1. It’s hard to take a lot of positives out of a 20 point loss, but Maryland might have played its best half of the season in the 1st half vs. Duke.
Did anybody else leave the first half feeling pretty encouraged?
The Terps went into arguably the toughest place to play in the ACC, against a team coming off an embarrassing loss, and played Duke pretty even for 20 minutes. Yes, there were too many turnovers. But it never felt like Duke was really outplaying Maryland. It was one of those halves where Duke probably felt fortunate to be going in up by 8.
Shaq essentially shut down a POY candidate in Mason Plumlee. Dez Wells looked like one of the top two players on the court. And if not for Rasheed Sulaimon going all Ray Allen, Maryland could have gone into that half down by just 2 or 4.
Of course, the game spiraled out of control in the second half. Shaq picked up a third foul, which left Plumlee free to roam. Quinn Cook did a terrific job breaking down Maryland’s defense. And the intensity the Terps had in the first half disappeared about 5 minutes into the second.
Still, this team hung tough and played well in a really difficult spot. There are no moral victories in 20-point losses. But this team showed what they’re capable of if they can learn how to bring it for 40 minutes.
2. For all that Alex Len has brought to this team, he could be doing a lot more. And though I doubt he’ll come back another year, there’s a strong case to be made that he should.
The most memorable play of the game came in the first 5 minutes. With 15:19 remaining in the first half, Alex Len caught the ball 15 feet from the basket, pumped faked, blew by Mason Plumlee, and slammed home a reverse, behind-the-head dunk. It was simply a thing of beauty – seeing a 7’ 1 kid with the agility to blow by a defender and the aggressiveness to slam home a reverse jam.
But the play also left me asking, "WHERE IS THIS THE OTHER 39 MINUTES OF THE GAME!?!?"
Len has every physical tool one could ask for – he’s athletic, agile (for a 7 footer), can hit the 15 foot-jumper, and he’s now strong enough to post up most defenders he’s going to see in the ACC. There’s no reason Alex Len shouldn’t be dominating games, but he isn’t. He has flashes of brilliance, assertiveness. And then stretches where he catches the ball 15 feet from the hoop and hesitates to make a move.
There are other problems with Len as well. He seems to swat at the ball too much when going for a rebound instead of using his height and corralling the ball in. Oftentimes, he doesn’t seal his picks, allowing small guards to simply run through him. He also posts up too far from the hoop, forcing himself to make a move instead of simply laying the ball in and making himself more susceptible to the double team. All of these problems seem small and fixable, but I doubt he can fix them all mid season.
I don’t mean to demean his accomplishments. He’s improved a ton from last year and I shutter to think where this team would be without him. I just see plays like the one he made against Plumlee and realize how much better and more consistent he could be. It’s a shame he likely won’t be back next year because he could use another offseason of work to really elevate his game.
3. The offense looked a little better on Saturday, but not by much. This team would be advantaged by running more and slowing it down less.
We’ve talked at length about the offense so far this season. "It’s simplistic", "It’s ineffective", "No one’s hitting shots". All of those things are probably true. Let’s add another one to the list, though. It’s too slow!
There were several times against Duke where Maryland would get the ball off a missed Duke shot and instead of running and trying to play transition, they’d slow it down and run their half court offense. Personally, I lean towards always pushing in transition vs. slowing down, but for this team, it would seem to be a no brainer: Run, run, run!
Let’s look at some facts. First, the Terps are pretty bad in the half court offense. They struggle to run their sets, players don’t move enough, and the offense stalls. Second, the Terps have quick, shifty guards and wings that excel at getting to the rim. You could make the case that the most refined skill of Dez Wells, Nick Faust and Seth Allen are their abilities to drive and get to the basket. So we’ve got an offense that stalls and turns it over in the half court offense + a plethora of guards and wings who are quick, athletic, and good at getting to the basket. This seems too easy to me.
I don’t know if Turgeon is coaching them to slow down or if it’s the players taking it upon themselves. But with an offense as anemic as this one, it makes sense to turn stellar defense into quick points, especially if that pace of play caters to your players’ strengths.
4. The Terps sit at a mediocre 3-4 in the ACC right now. With an easier second half schedule, there’s still time for Maryland to get better and make a run.
It’s safe to say no one’s particularly impressed with Maryland’s 3-4 record right now. After running through non-conference play, expectations were raised, and many of us were preparing for a top 4 finish in the ACC. While that dream seems a little more unlikely now, it’s certainly not dead.
Maryland’s ACC schedule to this point has not been friendly. They’ve had to face Miami, NC State and North Carolina in a span of six days. The worst ACC team they’ve played outside of Virginia Tech was a BC team that had both Miami and UNC beat. Additionally, five of Maryland’s seven ACC games have been against teams in the top half of the league.
But the toughest part of their schedule is now behind them. The Terps don’t have another date with the top two teams in the league (Miami and NC State) and their games against Duke and Carolina both come at home. Six of their eleven remaining games come against teams in the bottom half of the league.
It’s not too late for the light to turn on for this team. And maybe "light turning on" is a bad metaphor. Maryland is probably more likely to improve incrementally, week by week, instead of simply figuring everything out all at once. But with a much weaker schedule the opportunity will be there.
Keep getting better, win a bunch of these toss-up games against middling ACC teams, and the Terps could still be looking at an 11-7 ACC record. That would probably be good enough to get in the Tournament. And as we’ve learned the last couple years, all you need is a chance. Get into the dance with some momentum, and anything can happen.