A few thoughts and observations from Maryland's 56-52 win over Providence in the championship game of the Paradise Jam tournament:
** Amid the celebration early Tuesday morning at the University of Virgin Islands' Sports and Fitness Center, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon gave himself a reality check -- he said his team was going to have to find some sort of low-post game, even it meant posting up players like Dez Wells and maybe even Jake Layman to accomplish it.
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Not having a consistent low-post presence hurt the Terps last season when Alex Len was there, and only Charles Mitchell has given Maryland any offense inside this season. Shaquille Cleare was more aggressive getting in position against Providence than he was against Northern Iowa -- largely due to the fact that he wasn't double-teamed -- but he is going to have to finish around the rim more regularly. If not, I think Turgeon is going to have to give Damonte Dodd more of a chance.
** Varun Ram is proving himself to be a shutdown defender on the perimeter. While the 5-foot-10, 150-pound former walk-on from Howard County (River Hill) has his limitations because of size, he is among the quickest players on the team, has fast hands and is a better on-the-ball defender than just about anyone else. He even made a 3-point shot to give the Terps their largest lead of 19 points with 12 1/2 minutes left against Providence.
I think Turgeon needs to find minutes for Ram going forward because he seems to raise the level of intensity on defense. I now understand why Ram was such an integral part of a national championship AAU team when he was in high school, though the coach didn't even use him at point guard. His point guard skills have obviously improved since then, and he seems to understand how to find Maryland's shooters better than either Wells or Roddy Peters, both of whom get the ball better to the post players than Ram because of their ability to penetrate.
** The Terps should not take their next opponent lightly, as they did when Abilene Christian came into Comcast Center. The last time Morgan State visited College Park, they went back to Baltimore with a win. Having watched Morgan State play three games in the Virgin Islands, Maryland should not be fooled by a 1-6 record. Ian Chiles, Morgan's 7-2, 270-pound senior center, had a career game against the same Marist big man with whom Cleare had moderate success. Chiles finished with 25 points, nine rebounds and seven blocked shots and could present problems for the Terps come Friday.
** Turgeon's team needs to build on its performance at the Paradise Jam, unlike another team that calls itself the Terps. Considering when and where the games were played, and the teams Maryland beat, the tournament was more significant to the psyche of Turgeon's players than those considering Maryland's NCAA tournament potential.
That's why a win next week over Ohio State in Columbus would be an even bigger step for the Terps to take. It would also be a good message to send to their future Big Ten brethren. Turgeon liked the way his team is team is transforming into a more defense-oriented group, and I think that's what the Terps need to do to be successful in their ACC finale. Aside from Layman and Evan Smotrycz, the Terps don't have enough outside shooting to be anything but a grind-it-out team as the competition improves.