Maryland men’s basketball dropped its Big Ten opener Friday night, falling at Indiana, 65-53. The Terps never led in the contest.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
The Terps had no answer down low
Maryland’s depth in the post was always going to be somewhat of a concern. Outside of Julian Reese, the Terps entered the season without any proven players down low. Donta Scott has at times looked productive in that role, but is far better suited as a wing. Jordan Geronimo looked like a potential candidate to pick up some of the slack, but fell far from his recent production against a better opponent, failing to score Friday night.
Outside of those frontcourt starters, Maryland’s forward depth is slim. Caelum Swanton-Rodger and Mady Traore are yet to prove themselves as viable alternatives, and wings like Jamie Kaiser Jr. and Noah Batchelor don’t yet possess the defensive versatility to consistently hold their own near the hoop.
Indiana saw this and took advantage of it. Starting forwards Kel’el Ware, Malik Reneau and Mackenzie Mgbako combined for 42 points, and Ware led the way with 18 points of his own to go along with 14 rebounds. All three were also able to step outside the paint and drain a 3-point shot, displaying the versatility Maryland hopes to develop from its forwards.
Those three, plus Indiana’s substitutes, made it hard for Maryland on the offensive end as well. Maryland missed 12 of its 21 layups Friday, unable to confidently feed the post or drive to the rim.
The Terps don’t possess the ability to alter games with their rim protection yet, and while Reese has shown himself to be a capable — and at times elite — forward in the Big Ten, the lack of a defined supporting cast around him makes it difficult for Maryland to command the paint.
A similar story on the road
Maryland’s road struggles under Willard have been well-documented and discussed ad nauseam, but having no road wins against teams ranked in KenPom.com’s top 215 nationally doesn’t happen by mistake. Almost all of these games have followed a similar script: a slow start, poor shooting and a general lack of intensity.
That was exactly what happened Friday night. Maryland came out of the gates flailing and was instantly buried in a hole it never fully emerged from. It’s hard to make headway when scoreless possessions continue to add up and the opponent grabs 16 more rebounds.
Regardless of where they’re playing, the Terps have firmly established themselves are one of the least reliable 3-point shooting groups in the nation, and that was supported by a 2-for-16 showing at Assembly Hall. Combine those struggles with the aforementioned difficulties penetrating the paint, and it’s a recipe for disaster.
When the offense looks disjointed and the opponent is having its way, the little things can be what pushes a team over the edge on the road. But Maryland didn’t do those things right either, responsible for 12 turnovers and six missed free throws. Indiana wasn’t better in either department, but it didn’t need to be.
It’s early, but the clock is already ticking
The Terps are only eight games into their 31-game regular season, but their start has been about as poor as anybody could have reasonably expected. Not including home games against teams they paid to play at home and beat, they’ve lost every game of consequence, and their two matchups with high-major competition have resulted in decisive defeats.
Perhaps most importantly from a long-term perspective, the first eight games of Willard’s second season haven’t produced much reason to believe that this team will be an improvement from his first. For recruiting and perception purposes, this season is monstrously important for determining the fate of Willard’s tenure in College Park. He needs to recapture some of the energy of his first team to make sure the program continues to move in the right direction.
Last year, Maryland was able to overcome its inability to win on the road by blitzing through its home slate and registering substantive wins in College Park. This upcoming Wednesday, Maryland will host its first Big Ten opponent when Penn State comes to town. It’s now nothing short of a must-win if Maryland wants to instill any confidence in its fans.
The Nittany Lions are widely expected to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten, but if they are able to walk into XFINITY Center and take down the Terps, noise around the program will really start to heat up, and not in a good way. For the sake of keeping everything together, Willard and his team must make sure that doesn’t happen.