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Four takeaways from No. 15 Maryland men’s basketball’s first part of the season

Here’s what we’ve learned about the Terps before they head into Big Ten play.

Anthony Cowan Jr, Notre Dame, Maryland basketball 2019-20 Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

No. 15 Maryland men’s basketball is almost halfway through its season and just completed its nonconference slate with an 84-70 win over Bryant on Dec. 29.

The Terps have an 11-2 record with bad losses coming on the road to Seton Hall and Penn State. They have also lost the talents of Makhi and Makhel Mitchell, who entered the transfer portal on Dec. 27.

Maryland has had an up-and-down season so far. Here’s four things we’ve learned about the Terps through 13 games.

1. Anthony Cowan Jr. is facilitating, as expected

Cowan entered the season as the lone senior in head coach Mark Turgeon’s starting lineup and has played like it so far. He is leading the team in scoring (16.7 points per game) and assists (4.15 per game.)

But Cowan’s decision making has been his most impressive trait during his final season in College Park. In previous years, he has put his scoring first and forced shots when unnecessary.

But with a more experienced and deeper team this year, including the return of Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Jalen Smith and the additions of Donta Scott, Chol Marial and the Mitchell twins at the time, Cowan was expected to facilitate more and not have to carry as much as an offensive load as he did last year.

Minus his two performances against Penn State and Seton Hall where he went a combined 8-of-31 from the field and had nine turnovers, the score-first guard has trusted more of his teammates this season and taken care of the ball. He currently manages a 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio, which includes his most recent performance against Bryant with four assists and zero turnovers.

Cowan still maintains the ability to hit the big shot — as he did against Illinois on Dec. 7 — or to take over a game — as he did against Temple on Nov. 28. But the senior has demonstrated more patience through 13 contests and allowed the game to come to him more naturally — something Terp fans can be pleased to see as the team heads into conference play.

2. The long distance scoring has been distant

With shooters such as Cowan, Ayala, Smith and especially Wiggins, who made the second-most three-pointers for freshman (62) in school history on a 41.3 percent clip last year, Maryland was expected to be a threat from long range.

That has not been the case this season. The Terps are shooting just over 31 percent from beyond the arc — which ranks 12th in the Big Ten — and it has hurt them at times.

Against Seton Hall on Dec. 10, Maryland was largely matched up against a zone defense, forcing it to hit shots from the outside. The Terps were unable to do so and finished 5-of-21 from deep — their worst three-point shooting percentage since their season opener against Holy Cross on Nov. 5.

Wiggins, in particular, has shown struggles. Though his teammates have constantly expressed their support for him and told him to continue to let his shot fly, Wiggins has attempted the second-most three-pointers on the team but only made over 30 percent of them. Last year, the Greensboro, North Carolina, native made over 41 percent of his attempts.

However, Maryland enters conference play off of its best three-point shooting performance of the season, hitting 50 percent of its shots from deep against Bryant.

3. Jalen Smith’s interior play needs work

With an addition of 30 pounds of muscle since arriving to College Park — which could be noticed in preseason photos of him — Smith was anticipated to present more of a presence in the paint for the Terps this season. Him, the Mitchell twins and possibly Marial (depending on his health) were in charge of filling the void that Bruno Fernando vacated when he left for the NBA Draft.

But Smith has not demonstrated that ability through the first 13 games of the season and has been outplayed by bigger opponents — hence Penn State’s Mike Watkins and Seton Hall’s Romaro Gill and Ike Obiagu. At times, he has appeared to be pushed around in the paint and can lack physicality.

The Baltimore native’s natural position is as a stretch-four but he has been called to play the five for the majority of the season. With the recently availability of Marial, Smith could be transitioned back to the four but will still be relied on heavily as the 7’2 freshman continues to get back into game shape. Either way, Smith’s interior defense could use some major improvement as the team enters conference play.

4. There is a lack of real depth

Depth has always been a concern Maryland under Turgeon, who has not typically deployed his bench. But this season was expected to be different with the team returning four experienced sophomores, one senior guard who has seen it all, a junior from Baltimore who will do anything necessary to win and an abundance of talented freshman.

Turgeon had the possibility of going to a deep rotation, which has allowed him to utilize more zone in his defensive philosophy. At times, he would go 10 players deep by halftime, but his depth has become limited due to departures and lack of production.

While Cowan, Ayala, Smith, Darryl Morsell, Donta Scott see the majority of time on the floor, Ricky Lindo Jr., Serrel Smith Jr. and Hakim Hart’s minutes have fluctuated. Before transfering, Makhi Mitchell was a key part of Turgeon’s rotation, but will now have to be replaced.

Lindo, who scored a career-high 13 points against Fairfield on Nov. 19, has not been able to carve out a role this season and could be a viable replacement for the Mitchell twins’ absence. But Marial, who had surgery in early September to repair stress fractures in both legs, will see a heavier load entering conference play and provide another source of offense for Maryland. He scored six points and grabbed five rebounds in his debut against Bryant.

Serrel Smith Jr. played 11 minutes against the Bulldogs — the most he’s played since Nov. 22 against George Mason — and Hart has seen more time on the floor early in the season than some expected. But both guards have not produced much offense off the bench, combining for a total of 39 points in 13 games.

Maryland has a solid rotation of about seven players heading into Big Ten play, but its depth could become a concern during a time of the year that had a plethora of games. (In the next seven days, the Terps have three games.) But Turgeon and Co. never really established a solid rotation and the team’s lack of production from the bench may become an issue as the season progresses.