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 Morgan State on Friday at Comcast Center:
Turgeon knew going into the season that replacing center Alex Len offensively was going to be as big a challenge as it was defensively. While the 7-foot-1 center was not a consistently high scorer, Turgeon could pretty much count on Len to score in double figures nearly every game.
That has been far from the case with the big men on this year’s team.
While sophomore Charles Mitchell had a streak of four straight games of double-figure scoring to start the season stopped in Maryland’s 80-66 win over Northern Iowa in the semifinals of the Paradise Jam, neither sophomore Shaquille Cleare nor freshman Damonte Dodd has done much offensively.
Cleare had his best game as a Terp in the first round of the Paradise Jam against Marist, hitting all four of his field goals, for eight points. In the win over Northern Iowa, Cleare did not even take a shot, though he played well defensively. In the championship game, none of the three did much inside.
Turgeon said after the game that his team’s struggles down the stretch in a 56-52 win over Providence in the championship game — when a 19-point lead nearly evaporated — could lead to him posting up two of his most athletic wing players, junior guard Dez Wells and sophomore forward Jake Layman.
The change might have to wait until next week, since the Terps had so little time to get ready for the Bears.
“Our low-post scoring has to get better, there’s no doubt,” Turgeon said during a teleconference with reporters Wednesday. “When things are going as bad as they were going [in the last 12 1/2 minutes against Providence], you usually throw the ball inside and try to get fouled or score a bucket, and we were just not able to do that against Providence. And that’s why the game got close.”
Five days after losing an emotional season opener by a point to then-No. 18 Connecticut at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., the Terps came out flat against little-known Abilene Christian at home.
Trailing by as many as 11 points in the first half and six in the second, Maryland needed an unusual 29-0 run to close out the game and make the final score seem more one-sided than the game actually was.
A little more than three days after beating Providence for the Paradise Jam title, Maryland faces a Morgan State team hoping to upset the Terps, as it did in 2009 at Comcast Center.
“Am I worried about a letdown? Yeah, I think the building won’t be very full Friday,” Turgeon said Wednesday. “A little bit concerned. But I also think our guys have gained a tremendous amount of confidence.
“We weren’t a very confident team when we went to St. Thomas [for the Paradise Jam], and it showed in the first half against Marist. As the tournament went on, we became more and more confident.”
Like the Bears, who beat Marist for seventh place in the Paradise Jam, the Terps returned from the U.S. Virgin Islands on Wednesday. Turgeon said his team was expected to practice Thursday.
“Hopefully we’ll be ready to go,” he said.
The player who should most concern Turgeon is 7-2, 270-pound senior center Ian Chiles, who had a career game against Marist. Chiles finished with 25 points, nine rebounds and seven blocked shots.
“I know the big fella for Morgan State is coming off his huge game against a really good player from Marist in [Adam] Kemp, so there are some things that we have to do to prepare for him,” Turgeon said.
It could offer more of a chance to play for the 6-10 Dodd, who seems to be more of a natural shot blocker than the other two big men.
“Every game I go in and just say I’m playing Damonte,” Turgeon said. “I anticipated playing him against Providence and I didn’t. Do I anticipate playing him Friday? Yes. Will I? I don’t know.
“I think Damonte is a piece we don’t have as far as shot blocking, but hopefully as the season goes on, we can get him more and more time. Our schedule has just been very difficult to this point.”
Erratic foul shooting has already cost the Terps at least one game this season, and could be even more of a problem if Maryland doesn’t improve once the Atlantic Coast Conference season begins Dec. 12 at Boston College.
Maryland shot 15-for-24 in a 90-83 loss at home to Oregon State. For the season, the Terps are 62.8 percent overall from the free-throw line, 12th among ACC teams and 281st (out of 345) in Division I.
The biggest culprit is Mitchell, who after hitting 27 of 50 free throws as a freshman is 7-for-25 this season. Mitchell missed four straight at a crucial point in Maryland’s failed comeback against Oregon State and was 2-for-9 in its win over Marist.
“Charles made a good percentage of them last year, especially when he had to have them,” Turgeon said. “I think the rest of the team should be 75 percent. I was really worried about it going into the Providence game because they shoot free throws so well and we haven’t been. I thought it could be the difference in the game, but it’s something that we have to get better at for us to be successful.”
Turgeon said he thought fatigue played an issue in the free-throw shooting issues late in the wins over Northern Iowa and Providence. But there is a mental side to it, both individually and as a team.
“It’s a confidence deal, too,” said Turgeon, who planned to have his team shoot a lot of free throws in practice Thursday. “Unfortunately, it’s contagious. It’s about the right guys getting fouled at the right time. If we get some guys early in the game and they’re in a flow and they get fouled and they’re 10-for-10 at halftime, that’s contagious. If they’re 6-for-13, that’s contagious, too. … We made just enough the other night.”