.
Ready for a shocking stat? I guess you pick from a half-dozen or so, but I'll go with this one: last night's game was the first time Maryland as a team had more assists than turnovers all season.
Yes, it took seven games to get the positive column in A/TO ratio. But it finally happened, with the Terrapins notching 9 assists to only 8 turnovers. You can chalk it up to any number of factors: the lack of pressure extended by Notre Dame's defense and the offense largely existing in the hands of Stoglin were important for sure, but Maryland's offense also featured better movement both on and off the ball and looked significantly less sloppy, even out of basic things like inbound passes.
The offense still does and probably always will revolve around Stoglin finding his shot. But it doesn't appear to be entirely toothless when that doesn't happen. Anyone else remember the Nick Faust catch-and-shoot three, or the pass from Padgett in the post? These are things that never would've happened two weeks ago.
Maryland dominated the boards, as they should've. The Terrapins finished up with a 37-26 advantage on the glass, with 15 offensive rebounds (and for the tempo-free crowd, their reb% rates were comfortably better, too). Some will chalk this up to Turgeon preaching boxing out. Realistically, though, this is what was supposed to happen. ND is a poor rebounding team to begin with, and to make matters worse their best big man Jack Cooley missed the game. They only had two true big men on the entire roster, and they played a combined 25 minutes. If Maryland didn't dominate the glass, they'd be in some serious trouble.
James Padgett is still a garbageman. And I'm fine with that. Let's face it: Padgett will probably never be an elite low-post scorer in the vein of Jordan Williams or Jared Sullinger. It's just not in him: he only has one move; he still seems a little flustered with the ball down low; he isn't alert enough in the post to pass out of double teams; and, most frustratingly, he's still good for about three travels a game, if not more.
Some probably had dreams of some incredible makeover after he turned in back-to-back good performances. But we all forgot one thing: that's never been his game. Even in high school, Padge wasn't a low-post star. He was a fighter, a scrapper who played second fiddle to a perimeter star and got rebounds and garbage points: putbacks, contested shots, dunks, free throws off getting hacked. It's not a pretty game, but it's an effective one.
And that's the Padgett we're starting to see blossom in College Park. His 11 points and 10 rebounds marked his second double-double of the season and his third-straight solid performance: first 11 points against Florida-Gulf Coast, then 16 against Illinois, and finally this double-double against ND. He's done it not so much by flashy post moves or overpowering weaker opponents; he's fought for rebounds, gotten himself in good positions, been aggressive, and hit free throws.
These things are things he's struggled with in the past, particularly in regards to aggressiveness and free throw shooting. His newfound forcefulness in the post is a welcome change from his former indecision, as is his shooting from the stripe: he's shot 67% in the last three games, and though that isn't quite good enough it's a far cry from the 50% we're used to.
Perhaps a flashback to his past is helping him settle, with Stoglin playing the role of Lance Stephenson. The Terrapins, much like Lincoln HS in James' days, already have an elite scorer on the perimeter. All Maryland needs is a complement down low, someone who can bail out the occasional bad decision with a scrappy offensive board and add 8-to-15 points a game. And if that's what James Padgett is, he's filling a vital role. Let's hope this three-game stretch is the real Padge.
I think Sean Mosley is very, very quietly becoming Maryland's second-most effective perimeter scorer. I know it's fun to crack wise about Sugar Sean's unimposing offensive game. It's not exactly a difficult target, if you know what I mean. But, uh, I think he's found his stroke.
Mose was 3-4 on three-point field goals against Notre Dame and finished with 17 points. He's now averaging 11 points a game, with a 3pt% of 46% (not a typo). This is his third game of the season in which he's topped 15. If I offered you that before the season you'd have taken it and run, especially if I told you he'd still be playing good defense, winning numerous loose balls, and grabbing 5 rebounds a game.
He's not a star, or someone who can carry Maryland's offense by himself. And he's not going to turn in 15-point games night-in night-out. But he's efficient, and unlike past years you can count on him to make his open shots. Heck, even his "bad" games - 6 points against FGCU and 5 against Illinois - were more a product of him not getting shots, rather than not hitting shots (was 50% from the field in both contests). His points today, the majority of which came in the second-half when Stoglin simmered down, were critical, and they'll be critical again as the season moves on.
I don't know who Mychal Parker is anymore. One day he's an easy target thanks to his apparent inability to dribble the ball 10 feet. The next day he's a potential breakout performer who goes 6-6 from the line, grabs 7 rebounds, and has multiple intelligent passes. (And not just "acceptable" passes - these were really smart looks.)
I've been fooled by Mych (Mike? Myke?) in the past, in both directions. We know what we know about him, and for now that's that he's extremely athletic and raw. Until he turns in a string of consistent performances one way or the other, judgment is firmly reserved. And that's all I have to say about that.
Nick Faust: not there yet. But you can figure that out on your own, so I won't spend much time on it. Hopefully he settles in once he moves off the ball.
It's too early to say it definitively, but it certainly looks like Maryland is improving. Admittedly, this is likely to have something to do with the quality of opponent - Notre Dame isn't very good and is probably in worse shape than Maryland. But it's not just opposition-related: the Terrapins played well against a much-superior opponent in Illinois, too, and are taking care of the things they can take care of. Don't look at the opposition, and just look at what Maryland can control, and you'll be pleasantly surprised: things like defensive rotation (ND shot 7-21 from three) and ball movement on offense (discussed above) have improved to the point where it's tough to tell that this is the same team that looked so unimpressive in Puerto Rico.
Perhaps the most important thing has to do with individual improvement there's been. Guys like Stoglin, Mosley, Padgett are all playing at the highest levels of their careers. And it hasn't been through remaking their game. They've simply become the best versions of themselves: Stoglin's cutting down on overdribbling, Mosley's hit his open shots, and Padgett being more aggressive in the post. These are refinements that tweaked and improved their previous selves: Stoglin's still a chucker, Mosley's still a background scorer, Padgett's still a garbageman. But they're all more effective at their roles.
I've always said this season boils down to progression: with such a little shot at contending, it's all about how Maryland improves over the course of the season, both individually and as a team. On that mark, it's been a success thus far, with the obvious caveat that things can change. In truth, it's probably simplistic to give credit for all of that to Mark Turgeon. Basketball's a complex game, and a variety of factors - increased PT being a big one - likely play in. But if it is Turgeon, the progress paints a bright picture for the future.