Maryland's loss to Michigan State on Saturday was a pointed example of much of what's recently caused the Terps problems. And as they head toward the second half of Big Ten play, the Terps have much to fix.
Yes, the defeat marks just the Terps’ third loss in an overall impressive season, and for the most part the team has looked fantastic. There are, however, a few areas of concern that I feel need to be remedied if Maryland is to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament this year. This is quite possibly the most talented squad Maryland has put on the floor at one time in the history of the program, and unquestionably, in my opinion, since Maryland’s 2002 national championship team.
The tournament starts in seven weeks. That's the time by which these problems need ironing out:
The Terps are getting mauled on the offensive glass.
The Spartans dominated the offensive glass throughout Saturday's game, finishing with 17 offensive boards to Maryland’s nine. In their overtime win against Northwestern on January 19, the Terps were out-rebounded on the offensive glass 17-4. Even in their blowout win over Ohio State, the Terps lost the offensive rebound battle 12-7.In their thrilling victory over Wisconsin, the Terps corralled only five offensive boards to the Badgers’ 11.
Over their last five contests, the Terps have been out-rebounded on the offensive glass 63-35. This has not been a significant cause for concern until recently, but it's got to end soon. It won't fly in the NCAA Tournament.
Jake Layman's offense has swung up and down.
"Struggles" may be slightly too strong a word, considering Layman is averaging over 10 points, 5 rebounds and an assist per game. However, Layman has experienced an up-and-down season offensively. The senior has scored in double-digits in under half of Maryland’s games this season (nine of 20), and in just five games since Nov. 24 (16 games).
Aside from his impressive 18-point efforts against Rutgers and Michigan, he has hit the double-digit mark in points only once in Big Ten play (10 points in blowout win over Ohio State). What Layman does provide is consistency on the defensive end of the court, but the Terps need him to provide the same consistency with the ball in his hands as well.
The Terps could use for Jared Nickens to get cooking.
The three-point specialist has gone ice cold in conference matchups. In Maryland’s non-conference schedule spanning 12 games, the sophomore shooting guard shot an outstanding 43 percent from three-point range and averaged about 7.4 points per game. But in conference play, Nickens’ three-point percentage has dropped off to just 19.3 percent, and he’s averaging just 3 total points scored per contest.
Notably, the drop in production is not as attributable to a change in playing time, as one might think. In non-conference games this season, Nickens averaged just over 22 minutes per game, and in Big Ten games he’s averaging close to 20 minutes per game, essentially negating any argument that he is scoring less because he is playing less. Maryland is at its best when Nickens's shots are falling.
For Rasheed Sulaimon, there's almost no offensive in-between.
Sulaimon’s average stat line is nothing to scoff at: 10.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. Aside from scoring 22 against Ohio State, however, the senior guard is averaging just 5.5 points per game since scoring 15 against Rutgers on Jan. 6. He has been up and down throughout the Big Ten schedule, scoring 15 or more in three of eight Big Ten games, or eight points or less on the other five occasions. When he’s on, he is an athletic sharpshooter who can singlehandedly swing the momentum of a game. When he’s off, he's off.
Hopefully, these concerns are merely the result of a mild lull in the middle of a long, strenuous season. The Terps will make the dance come March, but tournament seeding and just how deep they can go will depend in large part upon the above issues that have seemingly come to a head in recent weeks.
Maryland boasts one of the most individually talented teams in the nation, but shoring up the above weaknesses can vault the Terps back into the top five in the national rankings – and maybe beyond.