Many, myself included, have criticized Turgeon for his strange substitution patterns, his inability to get our guys in sets, and his failure to tailor the offense to our two best players--Alex Len and Dez Wells.
That's an interesting debate and we can, and will, continue to go back and forth about these topics as the season progresses. Initially after the win, I was relieved. But then came back those creeping and nagging questions. Why was James Padgett out there instead of Cleare, allowing Howell to grab a key offensive rebound that nearly put us away? Why was Pe out there at all on the final possession? Why can't we run a basic offensive play and get a good shot once in a while off of our sets?
But then I got to thinking. Perhaps we (read: I) am set in my ways. Perhaps years of watching Gary's teams flawlessly run the flex, put up points in droves, and push the tempo defined what college basketball was to me. And perhaps it's time to come to the realization that Mark Turgeon is not Gary Williams, that he has a different style and a completely different concept of how to build a winning team.
Here's what we know:
Turgeon coaches his team to defend and rebound first and foremost. It's not that Gary didn't do this per se, but I think everyone can agree that, though it's early in his tenure, we have never seen great defense like we are seeing from these Terrapins under Turgeon. Coming into the NC State game, NC State had only one game which they were held under 1.07 points per possession. The Terps held them to .77 points per possession. That is STUDLY defense.
Turgeon likes to play in the halfcourt. Sure he doesn't mind pushing the tempo once in a while but he wants to set his half court defense and make you beat it. And with good reason. The Terps, despite their early games in which it was easier to push tempo against inferior opponents, have become one of the slower teams in college basketball. They are 171st in adjusted tempo according to Kenpom. This has been trending downward over the last few games and I'd expect that trend to continue as the season progresses. \Another feature of the D is that it allows us to impose our will on faster teams. NC State ranks roughly 100 spaces higher than us in adjusted tempo. They like to run more than most. But we totally brought them to a screeching halt and made them play in the half court.
It's not that Turgeon doesn't coach his guys to get buckets out of offensive sets, it's that it's not the priority of the team. It's clear that Turgeon and the Terrapins have struggled to get any semblance of a structured offensive set going which allows them to get good shots in the half court without making a 1-1 play. I'm beginning to come to the realization that this is more of a feature than a bug. You can't play the kind of defense we are playing, and rebound the way we rebound, without spending a lot of time and effort coaching these things. It's clear that the team is well coached on the defensive end, the way they rotate and communicate, the way they seem keyed into their assignments, the way they get back in transition (and find their guys) and make you beat them in the half court. This is not something that just happens. There's clearly been, and will continue to be, an emphasis on team defense that will hinder the offensive efficiency of Turge's teams. The number one thing about Maryland isn't what offense we run anymore, but it's learning how to defend in the man-to-man.
On offense, our efficiency will get better with more talent, and more experience. So it's all well and good that we play studly d, rebound well, and control the pace, but is that really going to get us over the top if we can't score in close games? No. It won't. But luckily Turge isn't done assembling a roster, and the roster he has is very young. As the roster has a few years to fill out we'll consistently have more talented, and hopefully more experienced players at each position. Trade Pe for Roddy. Trade a Soph Faust for a Senior Faust. Trade Logan for Melo. You see where I'm going. We'll have guys that are capable of making the great 1-1 play that is sometimes needed in turge's model to keep the ball going through the net. And we'll have guys with more experience in turge's motion who hopefully can at least run the set competently and get some better looks.
So perhaps it's time to realize what the model is with Turgeon. The model is get back on D and make them beat your half court d, have a great half court d, rebound, and hope that you can do enough on offense through a combination of talent and running the sets to pull out close wins against elite competition.
Turgeon said something after the game yesterday--he said (and I'm paraprhasing) that my teams are going to be good at winning close games, if you go back and look at my record, that's been the case.
So I think it's plausible that one possible explanation for the baffling substitution patterns, the baffling lack of a team offense is that those things aren't as important to Turge's philosophy as they were to Gary's. With Turge it's about grinding out wins and relying on your defense and talent to win close games. To play good defense you can't be tired.
It's not the magnum opus that some of Gary's best coached games seemed to be, each time down the court executing the flex better and better, getting the ball inside and frustrating opposing defenses to the point of submission. But perhaps time will tell that you can win big by being a physical, mentally tough, team of grinders and defenders. Maybe last night was a step in that direction, and there is better talent on the way in Smo, Roddy and Melo and perhaps more. And maybe we (read: I) just need to get over Gary and accept what's new.