Maryland men’s basketball put on a show this weekend, dominating both Saint Louis and Miami to claim the Hall of Fame Tip-Off title and make a statement about what the team may be capable of this year.
Here are three takeaways from the weekend.
The offense flowed freely and efficiently
The high-paced offensive set that Maryland head coach Kevin Willard has preached all offseason and in the early going of the season was executed about as well as it could have been over the weekend.
After a few games of difficulties hitting outside shots, Maryland came out with a vengeance and began to hit three-pointers at a dangerous clip. The Terps went 13-of-32 against Saint Louis and 9-of-21 versus Miami, a 41.5% three-point percentage over the two games. With quick possessions and a high volume of scoring opportunities, that is a recipe for success on the offensive end.
Don Carey was the poster child of Maryland’s three-point shooting woes entering the weekend — he was shooting just 14% — but flipped that narrative on its head in two games, going 8-for-19 from beyond the arc and showcasing why he has developed a reputation as a sharpshooter from his previous stints at other schools.
Fellow graduate guard Jahmir Young continued his high level of play, leading his coach to praise the production from the guard position.
“I think I have the best backcourt in the country right now ... I thought these two young men just played off the charts,” Willard said.
The pick-and-roll with Julian Reese was also a reliable option, as he and Young or whichever other ball-handler ran it with him showed prowess around the rim and finished more often than not.
Lastly — but certainly not least — Donta Scott had two of the best offensive performances of his career over the weekend, tying his career high with 25 points Saturday and following that with a team-leading 24 Sunday. After a disappointing junior season, Scott has emerged as a viable top scoring option in his senior year and is the undisputed leader of the group.
“They share the ball extremely well. They’re a really good team,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “And they have the right combination of size to rebound and score at the rim, and perimeter shooting that makes you stretch your defense out.”
Maryland played with high levels of energy and intensity
Regardless of whether or not the Terps’ shots are falling or if they’re leading on the scoreboard, it’s become very clear that they play incredibly hard for Kevin Willard. His hard-nosed, intense coaching style has evidently rubbed off on his players and they seem bought in to his system of suffocating defense and high-tempo offense.
“We have unbelievably high character kids who want to win, and they understand what it takes to win and they’re bringing it every night and they’re getting rewarded,” Willard said.
In Maryland’s first game of the weekend against Saint Louis, the Terps simply took the fight to the Billikens and dared them to match their intensity. They did the same against Miami and had resounding success in both games.
“We get after it in practice, that builds our chemistry a lot,” Carey said. “I feel like we’re still growing, we still have a lot to, you know, get under our belt and still got a lot to learn. So, it’s good getting the first five wins and we just got to keep going from there.”
Even while turning the ball over more times than Willard would like to see, Maryland was scrappy and did the little things right, crashing the boards, boxing out opponents and playing a physical style of basketball that led to a 25-rebound advantage over the two games. The Terps were constantly applying on- and off-ball pressure, forcing Saint Louis and Miami to settle for difficult shots and contesting them well.
“I think you know, Julian, Donta and [Patrick Emilien] are all playing really physical inside. And I think our guards are doing a great job ... it’s not just our big guys doing it,” Willard said.
Reese was arguably the most impressive player on defense, imposing his will down low and shutting off drives to the hoop while standing his ground against fellow forwards. Emilien also provided valuable minutes and was hustling all over the court, locking up opponents and snatching clutch rebounds. He and Reese look to be a feisty one-two defensive punch down low for opponents to deal with.
Year one of the Kevin Willard era is off to a blazing hot start
It’s only been five games, but Maryland looks dangerous — far more dangerous than anticipated.
It was hard to take much from games against Niagara, Western Carolina and Binghamton, but Saint Louis and Miami presented the first real challenges for Willard’s first team in College Park. Saint Louis was a top-35 team at KenPom entering the game and Miami was coming off an Elite Eight run. Both are NCAA Tournament-caliber squads.
If that’s the case, Maryland has a real argument as not only a team that is better than its preseason bubble expectations, but a top 25 one when the AP poll is released on Monday. Coming into the year, the Terps were looked at as a team with a lot of question marks on the roster and one with ambitions of potentially making the NCAA Tournament, which would be considered by most to be a success in their first year under a new head coach.
“I think we’re really not worried about signature wins or where we are,” Willard said. “I think we’re, we still have a long way to go. I mean, we’re good. We have great players, but we’re — they’re — still trying to learn this system.”
The season is only one-seventh or so done now, so no definite conclusions can be drawn to this point other than the fact that the Terps, at a minimum, have the upside to make some noise. When the shots are falling and the defense is aggressive, Willard’s system looks like a thing of beauty. It’s calculatedly chaotic. If its defensive pressure and speed is flustering an opponent, Maryland can compete with any team.
Saint Louis and Miami are by no means the two best teams that the Terps will play this season. Not even close. But, their end-to-end domination was an impressive statement that shows that even though its play isn’t a finished product, Willard has his team on the right track.