On Maryland's Post-Feeding Problem

Our friends over at Rush the Court published an interesting piece a few days ago, just before the Duke game, on Maryland's failure (or unwillingness) to get the ball inside on a consistent basis. It's not something that's new to any Maryland fan, but it's always god to get some statistical backup for what our eyes are telling us. They took a look at the number of field goals attempted (and FGA minus offensive rebounds, which is valuable when considering someone like James Padgett) among the ACC's major frontcourt players, and ranked them on those measures. As you might expect, Maryland's three primary big men are all at the bottom of the totem pole.

It's an interesting topic and worthy of more thought, particularly after the Duke game on Wednesday night. The Terrapins had success, particularly in the first half, in getting the ball into the interior and attacking the rim, and their inability to replicate that in the second was a big reason for their offensive slowdown.

Let's update RTC's numbers to be accurate through today, while also adding a rough attempt at a tempo-free margin and a few other notables: (all numbers are per game)

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This is only a sampling of a few players, mind you; if you want to see all of the players, which includes a few combos and a few guys at the bottom of the playing time spectrum not included here, you can check them out in this here Google Doc.

These are hardly perfect measures, mind you; in fact, they're exceedingly imperfect. Do you include combos or face-up fours, like C.J. Leslie or Milton Jennings? How do you account for putback opportunities without robbing players of shot attempts (given that not all offensive rebounds result in shots, even if most do)? I'm not sure. I counted, in the end, players who play the 4 the majority of the time for their team, even if they don't play like traditional 4s; and subtracted offensive rebounds from shot totals, which might rob James Padgett of a half-attempt a game, but is necessary to try to equalize things. When you try to measure this sort of thing, though, without advanced shot data, you do the best can.

Anyway, point here is: Maryland really doesn't look to its post players. Like, at all. In fact, let's attempt to quantify it even more, adding up the totals and seeing which teams as a whole look to the post the most.

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Now, again, I couldn't count every player, and so to be fair cut it off at 15 minutes. That shouldn't have a serious impact, though, as you reach a point of diminishing returns in regards to people playing about 8 or 10 a game. (You'll notice that the two teams at the top of the chart have two players who pretty easily qualify as 'tweeners in C.J. Leslie and Travis McKie; I counted both. Taking them away would obviously drop their teams.)

The verdict: aside from Virginia Tech, which has only two true post players averaging 15 minutes a game, Maryland gets the ball to its big men less than anyone in the conference. (And VT's third big man, Cadarian Raines, averages literally 14.9 mpg; if he were included, VT would be above Maryland, even if you wanted to include Berend Weijs with the Terrapins at 12mpg.)

And, as RTC points out, it isn't as though Maryland's big men are entirely ineffective. Statistically, their offensive efficiency ratings are quite high; Padgett's is still the second on the team behind Terrell Stoglin, and Ashton Pankey's is quite high as well. Alex Len is still developing, of course, but he rarely takes bad shots - his true shooting percentage is the best on the team. They're all imperfect - Padgett is a black hole, Pankey often drifts and is sometimes invisible, and Len is extraordinarily raw - but with Maryland's offense struggling at the rate it is, aren't they worth more of a look?

Look at the Duke game as a great example. Bob Knight remarked several times how well Maryland was attacking the rim, and he was right: they were going right at Duke and getting high-percentage shots as a result. Sometimes they dumped it down to Padgett or Pankey and let them work, but more often it was the perimeter players penetrating into the lane. Pe'Shon Howard was great at this, getting past his man more or less at will and then dumping it off for easy dunks or lay-ins. Terrell Stoglin did it as well, and even Nick Faust showed his ability to blow by a man.

In the first half of the game, Pankey, Padgett, and Weijs combined for 11 shots and 6 free throw attempts. Maryland scored 34. In the second, the three plus Len accounted for only 5 shots and 4 free throw attempts. And, you guessed it: point total dropped to 27. The problem wasn't turnovers - they stayed constant - or offensive rebounds - Maryland actually had more in the second half. It was FG%, and that was a direct result of getting lower-percentage shots from guys like Stoglin and Faust instead of those easy dunks. This isn't to say Maryland just decided to abandon a successful strategy; to be sure, Duke's guards woke up a bit and tried to cut off penetration, but you would've liked to have seen a more concerted effort from Maryland to get looks inside, instead of Stoglin and Faust settling for outside jumpers.

There was a similar phenomenon against Temple, the best three-point defense team in the country. Maryland's four big men accounted for six total attempts in that game, and not a single free throw. Obviously the fact that Weijs and Len combined for only 10 minutes hurts in that regard, but it's significant regardless. Shooting 16 treys against a team defending them at about 25% on the season isn't going to win you many games.

Obviously it's much easier to advocate something like this than carry it out. Teams like Temple and Duke are talented and well-coached, and aren't likely to bend to an opposition's will. And, as I've said, all of Maryland's post players have big holes in their game. It's not likely that you can dump the ball down to Padgett on a regular basis, because there's still like a 30% chance he travels and a solid 90% chance you'll never see the ball again. The same is true for Pankey, who seems to come and go, and even Len, who can't even hold onto the ball anymore.

But natural-born slashers like Howard and Faust can at least look to exploit the defense and get their big men some easy throwdowns. And it isn't as though we haven't seen any offensive development out of guys like Padgett and Pankey; both have dropped 15+ at least once this year. That's enough for me to feel comfortable giving them a touch down low every few possessions. And, of course, there's Len, who remember looked fantastic in his first few games. That form has disappeared lately, but it isn't gone from him entirely.

Maryland's offense is still a largely inefficient unit that's overly reliant on Terrell Stoglin. More post touches might not fix that entirely, but it's likely worth a look to try at least to mitigate the problem.

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