By Don Markus
7:00 AM EST, January 19, 2012
It is the question Maryland basketball fans seem to be asking themselves. Heck, it's the question Mark Turgeon must be asking himself when he goes to sleep at night and gets up in the morning
What has happened to Alex Len?
The player who had Terps fans chanting "We love you Alex" during his impressive debut last month against Albany and then followed up with equally strong performances against Radford and Cornell has slowly disappeared in Maryland's four ACC games.
Except for a few spurts on the offensive end against N.C. Stateand on the defensive end against Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, the 7-1 freshman from the Ukraine has looked out of sync.
After averaging better than 13 points and nearly nine rebounds in his first four games - including his first double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds in a Jan. 8 road loss to the Wolfpack, Len has scored eight points and averaged a little over four rebounds in his last three games.
He even went scoreless in a win last Sunday over Georgia Tech, though he had nine boards. After shooting a remarkable 20 of 26 in his first five games, Len has barely shot the ball his last three, going a combined two of eight.
"I can't even get him [Len] to shoot the balll," Turgeon said after Len shot twice, making one, in 18 foul-plagued minutes of an 84-70 loss at Florida State Tuesday night.
There are a few theories floating around the blogosphere about Len's becoming the second coming of Chris Kerwin or Will Bowers, the last two non-descript 7-footers to play at Maryland.
Here are a few thoughts as the Terps get ready to play Temple at the Palestra in Philadelphia on Saturday:
He is not comfortable yet playing the kind of pick-and-roll game that Turgeon is trying to teach: I'm not sure who's at fault, but whenever Len goes out to set a high screen for one of Maryland guards, he rarely gets the ball back near the basket. It might be that Len is setting too soft a screen that allows the defender to get back in position to guard him, or that Terrell Stoglin or another of Maryland's backcourt players are not able to get the pass off soon enough, but I've seen more success on pick-and-roll plays at my local rec center.
The game has suddenly become a lot faster and the opponents are surprising Len with their quickness and strength: When you jump from the kind of competition Len started with and then you are playing ACC teams, there's obviously going to be an adjustment. Maybe the fact that Len got his shot blocked a couple of times against Wake Forest has caused him to lose confidence. I figured he would get knocked around a bit until he was able to add some weight, but I thought his basketball skills and IQ would help compensate for a lack of bulk more than they have recently.
Despite having played professionally for a brief time at home, he is still a freshman who is going to be inconsistent: As I stated last week, maybe I overreacted to the way he started out by throwing down a lob dunk on his first basket and exhibiting other parts of the game that made me think he would, as Turgeon suggested, become Maryland's best player in a short period of time. Not only is Len a freshman, he is living thousands of miles from home and trying to combine basketball with going to college while trying to master a new language and culture.
He might be better used in the high post than down in the blocks: I am not familiar enough to know how Len was used in the Ukraine, but his passing skills and the fact that Turgeon said that Len shows three-point range in practice indicates that he might be better off setting up near the foul line with James Padgett and Ashton Pankey down low. You know that with Shaquille Cleare coming in next year, Turgeon will have a little more flexibility on how he uses Len. Maybe taking him away from the basket, at least part of the time, can put him iin more of a comfort zone.
This is a very difficult part of the schedule coming up, with a road game against a Temple team that beat Duke on the Owls' homecourt and then a visit from the Blue Devils themselves on the same night that Gary Williams' name is added to the court at Comcast Center. Turgeon's message has apparently made it through to Pe'Shon Howard about shooting more (though his shot is still not falling) and for Terrell Stoglin to start passing (he had four assists against Florida State along with 27 points) so you would think he will reach Len. It just might take a longer that he -- and I -- expected.
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