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 look for as the Terps get ready to play No. 5 Virginia at Comcast Center at noon Sunday.
It will be interesting to see what Turgeon does with sophomore forward Charles Mitchell against the Cavaliers.
Mitchell, who was sent to the locker room late in the first half of Tuesday’s win over Virginia Tech after having words on the bench with Maryland assistant coach Scott Spinelli, will be back in the lineup for the Terps.
But will he be back in the starting lineup?
Turgeon wouldn’t fully commit to that after practice Saturday, in part because sophomore center Shaquille Cleare gave one one his better efforts in the second half against the Hokies. Cleare, who often has played as timidly as anyone 6 feet 9 and 270 pounds can, was a bit of a force inside.
Interestingly, Turgeon acknowledged that he learned something about coaching Cleare with Mitchell out of the game. By allowing Cleare to play through his mistakes, the former top recruit became more confident the longer he was on the court.
“I was really happy for Shaq,” Turgeon said Saturday. “He responded and played well. He’s practiced pretty well. We’ll see how he does tomorrow. He’s gotten much more physical, which I like, which is what we need. He’ll get first crack tomorrow. Whether that’s as a starter or off the bench, I haven’t decided.”
Junior guard Dez Wells said that after Mitchell was banished from the bench, he and other teammates told Cleare: “Just go out here and do what you know. Go for exactly what you know you can do. Be the player that you know are. Play hard, box out, do the little things."
"I got him the ball in the post and he went and dunked it," Wells added. "His confidence level is really going up and he’s playing really good basketball for us right now.”
John Auslander, the only senior on this year’s Maryland team, will be honored before the game, but he probably won’t start, as some little-used seniors sometimes get to do. And he might not even play, since the 6-7 forward and former walk-on is a member of the scout team.
One thing you can count on Auslander to do: be on his feet and coach his teammates just as much as Turgeon.
“He’s meant a lot,” Turgeon said. “He’s a guy who brings it every day to practice. He’s always communicating, he’s always talking, he does the scout team so he knows what the other team is going to be running all the time. He’s always helping guys, always talking to them.”
Turgeon said Auslander’s coaching skills have improved over the past two years.
"He’s become better at communicating with the players. Instead of yelling at them, he talks to them now,” Turgeon said.
Auslander, who wants to become a coach, said “guys respect you if you’re honest with them. They can tell if you’re passionate about something. At the end of the day, if you know what you’re talking about, they’ve got to respect you.”
After transferring two years ago from Division II Greensboro College to Maryland, from which both of his parents graduated, Auslander actually made his way into Turgeon’s rotation during the first 10 games of the 2011-12 season.
Auslander averaged eight minutes a game, playing as many as 20 in a six-point outing against Florida Gulf Coast. That was before then-freshman center Alex Len returned from an NCAA-ordered 10-game suspension and Auslander broke his ankle.
“Those first 10 games, I kind of knew I was going to play,” Auslander said. “As time went on, I knew as Coach got his guys in, playing time probably wasn’t going to be the biggest thing for me. As far as [being] in practice and on the bench, I know I can help the guys any way possible.”
Wells said Auslander is well respected by his teammates.
“He’s pushed me to be a better leader, he’s pushed me to be a better player. We work out together every morning,” Wells said. “He’s really a team-first guy, so he means a lot to me and a lot to our team. I just want his experience at Maryland to be remembered as one of the best times in his life, because he’s made this year and my tenure at Maryland one of the best times in my life. I just want to return the favor to him.”
ACC TOURNAMENT SCENARIOS
Maryland still can finish with as high as the seventh seed in this week's ACC tournament, but needs to beat Virginia while having Florida State lose at home to Syracuse and North Carolina State lose at home to Boston College. Otherwise, the Terps are locked into the No. 8-No. 9 game at noon Thursday.
Maryland will be the eighth seed if the Terps beat Virginia and either the Seminoles or Wolfpack win. Maryland will be the ninth seed if all three teams win, or if the Terps lose.
Does it matter? I actually think the Terps could be better off coming out of the 8-9 game to play a Virginia team having played just one game — against Maryland, no less — in 13 days.
If Maryland can beat the Cavaliers at Comcast Center, I think it would give Turgeon’s team some momentum going into Greensboro, N.C. Yet this is a team that doesn’t hold momentum very well.
The Terps haven’t won two straight games since winning three straight — over Tulsa, North Carolina Central and Georgia Tech — in late December and early January.