Intriguing: Turgeon says Cleare to start against Miami, starting point guard uncertain

Bill Bride

Mark Turgeon responds to Maryland's jarring loss against FSU with at least one big lineup change - and maybe more.

Maryland's lineup (starting and otherwise) has been a pretty big topic of discussion as of late, and after their unimpressive reality check against Florida State, it was always likely to continue to be so. I doubt Mark Turgeon's admission that changes to the lineup are forthcoming will do much to quell that chatter, but it certainly makes it a lot more interesting.

Maryland will employ Cleare in a big lineup with 7-footer Alex Len, coach Mark Turgeon said today. Len will play power forward with Cleare at center. "That's a big '4,' " Cleare said of Len. "It's going to be kind of scary. I think it's going to be a great lineup."

Regular starters Nick Faust and Dez Wells are also likely to open the game, and Turgeon said he's still deciding on his point guard.

Pe'Shon Howard is the regular point guard starter. But freshman Seth Allen has combined for 34 points in the past two games and could supplant Howard, who went scoreless in Wednesday night's 65-62 loss to Florida State.

First off, let's talk about the one sure change he did mention, which is Cleare in for James Padgett and Charles Mitchell. Chuck, who's usually been a sparkplug when he's on the floor, has been fairly quiet in his past three starts; Padge has been consistently solid but unspectacular. Cleare's been up and down - he hardly played against FSU - but he presents two things that neither Mitchell nor Padgett can offer: legitimate size to match up with Miami, and the ability to play the five.

To the first point, the Canes are a big team, even without Reggie Johnson. There's star Kenny Kadji at the four, checking in at 6-11 and 240, and senior Julian Gamble replaces Johnson at center - while he's not the 300+ behemoth that is Johnson, Gamble's still an impressive 6-10 and 250 pounds. That causes a huge matchup problem with virtually every team Miami faces, and it holds true here, too. Neither Mitchell nor Padgett can match up with Kadji or Gamble without giving up several inches or a few dozen pounds (or both), and given that both Kadji and Gamble are wily fifth-year seniors, you can be certain that they'd feast on that type of mismatch. Cleare might be young, but at the very least he'll force Gamble to beat him straight-up.

It also offers Len the ability to play the four, which is his more natural position, instead of being shunted out to play the five against a more physical type. Kadji shares many similarities to Len - he has an outside shot, isn't necessarily the most physical, has some athleticism, can be a little lightweight at times - which makes it a natural matchup. Without a traditional, physically-capable five like Cleare in the game, Len would probably be forced to play closer to the basket, matching up less with Kadji and more with the more powerful Gamble. Instead, Len should be less physically tested by Kadji and be allowed to play to his more natural skillset. Maryland needs him to become a dominant figure again; a move like this could, potentially, help bring that out.

The other really interesting point raised by Turgeon: he doesn't yet know who'll start at point guard. Pe`Shon Howard struggled against Florida State, so much so that I'm not surprised he's having the conversation; of course, so did Seth Allen, but we'll get to that in a minute. Howard, a steady ballhandler (and more of a pivot than a playmaker, in truth), is in many ways a prototypical Turgeon point guard, but it may just be that Maryland doesn't have enough scoring when he's on the court. Howard's 0-8 from the field over the past two games, and while he's a solid floor general, he doesn't have enough dynamism or playmaking ability to unlock a difficult defense, which we saw when things bogged down for Maryland in the second half against FSU. When you have four scoring options on the floor, the point guard can act as a pivot in the offense and take a back seat (think Kendall Marshall at UNC); when not, sometimes you can't carry that type of player at the point.

Allen has other flaws when playing the point - even aside from his freshman mistakes, I think it's arguable he's really more of a two than a lead guard- but he offers one thing Howard most certainly doesn't: points. If there's a "break down the defense" type of player anywhere on Maryland's roster, you have to think it's Allen, who has solid handles, an explosive first step, and dangerous outside shooting ability. If Allen starts, the point may not necessarily be that he's a better point guard than Howard, or that he's less mistake-prone - I don't know that either of those things are true. But after looking at how Howard handled against FSU, it's clear that he's not a sure thing either. And if you're definitely going to have a point guard who might be erratic and isn't a sure thing either way, it might be a good idea to at least play the one who can put up points. Or at least that would be Turgeon's logic.

Either way, the Terrapins are entering a critical stretch of their season, and as the game against FSU might've illustrated, they could use some more clearly-defined roles. I can't help but wonder if this - putting a scorer like Allen at point, and a more natural center at the five - is Turgeon's attempt at figuring a few of them out.

So, for the second time in two games, opinion time: what's Maryland's ideal lineup? The question seemed fun and hypothetical after Virginia Tech; now, with a loss exposing the Terps' weakness, it's a legitimate, important, and quite uncertain one.

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