Previewing Maryland-Florida State, early concerns with basketball, Onuaku moves on

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

What do you expect when the Terps play at No. 8 Florida State on Oct. 5?


Jeff Barker: I anticipate a shootout.

Sure, Maryland's defense has been better than advertised, surrendering an average of 10.2 points per game.

The Terps lost starting cornerbacks Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson to injury, and while the replacements are quite good, the absence of the original starters' experience will hurt against top teams such as Florida State and Clemson.

At least so far, Maryland has managed to put enough pressure on the quarterback to make life a bit easier for the secondary.

But the Terps will face a different animal in the Seminoles, who average 52.3 points per game heading their game Saturday at Boston College.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has had a stellar beginning to his college career, completing 78.1 percent of his passes. Tailback Devonta Freeman is averaging 91 yards rushing per game.

But here's the thing: Maryland can score, too.

Yes, the Terps' schedule has been less than imposing. But Maryland presents problems for even a sound defense.

Maryland has more weapons and speed than in years past. The offensive line may be a work in progress, but I think the skill position players notably slot receiver-returner Stefon Diggs, wide receiver Deon Long and dual-threat quarterback C.J. Brown can put points on the board against anyone. 

I anticipate a big game from Diggs, who wasn't quite himself against West Virginia. I suspect he's been a bit more banged up than we realized, but he will have had the bye week to get better.

The key isn't that the Terps possess a talented individual player such as Diggs. It's that Maryland has multiple weapons, meaning a defense can't key on everybody. The Terps can be better than the sum of their parts.

Do I expect Maryland to win in Tallahassee, Fla., where it has never come away victorious? It would be hard to anticipate that. But I'm looking forward to seeing what the Terps can do

With Maryland starting men's basketball practice Friday, what are the three biggest area of concerns for Mark Turgeon going into the season?

Don Markus: A lot has been written since the end of last season about Turgeon's search for a starting point guard. From their recruitment of Roddy Peters to their attempts to convince former Memphis guard Antonio Barton to finish his college career near his home in Baltimore, sophomore Seth Allen's abilities at point guard have been viewed by many fans with some skepticism.

I wrote back in May, after Barton decided to go to Tennessee rather than become a Terp, that Turgeon should have few qualms handing the job to Allen. I still feel that way, and apparently so does Turgeon, who has been encouraged by Allen's performance over the summer during a three-game tour in the Bahamas as well as in individual workouts.


For the Terps to have any chance of making the NCAA tournament this season, Allen has to become a much more reliable player in terms of his willingness to pass and his shot selection. The comparison to Terrell Stoglin is a bit unfair, I think, because Allen has never struck me as the "me-first" kind of guy Stoglin was during his two seasons in College Park.

That said, Allen is not the only question mark going into practice.

The second-biggest issue could become the availability of sophomore center Shaquille Cleare because of a nagging back problem. After playing behind Alex Len as a freshman, Cleare was expected to get a pretty good chance at the starting job this season. Turgeon has always loved his work ethic and believed  Cleare never got into a rhythm because of his limited playing time.

Cleare has been bothered with a back injury since early in the summer. It prevented him from playing on the trip back home to the Bahamas and could keep him out of some of the early workouts this fall. If the injury lingers, I think Turgeon has to figure out whether he's going to use sophomore Charles Mitchell there or go with a smaller lineup that features five perimeter players, with 6-foot-9 transfer Evan Smotrycz ostensibly his big man.

Smotrycz left Michigan after two years in part because he didn't want to play inside, to take advantage of his long-range shooting skills for what is now called a "stretch 4" position. Maryland is still going to need rebounders, and Mitchell was a dominant one at times as a freshman. Freshman Damonte Dodd can also fill that role. But I still believe that if he is healthy, Cleare is going to get the first crack at playing center.

The third issue for the Terps is how much Dez Wells can build off his sophomore year. At times, particularly toward the end of last season, the 6-5 swingman showed he can be a dominant player. But Wells often was a little out of control, trying to do too much or going for an ESPN highlight rather than making a more heady play. I think Wells is one of the top players in the ACC, and maybe in the country, when he slows down.

Another part of the equation with Wells is the lawsuit he filed against Xavier a couple of months ago. He is seeking damages from the school for defamation and the suffering caused when he was wrongly accused of sexual assault and expelled from the school in the summer of 2012. I think it would be better for his sake if nothing happened good or bad with the suit until after the season ends. Either way, it could be a distraction.

Turgeon said in an interview with ESPN's Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg earlier this week that Wells is expected to be one of the team's leaders, along with Smotrycz and fellow junior Nick Faust (City). Considering his enormous talent, I think Turgeon has to run his offense through Wells more than he did last season, particularly now that the Terps are not going to play inside-out without someone like Len near the basket.

What happened between Maryland and Class of 2014 center target Chinanu Onuaku?

Jonas Shaffer: Onuaku's decision to eliminate Maryland from a list of schools under consideration that vacillates between two and three, seemingly depending on the time of day, ends a strange recruitment for a men's basketball program that was content to land one big man but nonetheless flirted with two.


Though Onuaku has remained relatively tight-lipped throughout the process, the feeling among local and national recruitniks was that he was the Terps' to lose. The 6-foot-10, 220-pound center, a top-100 prospect considered more project than proven, "hit it off" with Maryland's Class of 2014 commits this summer, but all along, he planned to wait until spring 2014 to decide.

Did that displease Turgeon? Did the Terps think higher of other prospects? Those answers likely will remain inside Comcast Center. What we know is this: 7-footer Trayvon Reed committed to Maryland in August. Only, he didn't. Then he actually did, and there was much rejoicing.

The Terps, for a while, continued their pursuit of Onuaku after landing Reed, even as the scholarship calculus indicated that someone on the team (Dez Wells? Jake Layman?) would have to leave after the season for another spot to open up.

Did Reed beat Onuaku to the punch? Was he fearful about getting buried on the depth chart? Those answers, too, are above my pay grade, as well as those of most recruiting analysts I've seen weigh in on the recruitment.

You could look at Onuaku's higher recruiting ranking, shake your head and wonder why the Terps wouldn't want to hold a scholarship for him. That would be the easy thing for fans to do. The prudent thing to do would be to save any hand-wringing for actual college games and focus on what the Terps do have: "an absolute force on the defensive side of the court. Reed swatted away shots left and right and forced every team that played Life Center to score from the outside. It was clear on Saturday that his defensive talent and size will be a big asset when he moves to the collegiate level next year, but his offensive game is still very raw."