Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.
Coach Mark Turgeon talked this week about how much center Alex Len has progressed during the offseason. How good can Len be this season?
Jeff Barker: Turgeon was so enthusiastic about Len's progress -- his conditioning, his summer practices, his attitude -- that he kept starting to say that the player could be twice as good in the low post as he was last year. Then the coach would catch himself -- he doesn't want to put undue pressure on the kid.
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Turgeon finally said: ""He's close to being twice as good in the low post."
Last season, Len averaged 6.0 points and 5.4 rebounds.
I know Turgeon doesn't want to raise the bar too high. So, forgive me, Coach, but I'm going to pile on and predict that Len indeed will almost double his output.
If you watch Len, you see a guy with all the tools. He's got the size -- clearly -- to be an effective low-post scorer. But more than that, have you looked at his shooting form? It's textbook.
Study him on the foul line and you see a guy who is mechanically sound, right down to the good rotation on the ball. All he needs to become a better scorer is confidence, will and repetition.
Speaking of foul shots, Len only got to the line 46 times in 22 games last season and was a 59 percent shooter. He can easily top those numbers.
So I will predict averages for Alex of 11 points and 8.5 rebounds. It sure won't hurt Len to have guys like Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell working inside and attracting defenses' attention this season as well.
With Sam Cassell Jr. enrolling at Chipola Junior College, is that the end of the Baltimore guard's involvement with Maryland?
Don Markus: I believe it is. I was looking forward to watching the younger Cassell play for the Terps this season, and I think he was a victim of the NCAA's trying to police prep schools that are essentially basketball factories. But I think Cassell would have likely been recruited over in College Park next year, whether it was Maryland getting the Harrison twins, Philadephia point guard Rysheed Jordan or even Roddy Peters from Prince George's County.
Cassell would certainly have helped the Terps this season, and probably would have been Maryland's best shooting guard, but the idea that he is a point guard in Turgeon's system was a reach. I saw some similarities between Cassell and Terrell Stoglin, both in terms of playing style and temperament, and could see it potentially becoming an issue even this year. I don't think he -- or his dad, now an assistant with the Washington Wizards -- would have been quiet if Sam Jr. wasn't getting his minutes.
Though Chipola is close to Tallahassee, I would advise the younger Cassell to go to South Florida and not Florida State, where his father once starred. It's the same as if John Lucas Jr. or Jai Lucas wound up at Maryland. I know Mark Turgeon liked the younger Cassell, and certainly would have wanted to get another player with Baltimore roots, and I'm sure Turgeon will look to do that in the future as long as the player fits what has become the new profile -- either consensus top 10 prospects like the Harrisons, top 20 like Jordan, top 30 like Shaquille Cleare or top 40 who are moving up like Jake Layman
That Maryland barely blinked when Cassell was declared a non-qualifier by the NCAA shows how far the Terps have come. It took Cassell a year in prep school to get the kind of offers he wanted, and Maryland was certainly the best one he got. I think Turgeon will be much more upset if the NCAA doesn't let Dez Wells play this year, because he has the kind of talent that's at the level Maryland will be recruiting for the foreseeable future.
The landscape has certainly changed in terms of recruiting, and in reality, Cassell was closer to the kind of player Gary Williams was going after than the kind Turgeon will be signing down the road.
The Maryland football team finished its nonconference schedule with a 2-2 record. With one-third of the Terps' season complete, what are some of the biggest takeaways so far?
Matt Bracken: When C.J. Brown went down in fall camp with a torn ACL, everything about Maryland's expectations for the 2012 season changed. The Terps went from a team focused on getting back to a bowl game to a team hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2011 season. After the first four games of this season, it looks like Maryland will fall somewhere in the middle of those preseason prognostications.
The positives shown by this Maryland squad are plenty. Stefon Diggs has lived up to every bit of his five-star hype. The true freshman from Good Counsel has returned 15 punts for 177 yards, seven kickoffs for 186 yards, and caught 12 passes for 259 yards and three touchdowns. I'd expect him to become an even more integral part of the Terps' offense in ACC play. Other bright spots offensively include the potential in running back Wes Brown (23 carries for 127 yards and one touchdown), the emergence of wide receiver Marcus Leak (14 catches for 231 yards and two touchdowns), the reliability of tight end Matt Furstenburg (seven catches for 98 yards and one touchdown) and the toughness of quarterback Perry Hills. For a true freshman, the Pittsburgh native has done a solid job.
Whether or not the Terps reach their bowl-game goals depends largely on the development of the offensive line. Hills, one of the most-sacked QBs in the country, could use more time to get the ball to his many playmakers. I'll be interested to see how much more time true freshman Mike Madaras and redshirt freshman Andrew Zeller see over the rest of this season. For Maryland's long-term prospects, it certainly wouldn't hurt getting those young linemen more action.
Defensively, Maryland has benefitted from the play of defensive linemen Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis, and linebackers Demetrius Hartsfield and Darin Drakeford, in particular. Add Kenneth (nee Kenny) Tate back into the mix, and the Terps have lots of veteran talent in the front seven. There's a lot more cause for concern in the secondary, although the Terps are actually a respectable 22nd in the country in pass defense (177.75 yards per game). With so much youth at corner and safety, it's probably fair to expect more up-and-down play from this group.
There's a mix of winnable games (vs. Wake Forest, at Boston College) and probable losses (at Clemson, vs. Florida State) left on this schedule. How Maryland does in the toss-up games (at Virginia, vs. North Carolina State, etc.) will determine its postseason plans. But all things considered (true freshman QB, coming off a 2-10 year, lots of injuries and inexperience defensively), the first portion of the Terps' season -- save for a missed opportunity vs. UConn -- has gone about as well as could be expected.