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 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 No. 5 Ohio State on Wednesday:
Much had been made of the road woes of Randy Edsall’s football team, until its recent wins at Virginia Tech and North Carolina State. Going into the Maryland basketball team's first road game of the season, Turgeon has not fared much better his first two years.
The Terps lost all but one of their games on an opponent's home court in Turgeon’s first season. That streak was stopped with a 75-55 win at Northwestern in last year’s ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Maryland won two of its remaining regular-season road games (Virginia Tech and Wake Forest) and won at Alabama in the NIT.
But Turgeon believes this year’s team is much better equipped to play on the road than it was a year ago. The big question going into Value City Arena is how well, or not, the Terps can handle the defensive pressure applied by Ohio State guards Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott.
“It’s a big concern,” Turgeon said Tuesday. “Our guys have gotten better. We’ve worked on it. Got some pressure releases [to pass]. It’s not only Craft; it’s Scott, too. He gets in you. Plus, it’s the first road game. There are a lot of variables that have come in.
“I think Dez [Wells] has gotten better. I think Roddy [Peters] has gotten better. But it’s everybody. Nick [Faust]’s got to be good with the ball. Jake [Layman]’s got to be good with the ball. Everybody’s got to be able to run their sets and handle it and do the best they can. They’re going to test us.”
The Buckeyes are one of the best overall defensive teams in the country, ranked second in scoring defense and seventh in field-goal percentage defense. While they're only No. 100 in steals per game (7.2), they're No. 13 nationally in turnover margin, with a plus-5.2 average.
Maryland forward Evan Smotrycz, who played against Ohio State six times during his two seasons at Michigan, knows firsthand about the kind of defensive pressure Thad Matta’s teams bring, Craft in particular. Maryland is still turnover-prone, averaging nearly 14 a game.
The Terps have been known to play out of control initially on bigger stages, before eventually calming down.
“As the season goes on, I think we’re getting better,” Smotrycz said. “It’s going to be tough, but as long as we stay composed, I think we should be OK. The more big games you get in a bigger venue, the better you are. Especially with young guys, it will definitely be different than the UConn game. That was more of a home game for us.”
Said sophomore forward Charles Mitchell: “We want to prove to people that we can play against big opponents and win those games. … We just got to go out there with the mindset that execution and poise, defense and rebounding, that’s what we’re focused on to get this road win.”
Turgeon has admittedly had a difficult time simulating Craft’s defensive pressure in practice. The closest the Terps have to the 6-foot-2 senior guard in terms of relentlessness is Varun Ram, but the 5-10 junior has worked his way off the scout team and into the rotation.
That has left 5-11 sophomore Conner Lipinski trying to imitate Craft in practice.
Asked how good an imitation Lipinski gives, Turgeon was typically blunt.
“Not a great one,” he said.
Smotrycz, who knows how good a defender Craft is from playing against him at Michigan, said he is confident the Terps can handle the pressure.
“Obviously, he’s a really good defender,” Smotrycz said. “They’ve got some good pieces, but we play hard in practice every day and I definitely have confidence in Dez and the rest of our guards to handle that and get us into our stuff."
Lipinski said he has enjoyed the role of being the opposing team’s point guard in practice this season.
“Scouts are always fun,” said Lipinski, who has tried to imitate everyone, from Shabazz Napier of Connecticut to Blake Bozeman of Morgan State.
Asked what he knows about Craft, Lipinski said: “The coaches told me he’s a really good defender, he leads the team, so that was really fun. We watched film this morning. He’s a really good defender. That’s what he’s known for. I just played really hard on defense.”
Turgeon is hoping that the color scheme at Value City Arena — lots of red — will make his team relax and think the Terps are playing at Comcast Center.
“I don’t know if I look at the seats during the game. I’m just on the court focused and trying to win the game,” Mitchell said. “I know it will be packed and their fans are great fans and it’s going to be an exciting game.”
The Buckeyes have not lost at home to an unranked team since a 76-48 demolition by West Virginia in 2008. Ohio State has won its past 10 games and 14 of its past 15 at home.