Once Maryland lost Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare to transfers at the end of last season, it was likely the Terps would have to play with smaller lineups at points this year. When incoming freshman Trayvon Reed left the program over the summer, it became an even likelier option. And when Evan Smotrycz broke his foot last month, small ball became a necessity of numbers.
Mark Turgeon started two pure guards (Melo Trimble and Richaud Pack) and a swingman who functions largely as a guard (Dez Wells) in the Terrapins' first exhibition game, last Saturday against San Francisco State. He started a small forward (Jake Layman) at power forward next to Damonte Dodd, who figures to play a lot of center this year.
A small lineup creates potential difficulties in the post, both defensively and offensively. But Turgeon and his players seem excited about the possibilities for such a group.
In recent seasons, Maryland teams have had trouble retaining possession against pressing defenses. This year, Turgeon expects his stable of skilled ball-handlers to mitigate those struggles.
"I think whenever you have good passers and good ball-handlers, it makes you a better press offense team. I'm confident in our press offense that we run, that we'll be successful against most pressing teams," Turgeon said. "But it's nice to have ball-handlers on the floor."
Pack, a senior transfer guard, said Maryland's guard-heavy sets allow for extra offensive creativity.
"I enjoy it, just because it gives you so many options with people that can create for you and that are easy to create for," he said.
When Maryland goes guard-heavy, Layman, a small forward by trade, shifts to the "four" spot in the lineup, power forward. Turgeon said Layman has made the defensive strides over the offseason to help him handle that position..
"He's comfortable there. His attitude has been really good towards playing the four. Defensively, Jake is such a better defender than he was last year," Turgeon said, adding that Layman came on strong defensively as last season drew to a close. "I think he's much stronger, much smarter, so he can post-defend better."
Turgeon said Maryland, to date, is further along tactically on defense than offense.
"We actually play our plays better on defense than we run them on offense right now. It's kind of hard to execute anything, because guys are all over the place, so it'll be nice to play against other people."
The Terps host Bowie State in an exhibition game at XFINITY Center at noon Saturday. While last week's opponent, San Francisco State, played primarily zone defense against Maryland, the team expects to face man-to-man matchups against the visiting Bulldogs.
"It's a totally different look than what we just went through, so that's great," Turgeon said.
Rebounding becomes point of emphasis in preseason
Guards are quick and creative, but they're not comparatively tall. To that end, the most standard problem associated with a small-ball lineup is a lack of rebounding born from a lack of height. The Terrapins are aiming to avoid any such issue.
Pack said the Terps have spent a lot of this week doing rebounding drills in practice.
"It's been a pretty good week. We've been focused, locked in, working on rebounding a lot, working on more man defense and offenses," Pack said. "We've been pretty productive."
The Terps out-boarded San Francisco State by a 36-30 margin last weekend and surrendered 16 offensive rebounds.
"We needed to be more focused with our efforts in boxing out, hitting the boards," Pack said. "I think that's something that we kind of keyed in on this week, and you'll see an improvement, hopefully, tomorrow."
Wells said Maryland's coaching staff had put a system in place to encourage rebounding at practices. If players don't rebound sufficiently, the consequences are simple.
"We have to run," Wells said. "If it's a soft box-out, you've got to run. If you don't box out, you've got to run. If they get a rebound, you've got to run. So, you've got to find a way."
More clarity on rehabbing Smotrycz expected next week
Turgeon said Smotrycz, his injured starting power forward, would have an X-ray done on Wednesday to assess his progress as he rehabs the foot he broke last month. Smotrycz still walks with a boot on his left foot, but Turgeon said he had begun working out on a non-weight-bearing treadmill.
"His attitude's great. He's off his crutches, so he feels like a new man," Turgeon said.
Turgeon said Maryland expected to know more about Smotrycz's status after next week's examination.