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Sports Terps Tracking the Terps

Terps need patience, beating Miami's matchup zone defense and using the press

Welcome to a second season of Morning Shootaround. We will follow the Terps throughout the 2013-14 season, but in this space this year, 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 coach Mark Turgeon and his team are doing.

Here are a few things to watch as the Terps get ready to play Miami on Wednesday night at Comcast Center.

OPPOSITES ATTACK

The matchup between the Terps and Hurricanes will be a study in contrast: a team that often plays too fast for its own good and one that has continually slowed down through the course of the season for its own good.

In this case, I think the advantage goes to Miami. It’s not as if Jim Larranaga’s team hasn’t played fast this season before going to a matchup zone in late December in order to slow down the opposition. But Mark Turgeon’s team has often been hurt by its impatience.

“With us, patience is still an issue,” sophomore forward Jake Layman said after practice Tuesday. “In those games that we lost, our mistakes came when we tried to speed it up on offense and not run our stuff, and we turned the ball over. Patience is a huge thing this game.”

While the Terps had one of their better efforts of the season in Saturday’s 83-79 loss in College Park to then-No. 20 Pittsburgh, it was a game played at a sometimes frenetic pace. Slowing down dramatically might be a difficult adjustment.

In contrast, Miami runs one of the most patient offenses in the country. According to Kenpom.com, the Hurricanes have the fewest possessions per game in Division I with 58.8. Maryland, by comparision, averages 70.2 per game.

Whether Maryland can find a balance between transition and halfcourt offense could mean the difference between breaking a two-game losing streak or not.

“I think it’s at both ends that you’ve got to be patient,” Turgeon said. “Obviously, we can’t simulate their length in their zone with some of our guys [on the scout team], but we’ve worked hard at it. We realize we might have to change sides [moving the ball} at times to be successful and just don’t settle for jump shots.

“You’ve got to be patient, too. They grind the clock. You just can’t go crazy in there and give up wide-open shots. Just play the best you can each position, no matter how long it takes.”

MATCHING UP WITH THE ‘CANES

Larranaga’s switch to the matchup zone around Christmas was the biggest change this season in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

It helped the Hurricanes win at North Carolina and Georgia Tech, as well as play No. 2 Syracuse tough. Miami led the Orange in the second half in both meetings this month before losing 49-44 in Coral Gables, Fla., on Jan. 6 and 64-52 last Saturday.

But Duke was able to play the game nearly at the pace it wanted in a 67-46 road win at Miami last week.

The difference between the zone the Hurricanes use -- similar to the one Temple made famous under John Chaney -- is that it’s essentially a 3-2 rather than a 2-3, in which defenders match up with the closest man.

Depending on how well Maryland moves the ball, something the Terps have often have problems with against zones, “I think everyone’s going to have a lot of opportunities tomorrow,” junior forward Evan Smotrycz said.

“You’ve got to be smart in which ones you take, and pick and choose, kind of feel the game out of a little bit. You don’t want to be lulled into taking too many 3s. You want to get to the line a little bit and make plays for other people.”

PRESSING ISSUE

For a fairly athletic team that has both height (according to Kenpom.com, the Terps are the 17th tallest team in the country) and length, it’s been surprising that Turgeon hasn’t pressed more often.

Typically, Turgeon has gone to the press out of desperation, when his team is faced with coming back from a double-digit deficit in the second half.

Maryland has done that with mixed results, getting back in games against Oregon State, George Washington, and most recently, Pittsburgh, but ultimately falling short.

Early in the season, Turgeon did it against an undersized Abilene Christian team and the result was a 23-0 run to finish the game. It will be interesting to see how much Turgeon uses it the remainder of the season.

Things are getting desperate, aren’t they?

Asked if he is more comfortable using it to try to make up a deficit than to get a lead, Turgeon said: “We just haven’t been the pressing team we were last year, especially the back side of it. That dictates a lot of when I use it.”

Not having a shot blocker at the back end like the Terps had last season with Alex Len has hurt them overall defensively, but particularly in the press if the opposition gets the ball past midcourt.

It doesn’t sound as if Turgeon is sold that his team can win many games with its press at this point because of the other defensive issues that have plagued his team.

“We’re trying to become good at something on our defense, and hopefully that’s our halfcourt man[-to-man],” Turgeon said. “We’ve used press when we had to use it, usually when we’re behind.

“The other night [against Pittsburgh], we weren’t very good at it. It looked like it was good. We had a good trap in the corner, but then they’re shooting a layup at the other end. It’s something that we need to get better at as the season goes on.”

Junior guard Nick Faust (City) thinks the Terps should be better at it than they have been.

“It really fits this team,” Faust said.

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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