Thoughts on Maryland women in Final Four, Melo Trimble and men's coaching staff

Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and producer-editor Jonas Shaffer weigh in on three topics from the past week in Maryland sports.

How would you rate the Maryland women’s chances against Notre Dame in Sunday night’s Final Four?

Jeff Barker: The Terps will be the underdog, of course. Again. I think they can hang with the Irish – they did on Jan. 27, losing 87-83.

In order to prevail, Maryland would need an even stronger game than it played in eliminating Louisville in the Elite Eight. That was a game in which Maryland was energized and willful, but the Terps were hardly flawless at the end.

Maryland’s advantage on Sunday is inside. Notre Dame must play without leading rebounder and third-leading scorer Natalia Achonwa (7.7 rebounds and 14.9 points per game), who tore her anterior cruciate ligament in the Elite Eight. She got into foul trouble in the teams' first meeting and was limited to 21 minutes, so the Irish know how to play without her.

The Terps were burned by Notre Dame guards Jewell Loyd (30 points) and Kayla McBride (20 points) in January. They may be the most dangerous 1-2 backcourt combination in the country.

My take: Sunday’s outcome will hinge on which team does the best job of minimizing the other’s biggest advantage.

I’ll be looking in particular at Maryland’s offensive rebounding numbers as a sign of their inside success. The Terps had 11 offensive rebounds in the first meeting, compared to Notre Dame’s six.

With their size, the Terps have the ability to lengthen possessions and collect second and third shots. Getting extra shots can offset Notre Dame’s prolific backcourt scoring. Maryland attempted 68 shots in the January game to Notre Dame’s 53. That’s the sort of margin the Terps will probably need again because the Irish are capable of shooting a very high percentage.

And finally: I wrote for today’s paper on the increasing attention paid to the women’s game. The interest seems to feed on itself. The more familiar fans become with the teams and players, the more interest the game holds.

Sports is really just a reality show. The more episodes you watch, the more you get hooked.

What do you make of Melo Trimble's limited impact on the McDonald's All-American Game on Wednesday night?

Jonas Shaffer: I think we can all agree on this much: Whenever Trimble emerges as a player worth watching, whether it's six months or one year or four years from now, no commentator in his or her right mind will point to this game as his coming-out party.

Now, it's not as if the first Terps signee to play in the prestigious showcase in 11 years was invisible. ESPN analyst Jalen Rose complimented him on his shooting form. He made a nice pass on a fast break that wasn't converted. He swished both of his free throws. And ... yeah. Not much else. He missed his few attempts from deep and was planted on the bench for much of the second half as the night's more well-known stars finished out a tight game.

It was a disappointing coda to what had been an encouraging week in Chicago. Trimble impressed analysts and scouts in practice and, despite his relatively low ranking, he seemed to belong. On Wednesday, though, he was deferential — maybe too much so — and his shot was off.

So Trimble isn't Tyus Jones. No surprise there. Trimble was there for a reason. He had shown many why. It wasn't apparent Friday night, but that doesn't mean it won't be before long.

If Mark Turgeon sticks with his current roster and staff, will the Terps be any more competitive in the Big Ten next season than they were in the ACC this season?

Don Markus: There is something to be said about stability when a program is showing steady progress, but Maryland took a rather obvious step backwards in Turgeon's third season in College Park.

With the move to what is arguably a tougher conference – it certainly was in 2013-14 based on how far Big Ten teams got in the NCAA tournament compared to ACC teams – you would think that Turgeon would like to make some changes.

While he appears stuck with his personnel on the court, the one area which Turgeon does have some wiggle room is with his coaching staff.

For the first time since Turgeon arrived, the staff went through upheaval in November when assistant coach Delonte Hill resigned after his second drunk driving charge in Maryland.

Turgeon promoted basketball operations director Dustin Clark, whom many say is Turgeon’s closest confidante at Maryland despite a significant difference in their ages. He also named former Terps great Juan Dixon as a special assistant.

After a disappointing 17-15 season where there was little improvement either collectively or individually, many Maryland fans question the ability of Turgeon and his current staff to develop the talent he recruits.

Some of it falls on the head coach, but that is typically the role of assistant coaches. There was some improvement among the guards, but little among the team’s big men – in particular sophomore center Shaquille Cleare.

That’s certainly one area where Turgeon should take a long, hard look at with the makeup of his current staff.

If he believes assistants Scott Spinelli and Bino Ransom were providing the necessary teaching for the big men to improve, then Turgeon will have to decide what to do with Cleare and the other bigs. If not, then he needs to bring in someone who can improve their games.

There have been rumors that Cleare would leave after the season, but so far, no current players have asked for a release from their scholarship, according to those with knowledge of the situation. Spinelli has been a candidate for head coaching jobs in the past, and Ranson seems to be a potential candidate at Coppin State.

As for the players, it appears that the roster will remain pretty much intact.

Junior forward Evan Smotrycz would be eligible to transfer after he graduates this spring, but I doubt he wants to transfer again after coming to Maryland from Michigan a couple of years ago. Ditto for junior forward Jon Graham. Junior swingman Nick Faust is not on target to graduate early, according to a team source.

It appears that next year’s team will again be built around its perimeter players – namely senior guard Dez Wells, junior guard Seth Allen, junior forward Jake Layman and possibly incoming freshman point guard Melo Trimble.

But to compete in the Big Ten, the Terps are going to need more consistent production from their frontcourt. Nearly every Big Ten team, even those at or near the bottom, has big men who have produced more than Turgeon's have so far. 

That doesn’t mean incoming freshman Trayvon Reed has to be to a dominant player right away – at least offensively.  But mostly it is up to sophomores Charles Mitchell and Cleare, if he is back, to be able to combine for double digits nearly every night, not just on occasion.

It is also wouldn’t hurt if Smotrycz, as he promised after a late-season double-overtime loss at Clemson, develops an an inside game to complement his outside shooting. Or if sophomore Damonte Dodd becomes more of an offensive threat.

But something needs to change for the Terps to have a more successful debut in the Big Ten than their farewell season was in the ACC.

I’m not sure that a fan base that went into last season with high expectations will be happy to hear that the basketball team will return basically unchanged.  

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