With the 2011-2012 basketball season tipping off on Sunday, the Mark Turgeon era officially gets underway in College Park. Testudo Times is previewing the 2011-12 Maryland Terrapins basketball team, grouped into guards, wings, and bigs. In this segment, we look at the bigs. You can read the preview for the wings here and the guards here.
Last season, despite what was very erratic play from a team that under achieved, the one constant was the output, both offensively and on the glass, from sophomore Jordan Williams. From a player's perspective, Jordan's early departure for the NBA is the biggest loss from last season's team. Of course, the departure of another Williams is probably a little more significant, but I digress.
Coming into this season, Maryland's bigs are probably this team's biggest question marks and how this unit performs will likely determine whether or not Maryland has a sneaky good season or a somewhat disappointing one. Of course, we might not know the full potential of this group until 10 games into the season, when freshman Alex Len is able to play following his NCAA mandated 10 game suspension. But I think the absence of Len for those games will allow several of the other bigs to show us what they got. Honestly, I think they'll perform better than most are expecting. Lets take a look:
Berend Weijs, Sr., #10
Berend Weijs, one of just two scholarship seniors on the team, will likely have a bigger role on this team than many expected, especially while freshman Alex Len sits out the first 10 games. Weijs has good size but has always been on the thin side, which has prevented him from being able to bang around with other bigs under the basket. At Harcum (PA) College, a juco school where Weijs played prior to transferring to Maryland last season, Weijs demonstrated a great ability to block shots, a role he'll likely be asked to fill this season as well.
Weijs does have a nice jump shot and, especially in some of Maryland's earlier games, should have a good opportunity to take advantage of his size. If Weijs can score around 8-10 points per game and grab around 5 rebounds, he'll be extremely valuable for the Terps.
Worst Case: Berend is pushed around a lot inside, isn't able to utilize his size, and is only able to score one or two baskets a game to go along with a few rebounds and occasional blocks.
Best Case: Weijs finds his grove, especially in the early going, and provides Maryland with some much needed production inside. He scores around four or fives times a game, blocks around two shots, and is good for about five rebounds.
James Padgett, Jr., #35
James Padgett, when everything is said a done, will likely be a typical Gary Williams player; someone who improves year after year and ultimately ends up being a big contributor by the time they become a junior or senior. That's what I'm expecting from Padgett this year. The junior forward should have an opportunity to showcase his skills, both offensively and on the glass.
For Padgett, the key to him becoming a good scoring option inside for the Terps will be his ability to convert at the free-throw line, where he shot just .500 last season. With an increased role inside, Padgett will inevitably get fouled. Being able to concert those fouls into points from the charity stripe will be vital. Padgett has apparently worked on his stroke from the line this offseason and it showed in Maryland's exhibition game last week, when he converted both of his free-throw opportunities.
Padgett will also be asked to do a lot more rebounding for Maryland. While most talked about Jordan Williams last year when it came to boards, Padgett was able to do his fair share on the glass as well. In Maryland's exhibition against Northwood, Padgett just missed tallying a double-double, grabbing nine rebounds to go along with 10 points. If he's able to consistently put up production like that all season, Maryland will be in pretty good shape.
Worst Case: Padgett continues to struggle from the line, gets consistently fouled inside and is unable to score, and is unable to take that next step in terms of production.
Best Case: James is able to convert from the line around 70-75% of the time, is good for around 7-8 rebounds per game, and consistently scores around 10-12 points per game.
Ashton Pankey, RS Fr., #30
When people think about Maryland's bigs, Pankey is normally forgotten, especially after the redshirt freshman was injured early last season and received a medical redshirt. Couple that with the fact that Ashton suffered an injury his senior year of high school and you're left with a player who hasn't played a full season of basketball in about two years. Pankey is probably Maryland's biggest question mark now that Alex Len has been cleared to play after his 10 game suspension.
Pankey is in a unique situation. For most players coming off of an injury, they're normally slowly worked back into the rotation, taking time to get their legs back under them. But Pankey, due to the lack of available players for first year coach Mark Turgeon, is going to get thrown into the fire immediately. The key will be how well he's able to respond to that playing time. If the game against Northwood is any indication, Pankey could have a very productive season for the Terps. Not only did Pankey score 12 points and grab five rebounds, he scored six of the team's first nine points, including the opening bucket of the game.
Pankey seems to have pretty good hands and is rather athletic. He should be able to score and finish around the basket and seems to have a decent jump shot to complement his inside abilities. He'll likely have to work on his foul shot, where he shot 0/3 from the line against Northwood but he still figures to be a good inside option for the Terps.
Worst Case: For any player, the worst case scenario is always an injury. But for most players, we're not going to even mention that as an option. But for Pankey, who's been unlucky and suffered injuries that have kept him out of basketball for the better part of two years, an injury is something that has to be considered. Thus, the worst case scenario would be aggravating one of his previous injuries or struggling with being able to keep up with the number of minutes he's going to need to play this season, especially with the absence in the early going of Alex Len and Pe'Shon Howard. Either one of those would be bad news bears for the Terps.
Best Case: Pankey shows no signs of his previous injuries and hits the ground running. He becomes a good scoring option inside, is able to grab five or six rebounds a game, and become Maryland's third leading scorer.
Alex Len, Fr., #25
The first thing you think of when talking about Alex Len is how thankful Terps fans should be that the NCAA cleared him to play this season. As their investigation into his amateur status dragged on, I became more and more worried that he'd be declared ineligible, leaving the Terps with just eight scholarship players. Fortunately, the NCAA said Len could play, but had to sit out 10 games due to some very small, minor situations stemming from his play over seas.
Len has size. You can't teach someone to be 7'1". He also seems like he can take advantage of that size. He is very athletic, can finish around the rim, but also likes to sometimes play as if he were a wing player. In Len's most popular highlight video, the freshman center can be seen nailing three pointers and stepping out and hitting jumpshots. Had he been in the U.S. for a longer period and participated in the AAU circuit, he'd likely have been a much more coveted recruit.
Len has demonstrated his ability to score inside and finish around the basket, but seems as if he's still adjusting to the basketball scene here in the U.S.. Initially, once he returns after his ten game suspension, I think you'll see more out of Len on the rebounding side than on the scoring side. As he becomes more and more comfortable his offensive productivity will likely improve as Turgeon works him into the rotation.
Worst Case: After sitting out ten games and not playing, Len has not chemistry with the team and often looks lost on the court, especially in offensive sets. He struggles to score and, aside from just giving other players a breather, doesn't contribute too much this season.
Best Case: After returning from his ten game suspension, Len immediately provides a boost, especially on the rebounding end, to the team and gives them another big body to play with the start of the ACC slate. Len becomes more and more comfortable with the offensive plays and is able to become a viable scoring option for the Terps, while also finishing and cleaning up missed shots around the basket.
So there you have it. Your preview of the Maryland Bigs. How do you think they'll perform this year? Are you worried?