1. Should we be excited now?
Yes and no. I'll take the "no" side first. Maryland is a young and inconsistent team that hasn't found an identity on a game-by-game basis. Wednesday's rejuvenated performance proved that the thumping the Terps took in Tallahassee on Sunday doesn't define them. But Maryland fans should draw a similar conclusion from what was a pretty great second half against the Irish. It was a win and a fun one, but the team's underbelly -- horrible starts, disorganized offense, perimeter defense -- definitely made appearances. Don't get too high with this team, but don't get too low either.
On the "yes" side, we should be excited for several reasons:
--Be excited that Dez Wells went back to being Dez Wells and took over the game in a good way.
--Be excited that Jake Layman put his height and athleticism to good use and grabbed 10 rebounds while dishing out 3 assists. He didn't have a good offensive night, but instead of just being a 3-point decoy, he contributed in other ways and had a +/- of +16. Nice work!
--Definitely be excited about this quote, from Nick Faust, on his defensive play: "It's a big factor, I take pride in that. Coach really challenged me this year to try to defend the best player on the other team. I started out on Eric Atkins but then Pat Connaughton heated up so I switched on him and I think I held him to four for the second half. He was a good player but I definitely take pride in defense."
--Be excited about this team's visible chemistry. This year has definitely been a struggle, but was I the only one who noticed Wednesday how much these guys seemed to pull for each other, how they celebrate together from the bench, how they support each other on the court between plays, how excited they were to get back in the win column? I love that. Good chemistry will eventually translate into good performance, just wait and see. It may or may not already be too late this season, but the team is really, really young. Keep the faith.
2. Remember why you used to love Charles Mitchell and Shaq Cleare?
Mitchell was a dynamo against the Dame, corralling 10 point and seven rebounds -- six offensive! -- in just 13 minutes of run. Mitchell can definitely be all over the map. He's a butcher at the free throw line; he gets out of control; he collects fouls like crazy, and even his layups can be an adventure. But man, did the guy play with heart and energy on Wednesday. Maybe it was a matchup thing or maybe a trend -- tough to say at this point -- but the minutes swung away from Graham (6) and Dodd (0) and toward Cleare (23) and Mitchell (13) against the Irish. And Maryland's two prized big fellas didn't disappoint.
It was Mitchell who collected the impressive numbers while Shaq was statistically quiet, but here's a stat for you: Shaq registered a nifty little +/- of +12. So not only did Cleare make a couple nice offensive plays, but he also was on the court while the Terps were playing their most meaningful minutes of the night. Shaq looked agile and defensively sound, while he continues to show sporadic flashes of the soft touch that made him such a nice prospect a couple years ago.
A couple things to remember here: Cleare and Mitchell are only sophomores, and Maryland isn't running plays for either one of them. They were thrust into immediate roles at Maryland last year not because they were necessarily ready, but because Jordan Williams left early, because James Padgett was James Padgett, and because Ashton Pankey and Haukur Palsson didn't work out. The roller coaster ride we're watching in the paint is going to continue, but I would argue that patience is really important with these two young bigs. They both bring a ton to the table, they both have legit ACC/B1G talent, and they're both going to be Terps for four years. What Maryland, its coaches and its fans invest in Mitchell and Cleare right now in the way of coaching, support and court time, the return on that investment will come moreso in 2015 and 2016 than right now. It's a process, folks.
3. Maryland shoots way too many 3s. Oh, sorry ... Did you realize that Maryland shoots way too many 3s?
The Terps were a putrid 7-for-26 (27 percent) from beyond the arc and still beat a not-bad Notre Dame team by eight points. Meanwhile, Maryland's field-goal percentage on non-three-point attempts was a very solid 46 percent. You know how many points the Terps would've scored and how much they would have won by if they had taken zero 3s? I don't know either, but it's more points and a wider margin.
Wins are great and this particular win was much needed, but the shot selection was poor (again) and I still believe guys like Layman (1-for-5), Faust (2-for-7) and Smotrycz (1-for-5) are more dangerous players -- and much better shooters -- when this team is in motion, not when they're parked on the wing waiting to shoot shots that just aren't falling. When you're 7-for-26 but still beat a solid opponent, the take-away question should be: why did we keep launching 3s when everything else was working so much better? I hope Turge & Co. aren't distracted by the positive result and look closer at shot selection. Against Notre Dame, it turned what could've been a blowout win into a pretty close game.
4. Duke isn't very good.
I know, that wasn't even a question. And I know it has nothing to do with the win over Notre Dame or anything else really, but I don't care. It's my first year as a contributor and the last year of the rivalry, so please excuse me while I take a pot shot or two at the Dookies while I still can. Jabari Parker is fading (he's shooting 32% from the field over his last 5 games!) and will be gone before he gets great. Parker is also curbing the growth of Rasheed Sulaimon (now an ineffective chucker) and Amile Jefferson, who both used to look like future stars and now average 14.6 points, combined. They've lost 2 of 4 against marginal opposition, they don't defend well, they don't play together particularly well. Mark it down: No way Duke sees the Sweet 16 this year.