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Why Maryland basketball's opening possessions have been empty in Big Ten play

Maryland's game-starting possessions have been oddly dry in league play.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

There's something to say about the first offensive possession of a basketball game.

In the box score, it's no more important than any other attempt to get points on the board. But it very much doesn't hurt for a team to take its first trip to the defensive end with 2 points of its own.

(Since this is college, you could say it's comparable to the first round of beer pong. There's always a slight fear a team gets "naked lapped" if it fails to hit a single cup before the other team hits all of its cups. And the same goes for basketball. Nobody wants to struggle on the offensive end and get blown out from the get-go.)

Here's sort of an odd stat, though: Maryland is 7-of-20 on scoring in the first possession of the game, and an even worse 1-of 8-since Big Ten play began in late December.

The problems? Shot selection and the team's ability to get clean looks.

The opening offensive possession is commonly run with a play in mind. Typically, coaches use the time before tipoff like they would a timeout, instructing players what play to run if they win the tip, or which defensive set to start out in if they lose it. Maryland just hasn't been able to get many high-percentage shots up.

Here's the first offensive possession of every Terps conference game this season sped up 75 percent for the sake of time. It starts nice, but doesn't stay that way:

Now here's a breakdown:

1. Penn State

Here it is. Here is what puts the "1" in "1 for 8", meaning Maryland has gone a month, or seven games straight, without converting on its first play.

It's pretty easy to see why this was a great first possession. Jake Layman – a 37 percent 3-point shooter – curled off a screen perfectly in rhythm and banged as wide-open a shot as you'll get before a defense is worn out. Great start.

2. Northwestern

Based off a quote about the Michigan State game and just observation, for Mark Turgeon – an advocate for fewer jump shots – it seems that the first play of the game, he tells his team to run involves a post-up for Robert Carter Jr.

"I thought we shot too many jump shots at Michigan State, especially from the start," Turgeon said this week. "Our first play of the game was a post-up play and we ended up shooting 3 threes to start the game."

These plays for Carter in the paint, as you see here and will continue see, haven't resulted in many great looks around the rim.

3. Rutgers

The accidental Diamond Stone start actually worked positively in terms of first possession looks, but Stone failed to convert. Hard to complain about a gently defended left-handed layup for one of the team's best scorers.

4. Wisconsin

Back to the Carter post-up. A well-contested lefty hook probably isn't an ideal look for Carter, and though he happens to be a great finisher, even he can't be expected to make this one too often.

5. Michigan

He's away from the block this time, and is instead wide-open from 3-point range.

This still isn't a great possession, though it's certainly not a horrible one. Carter is shooting 34.8 percent from deep on the season, but has just recently seen a spike in that number after shooting a perfect 4-of-4 against Ohio State.

Prior to this game against Michigan, though, Carter was shooting a shaky 29.4 percent, and with 20 seconds left on the shot clock, it's plausible to believe Maryland could have gotten a better look. The Terps can still live with this miss, and Layman did come up with an offensive rebound and a layup.

6. Ohio State

Seeing a pattern yet?

Carter post-ups aren't working so well on the game's opening possession. Might be time to put another plan in motion.

This is actually Maryland's second possession as the first ended in a turnover. This play is the first Terps field goal attempt.

7. Northwestern

It should be noted that this first offensive possession for Maryland also ended in a turnover after Carter was forced to make a dribble move on the perimeter. The Terps just couldn't get into rhythm from the jump, and wasted an early trip. The second possession had Damonte Dodd at the foul line for 1 point after running a pick-and-roll with Trimble.

For the purposes of this article, this is what was the first field goal attempt for Maryland. A decent look again for Layman, which just didn't end in Maryland's favor.

Still, it's concerning how the team's first possession ended in a turnover because its offense was unsettled.

8. Michigan State

Sorry to revisit the lime green disaster, but here is another fine but not great opening attempt from the Terps.

A 3-point attempt from Trimble is hard to be angry with, but just look at how far back he's firing from. A pass to Layman may have had better results, but a take to the rim would have been ideal.

The first possession of a game really is just one possession. But the margins matter in close games, and Maryland figures to play plenty of those down the stretch. The Terps need to find points wherever they can, and the opening possession is a good place to start.