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 coach Mark Turgeon and his team are doing.
A (HISTORY) STUDENT OF THE GAME
Junior guard Dez Wells is one of the few players on this year’s Maryland team who seems to be genuinely interested in the program’s glorious past. He goes on YouTube to watch old clips of Len Bias and Joe Smith, and asks those who were around to see the former greats play.
“How good was Joe Smith?” Wells asked a reporter after practice the day before the Terps beat then-No. 5 Virginia on Sunday in College Park.
Someday, a future Terps player might ask that same question about Wells.
Named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference third team Monday, Wells has had his moments when he has been as electrifying as Bias and as dominant as Smith, but aside from hitting a game-winning 3-pointer to survive Miami this season, there have been few other signature moments.
It nearly came last season, when Wells scored a then career-high 30 points to beat Duke, 83-74, in the ACC tournament quarterfinals and helped the Terps have a chance to knock off North Carolina the next afternoon before losing, 79-76. It nearly came this season when he took over the second half of a two-point loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Just as Bias helped Maryland win an ACC tournament as a sophomore in Greensboro, N.C., 30 years ago, and as point guard John Gilchrist did as a sophomore in 2004, Wells has a chance to do the same in his second season with the Terps after transferring from Xavier last year.
“He’s been my most consistent, best player throughout,” Terps coach Mark Turgeon said Monday on the ACC coaches’ teleconference. “You can argue Alex [Len] was pretty dominant defensively last year for us. Dez’s got a lot more to do here in his time, but he has been our most consistent player to date. There are times when he puts us on his back. He’s been our road player. He’s been, most of the time, our best big-game player. He’s done a lot.”
Wells knows that he has to play more than a half against Florida State in Thursday’s second-round ACC tournament game. He has made a habit this season of starting more as a facilitator, getting into early foul trouble and going into the second half either scoreless or with a couple points before exploding in the second half.
Against Virginia on Sunday, Wells had two points at halftime and finished with 18, hitting 5 of 7 from the field and all eight shots from the free-throw line. Asked after practice Wednesday whether he needed to have a more balanced performance against the Seminoles, Wells was non-committal.
“You’ve just got to come out and play hard both halves, to play smart both halves,” Wells said.
SMOTRYCZ FINDS GROOVE
Going into the season, Evan Smotrycz was considered something of an X-factor for the Terps. The 6-foot-9 junior, who sat out last season after transferring from Michigan, was expected to be a consistent scoring option at what is now called a “stretch 4” -- a power forward who can stretch defenses with his outside shot.
Smotrycz has done that at times, but going back to last summer’s three-game tour of the Bahamas, he has struggled to hit 3s. After converting more than 40 percent of his 3-pointers in his first two seasons in Ann Arbor -- including 40 of 92 in 2011-12 -- Smotrycz went into the Virginia game Sunday a little shy of 36 percent.
Maryland was able to stay close to the Cavaliers in the first half because of Smotrycz, who hit 5 of 6 shots before halftime, including both of his 3-point attempts, to score 13 points. But he took just one shot in the second half and overtime, going scoreless in 24 minutes.
Smotrycz shrugged it off, saying that he was just as happy being a facilitator (two assists) as a finisher. While it appeared that Wells and Allen both at times went one-on-one without looking to find Smotrycz outside, Turgeon credited Virginia’s defense.
“I think they were very aware of him as the game went on," Turgeon said. "They did a nice job on him."
Turgeon thought Smotrycz played under control and was patient with his shot selection, which rubbed off on the rest of a team that often fires up questionable and quick 3-pointers.
“I thought Evan was terrific, he only took only seven shots,” Turgeon said Monday. “I thought Evan’s forced too many shots this year, trying to be too big a part of our offense. I thought Evan was a facilitator [Sunday], pick and pop, guys running at him. I thought his shot selection was terrific. I loved his [stat line].”
Turgeon has run plays for Smotrycz in key spots this season. After missing two late 3-pointers against Virginia in Charlottesville last month, Smotrycz hit a big 3-pointer to force overtime at Clemson recently. Turgeon said that he ran a play for Smotrycz late in the game Sunday “but we did a poor job screening.”
Given the way the Seminoles can get hot from 3-point range -- Turgeon still has nightmares about the 24-point loss at Florida State when the Seminoles made an ACC-school-record 16 (in 25 attempts) -- Smotrycz might have the Terps counter Thursday.
“If they’re 16-for-24 again tomorrow, it’s going to be really tough,” Turgeon said Wednesday.
The Terps were at opposite extremes in this year’s games against Florida State.
On Jan. 11 in Tallahassee, the Seminoles cruised to a 24-point win, the worst loss in Turgeon’s three seasons at Maryland. The Terps returned the favor last month in College Park, winning by 12.
Asked to compare how his team is playing now to back in Tallahassee, Turgeon said: “I try not to think about that game. Hopefully it was kind of an aberration, it was over in the first half. We haven’t played a lot of games like that, if any, this year. ...
“I think we’re much better defensively. And then at our place, they had 20 offensive rebounds, which kept them around. I think we’re a much better rebounding team now.”
Speaking of contrasts, Allen was 0-for-8 and scored just one point in Tallahassee, while he was 11 of 15 (7 of 10 on 3s) for a career-high 32 points against the Seminoles at Comcast Center.
Allen knows Florida State will be focused on stopping him Thursday.
“They’re a great team defensively," Allen said. "You really have to execute or you won’t get good shots. You just can’t run through the motions on screens."
Allen believes he will have to play more of a traditional point guard role against the Seminoles this time.
“Virginia, you can drive and finish, Florida State you can’t drive it,” Allen said. “Florida State is more of a swarming defense. If you drive, they’ve got so many people helpside [away from the driver], and they’re so long and ready to block. You’ve got to drive to make plays against Florida State.”