What is the biggest battle for the Maryland men's basketball team as preseason practice continues?
Don Markus: Mark Turgeon likes to talk about how he has at least two players at each position, and in most cases, the individuals involved bring different skills to the court. Four of the starting jobs seem to be locked up – in particular juniors Dez Wells and Nick Faust on the wings, junior transfer Evan Smotrycz at either power forward or even center and sophomore Seth Allen at the point – but there is competition for playing time.
While I think Turgeon is going to try and bring freshman Roddy Peters along slowly, I can see Peters eventually moving Allen off to his more natural shooting guard positon. I can also see sophomore Shaquille Cleare, if he doesn’t have any more back issues, starting at center, with Smotrycz playing a stretch 4 – long-range shooting forward. Sophomores Charles Mitchell and Jake Layman, both of whom played significant minutes a year, will also have chances to start.
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So where is the biggest competition?
Based on what they did last year, and the way Turgeon wants to play this year, I think it’s going to be between Layman and Faust on the wing, as well as Cleare and Mitchell inside.
Turgeon has been loyal to Faust, mostly because of the 6-foot-6 guard’s talents but also because he stuck around as a freshman when everyone else bailed after Gary Williams retired. Faust has certainly been a solid, if erratic, player during his first two years in College Park, but he is pretty streaky. What could keep Faust on the floor this year is his leadership and defense, even more than his offense.
But Layman is going to be hard to keep on the bench. NBA scouts are already mentioning the 6-8 forward along with Wells as Maryland’s best prospects, and Layman showed some of those skills after a rough start to his college career. While Turgeon can certainly play Faust and Layman together, and will, I think Layman is going to make a strong case for a starting job by the time the season begins.
The other battle that could evolve is between Cleare and Mitchell.
While they essentially play different positions, with Cleare being more of a center and Mitchell more of a power forward, they fill the same role – a big body who can rebound, defend the rim and score off rebounds and post moves. Mitchell was given more of an opportunity last year, and can be a volume rebounder who might be a little more skilled offensively than Cleare.
But Cleare came in with a bigger reputation, and was a good soldier last year when Turgeon often went with Alex Len too long hoping that the 7-1 center would dominate. Sometimes he did, but more often he did not. With Len off to the NBA, Turgeon is going to have to decide whether he’ll play a more traditional lineup where Cleare is his best option for a back-to-the-basket center, or go with a smaller lineup that might feature Mitchell or even Smotrycz.
One thing is apparent: Turgeon has more players at his disposal than at any time during his first two years at Maryland and if a starter is struggling will be more likely to pull him out without losing much by who he is going to put in. It’s great to have that kind of talent, managing their egos (and in some cases the egos of their parents) could be as difficult a job for the third-year coach as the Xs and Os.