North Carolina 79, Maryland 68 on Wednesday at Comcast Center
Senior Night is often a tough deal for coaches. Whoever invented it should have told the coach of the home team that he didn't need to start his seniors if they weren’t already in the starting lineup. The Terps weren’t the only team that looked out of sync from the start this week on Senior Night because of a couple of unfamiliar faces -- in Maryland’s case, Logan Aronhalt -- in the starting lineup. Look what happened at Indiana on Tuesday night.
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I am not going to lay this one on Aronhalt, who might have been a little too pumped up. I was there very early trying to beat the snow that never came and watched Aronhalt and Evan Smotrycz, the transfer from Michigan who’s sitting out this year, go through pregame shootaround routines. Aronhalt rarely missed. (Neither did Smotrycz, which bodes well for next season.) Then he comes out and misses his first 3-pointer and never finds his range or confidence, shooting 0-for-5.
I am not going to put this one on Turgeon, either, for starting Aronhalt and James Padgett, who actually had a pretty good game, finishing with nine points and eight rebounds and being the blue-collar guy he has been for the Terps the past two seasons after barely playing his first two years. Turgeon didn’t get outcoached by Roy Williams, as some have written in response to my game story. North Carolina just has more talent -- and more experienced talent at that.
Single-digits again for Len
After scoring in double digits in 16 of Maryland’s first 19 games, including its first six ACC games, sophomore center Alex Len has now been held to single digits in seven of the last 11, five of the past seven and four of the last five. He had eight points in 27 minutes against the Tar Heels, none in the last 16:58 of the game.
While Turgeon is clearly frustrated with Len’s lack of productivity -- responding to my statement that I thought the 7-footer played well early with a “good start to you, but maybe not good start to me, OK” -- Len doesn’t seem fazed by his inability to figure out how to score against double-teams. He said he was just doing what he thinks he’s supposed to, which is to kick it back out to open shooters.
Len made an early turnover trying to do that, but that’s not the biggest problem. What I don’t understand is how easily teams box him out when he’s going for offensive rebounds. I don’t think it’s a lack of strength as much as it is a lack of savvy, of knowing how to position himself or even maybe a lack of a killer instinct, like a Charles Mitchell or even a Padgett seem to have going to the boards.
If there is anything I disagree with Turgeon about how he rotates his big men is the way he gives Len every opportunity to get things going and then is continually disappointed down the stretch. Shaquille Cleare seems to be the forgotten man, as happened at Boston College (5 minutes, didn’t play in the second half) and again on Wednesday night (4 minutes, didn’t play in the second half).
I know the Terps still have a chance to make the NCAA tournament by winning the ACC tournament, but if Len is not going to be around next season as everyone suggests (including a few NBA scouts I have talked with recently), why not start transitioning to next season by playing Cleare and Mitchell together as much as possible?
A pressing issue
Just as I am constantly asking Turgeon about Len’s disappearing act, another reporter always asks the second-year Maryland coach about why he doesn’t press more. It has worked this season a few times, but Turgeon believes it has not worked well in several other games.
Turgeon’s point is that Maryland’s comebacks -- against the Tar Heels they chopped a 16-point lead to six points with a little over six minutes left -- are really nothing more than making the final score respectable.
“It’s easy to come back,” Turgeon said. “When you are down 16, you are playing loose. To come back and win is different. Did the press help us? Yes, it gave us a chance. I just don’t think that’s the answer. We pressed Georgia Tech and it killed us. We pressed against Boston College and it killed us. I don’t think it’s the answer. What we did tonight was let our offense affect our defense. We didn’t guard well enough. We have to guard better than that.”
I always thought Gary Williams’ teams relied a little too much on the press, especially when he didn’t have guys like Johnny Rhodes to make it work. I think it’s something that Turgeon can develop over time with some of the long and athletic players he has and will be getting the next few years. But there would have been no need for the press Wednesday had the Terps not fallen apart at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second to get them in such a big hole.
The Pe’Shon dilemma
Turgeon started junior point guard Pe’Shon Howard for the second straight game and while his box score didn’t reflect a positive night -- zero points, with two assists and two turnovers -- I think it certainly helped sophomore guard Nick Faust (City).
Faust didn’t start because of Senior Night, but he wound up having another good shooting game, finishing 6 of 10 from the field for 16 points. Faust has averaged 14 points over his last four games and has shot 20 of 32 from the field.
There was a time earlier this season when I thought Faust was going to see his minutes and role shrink, but he certainly seems to have found a comfort zone in the offense. Clearly, it’s not as a point guard on more than just a spot basis.
Freshman Seth Allen has gone in the other direction of late. Since his sparkling second-half performance against Duke, when he scored 16 points and finished off the then-No. 2 Blue Devils with a pair of late free throws, Allen has been in double figures once (12 against Georgia Tech) and has missed 25 of 34 shots. He was 2 of 10 against the Tar Heels, 0 of 5 on 3s.
I think Turgeon should keep Faust and Allen at shooting guard and stick to starting Howard the rest of the season at the point as long as he’s playing good defense. Howard and Dez Wells tag-teamed on North Carolina’s Reggie Bullock and did a pretty good job until midway through the second half. Howard was also looking more for his shot Wednesday, and while he didn’t hit any, going 0-for-4, I still think that’s some small measure of progress.
Maryland (20-10, 8-9 in the ACC) finishes out the regular season Sunday at Virginia, where the Terps were embarrassed last year, 71-44. I am sure Turgeon will remind his team of that, but I don’t think his young team is ready to win in such a raucous environment against a team that has been playing well of late and still wants to lock up a spot in the NCAA tournament. Losing against the Tar Heels basically made this one nearly irrelevant for Maryland when it comes to the postseason unless the NIT selection committee is still up in the air when it comes to the Terps.