Welcome to a second season of Morning Shootaround. We will follow the Terps throughout the 2013-14 season, but this year in this space we will provide a look ahead rather than looking back. We will try to analyze Maryland's strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of its upcoming opponent. We also hope to provide quotes and anecdotes from practices to give some idea of what Mark Turgeon and his team are doing.
Here are a few things to look for as the Terps get ready to play at Clemson Sunday.
CLOSING THE DEAL
Maryland’s inability to win several close games this season has made the difference between the Terps being a likely National Invitation Tournament team and making their first NCAA tournament in Turgeon’s three seasons.
The latest near-miss came last Monday, when Maryland came from 12 points down in the last 10 minutes against No. 4 Syracuse before losing, 57-55, when Seth Allen failed to hit a last-second 3-pointer.
It followed a two-point loss at then-No. 8 Duke a little more than a week earlier.
“I think every game is different,” Turgeon said after practice Saturday at Comcast Center. “I thought our execution versus Duke was tremendous in that game. Charles [Mitchell] had a layup in that game [to possibly win.
“[Against] Virginia, our execution was great, but we were too far behind. The Syracuse game, same thing. We lost the game in the first half.”
Asked whether he thought about calling timeout on the play when Dez Wells gave the ball up on the wing to Nick Faust, who was blocked (and possibly fouled) going to the basket, Turgeon said that he usually doesn’t call timeout in that situation.
What also impacted Turgeon’s decision not to call timeout was Syracuse’s zone defense, which had given the Terps trouble throughout the game.
“I don’t know if we would have gotten a better shot,” he said. “Maybe a contested 3 or something."
Turgeon said that when the Terps lost a couple of close games early to Connecticut and George Washington, the fans “had a built-in excuse” that Allen was out with a broken foot. “We lost to good teams,” Turgeon said.
Alluding to losses to Virginia, Duke and Syracuse, Turgeon said, “They’re all almost Top 10 teams, two of them were on the road. The way we look at it, we’re right there, we just haven’t figured it.”
Said Allen: “It shows how good we could be, without dumb stuff like turnovers [18 against Syracuse, tying the season-high]. It shows the potential we have later in the season.”
But Allen thinks there’s a reason why the Terps have strugged at the end of games.
“I think part of it is that we don’t come out as strong as we should be and we’re kind of digging ourselves in a hole,” he said. “We put a lot of pressure on our defense to come back.
At the end of the game, we’ve got a lot better than we were than at the beginning of the year, we’re closing games out, we’re guarding at the end of the shot clock and we’re doing great defensively.”
LAST TRIP TO LITTLEJOHN
Maryland’s last visit to Clemson as a member of the ACC is unlikely to produce the same kind of passionate response the Terps received at places such as Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Virginia, but the game could have huge ramifications for seeding in the upcoming ACC tournament.
The Terps could tie the Tigers at 8-8 with a victory, with two home games left against Virginia Tech and Virginia. As of Sunday, Maryland is tied for seventh with Florida State and a half-game ahead of 7-8 N.C. State.
Turgeon admitted that if his team was near the top of the league standings he might be paying more attention to the upcoming ACC tournament seeding possibilities than he is right now, being focused on getting what many would perceive as a quality road win to enhance what is essentially a resume filled with more than a few bad losses.
“I’m sure if we were 12-4 or 11-5 I’d be looking at the standings,” Turgeon said. “We got to do well tomorrow because it’s Clemson, it’s late in the year, we’ve got to get a road win, We’ve got no seniors, we’ve got to build momentum, not just for this year, but for the future.”
At least one Terp is cognizant of where the team is in relation to the rest of the ACC.
“We’re right behind Clemson, we’re always going to be aware,” sophomore forward Charles Mitchell said. “You always still want a good seed going into the ACC tournament. It’s one game at a time and you never know what’s going to happen. You still have to work on your seeding.”
The Terps are probably no worse than being in the 8-9 game on Thursday, but that would mean playing a well-rested Virginia team on Friday five days after facing the Cavaliers at Comcast. Virginia clinched the top spot with its win over Syracuse Saturday in Charlottesville, Va.
LOOKING TOWARD BIG TEN
Turgeon said he wasn’t surprised to see that Maryland will play some of the Big Ten’s marquee programs at Comcast Center next season. The Terps are scheduled to face Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin in College Park, while returning games to Bloomington and East Lansing.
Considering how the ACC gave Syracuse home games with Duke and North Carolina, while the lame-duck Terps only played the Blue Devils, Tar Heels and Wolfpack on the road, Turgeon said, “I think the Big Ten is welcoming us with open arms, they’ve given us big names coming in here. I think they obviously did that on purpose. It’s great for our fans.”
Turgeon said something interesting about the fact that Maryland’s home schedule this year was highlighted by last Monday’s game against Syracuse.
“I don’t blame them, we left the league,” he said.
Asked if he would have been happier if ACC commissioner John Swofford was just as honest about it rather than saying it was done by a computer, Turgeon said, “I don’t think they had to say it.”