On Saturday, Maryland shined offensively in a 77-56 victory over the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. The Terps shot 51.1 percent as a team, including 10-for-21 from deep. After an inconsistent effort in the first half, the shooting picked up following intermission, leading to an impressive 1.22 points per possession for the day.
However, the other end of the floor left plenty of room for improvement. 56 points allowed, or 0.92 per possession, does not spell disaster by any means. On the surface, Maryland's defense performed fine. After re-watching the game tape, plenty of instances stood out for slips in focus and intensity.
Playing as a heavy favorite will naturally affect the atmosphere. It's on the coaching staff and the players themselves to bring the same attitude vs. UMES as they would in a hyped matchup with Georgetown. It's about discipline and a competitive desire to exceed your own high standards. As I've said before, these tune-up games are less about the end result than pushing your team to perfect their execution.
Take this possession following a baseline out-of-bounds. Robert Carter Jr. loses track of his man when gets twisted around. Carter is completely focused on the ball in the post, instead of maintaining solid positioning.
Many of the lapses involved both a temporary lapse in focus and inconsistent technique in the physical act of guarding. The example below is a good example of that cross-section between the mental and physical.
Jake Layman sees the screen coming, and he anticipates the drive towards the middle. This leads him to take a full step in the wrong direction before reacting to the baseline drive. This is an example of playing too fast on defense, similar to a risky attempt at a steal. Layman is a very capable defender, but he needs to trust his ability to react. Let the game come to him rather than forcing the action. That applies on both offense and defense.
At the end of the first half, Maryland allowed UMES back into the game with a 7-0 run, featuring this poor handling of a pick-and-roll. The Hawks took Maryland out of their comfort zone with this variation of the high ball screen, using a forward as the ball-handlers. This places Diamond Stone in the role of on-ball defender, something he almost never sees with a PnR.
Stone appropriately goes under the screens, since his man is not a outside shooting threat. However, Stone lacks urgency in moving through traffic back in front of the dribbler. There may also be some miscommunication here as Rasheed Sulaimon briefly picks up Stone's assignment. Sulaimon is then out of position to defend the drive from his own man, leading to a putback.
The second half featured similar mistakes, including this piece of miscommunication between Maryland's two big men. Michal Cekovsky fronts his man in the low post, but this tactic requires help defense on the back side to deter a lob pass.
Dodd does not sag deep enough into the lane, making him late to rotate on the pass over the top. Coach Turgeon must have caught his ear, as you can plainly see the adjustment a few plays later with Stone denying the post entry pass this time.
Notice that Dodd positions himself almost at the restricted circle, and then rushes to close out on his man at the top of the key. That's the kind of execution and energy that Maryland needs for a full forty minutes.
The Terps were burned on a number of occasions when bigs were playing perimeter defense against smaller assignments, an unnatural fit for their skill sets. Even though you can chalk that up to the quirks of low-major competition, it should still be a point of emphasis for improvement. Tightening up sloppy footwork could avoid plays like this:
Notice how Dodd gets turned around so his back is to the defender when he shoots the layup. And there's this:
Stone should force his opponent towards the outside of the lane. You never want to concede the middle of the floor on a dribble drive. But Stone leads with the left foot, slanting his body the wrong way. This mistake in footwork invites penetration and creates the foul.
Last weekend, Maryland proved they are far superior to UMES, but that will only take them so far in March. The inconsistencies shown on defense will be punished to a far greater extent against the likes of Michigan State and Purdue. Conference play is right around the corner, so hopefully we see some strides made before the new year.