Sunday's loss to Oregon State was a frustrating one for Maryland fans, who have high expectations for a team that has the pieces to be an NCAA Tournament team this season, but has struggled to replace the defensive void left by the departure of Alex Len to the NBA. The Comcast Center had a certain buzz in the air with President Obama and the First Family in attendance, and the crowd was eager to let out a roar, but Maryland was just unable to get over the hump and pull out the win. But for the most part, Maryland didn't lose because of point guard play (Roddy Peters probably had the best game of his young career), but because of their defensive effort.
The Beavers scored over half of their points (48) in the paint on Sunday as the Terps had no answer for guard Roberto Nelson (31 points) and forward Devon Collier (29 pts). OSU continuously attacked the basket and once Maryland got into early foul trouble, the Beavers knew they could continue to score inside.
"I thought Oregon State was terrific. That's all we talked about in the scouting report; those two kids and trying to guard those kids [Roberto Nelson and Devon Collier]," head coach Mark Turgeon said following the game. "Obviously we didn't do a very good job. Nelson kept getting to the rim and then Collier was just a beast."
So far this season, sophomore Shaq Cleare has started at the five spot for Maryland, despite much better offensive production from sophomore Charles Mitchell. But both players struggled Sunday to box out players and prevent Oregon State from scoring in the paint.
"I think Charles is kind of undersized out there," Turgeon said following Sunday's loss. "Charles is competing. I think a lot of it was mental mistakes too, just not playing very smart. We talk about toughness. Defensively we have to get a lot tougher. I know we missed box outs because we miss them every day. And until we're committed to being a good defensive team, we're going to have results like this."
The question many are now asking is this; who will step up defensively inside? Mark Turgeon said that defense has been a staple of nearly every team he's coached and you could tell that his team's lack of defense on Sunday was extremely frustrating for him.
"I'm just disappointed," Turgeon said. "I rely on us being good defensively. Almost all my teams can guard, and this one just isn't doing a very good job of it."
The issue with boxing out appears to be one that's been occurring in both practice and in games, based on what Turgeon said during his postgame press conference Sunday. "I just can't get our guys to box out. We're doing some things in practice I've never done to figure and it out."
Beyond Cleare and Mitchell, Maryland doesn't have too many players they can consistently rely on to contribute in the frontcourt. Freshman Damonte Dodd certainly has potential, but is still learning how to play without fouling.
"Damonte's two fouls are just not very smart fouls on the post-ups," Turgeon said. "And we talk about that and work on it. He was doing the same things in the Bahamas and there just has to be more of a commitment to it."
Turgeon also mentioned needing to build more depth on his team, an issue that could continue to crop up if Maryland gets into foul trouble early -- especially with Seth Allen out until mid-January, preventing Maryland from going with a smaller, more guard-focused lineup.
"I've got to build depth and our guys have got to play better," Turgeon said.
Maryland will be getting some interior help next season when 7'1" center Travon Reed joins the Terrapins, who Turgeon described as "a long athletic rim-protector and very skilled for his size. He is a willing passer with a big upside and a very bright future" when he signed with Maryland last week. However, Maryland still needs to find an answer on defense this season, hopefully something they can resolve during their upcoming non-conference games before it becomes an Achilles' heel for a team that so clearly has the talent to compete at a high level.
While the sample size is extremely small at just three games, it will be interesting to see how Turgeon uses Charles Mitchell and Shaq Cleare moving forward. Both Mitchell and Shaq have the same defensive win share percentage (DWS) so far this season, which is an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense. Mitchell and Cleare both have a 0.1% DWS (Sports-reference.com). In terms of win share per 40 minutes (WS/40), which is an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player per 40 minutes, Mitchell is third on the team at 0.156% while Cleare currently has a negative WS/40 at -0.023. Again, this is a very small sample size. Last season, both Cleare and Mitchell finished within 0.1 percentage points of each other in WS/40, so we'll have to keep monitoring how their seasons progress.
Mitchell has averaged over 7 rebounds per game so far this season, with a majority of those on the offensive end, where he's been frequently able to secure a rebound following a missed shot. Mitchell has also taken a lot of shots for the Terps, leading the team in terms of percentage of shots taken at 28.9% (KenPom.com) but has been efficient with his shots, as he also leads the team in effective field goal percentage at 63%, narrowly ahead of Jake Layman.
Does this mean Mitchell could soon be starting over Shaq? I'm not sure, but what is clear is that Maryland needs to improve on the defensive side of the ball. Mark Turgeon knows this and is doing whatever he can to fix and resolve the issue. Hopefully they'll be able to improve on defense (which goes beyond the play of Shaq and Charles) as they gear up for their final regular ACC season.