Given the redemptive mindset of Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon and many of his players going into tonight's season opener against Wagner at Xfinity Center, it seems fitting that the Terps worked more on their rebounding than any other area in practice this week.
That happens when a team with a decided advantage both in terms of height and athleticism, as Maryland clearly had over a pair of Division II opponents in blowout preseason victories, doesn't dominate on either the offensive or defensive boards.
While the Terps were better rebounding in last Saturday's 89-47 victory over Bowie State (45-29) than they were in an 86-52 win over San Francisco State 36-30) the previous week, they also gave up way too many second-chance opportunities.
Bowie State, which shot 14 of 63 from the field, had 15 offensive rebounds. San Francisco State, which shot 18 of 58, had 16. Turgeon knows that Maryland will have to make significant improvement in its rebounding as the competition gets stiffer.
When the Terps won 25 games two years ago, they finished fifth in the country in rebounding margin (8.6 a game), with the help of 7-foot sophomore Alex Len and freshman forward Charles Mitchell. Without Len, a 17-15 team dropped to 70th last year (3.3) in that categor. Even so, the Terps still finished second in the ACC for rebounds a game (37.5), behind only North Carolina.
The spring transfer of Mitchell, a voracious rebounder at times during his two years at Maryland, and an early season-injury to senior forward Evan Smotrycz means that the Terps start the 2014-15 season without their two leading rebounders from last season. Smotrycz is expected to be out until early December.
Not only does Turgeon believe that 6-10 sophomore Damonte Dodd and 7-foot freshman Michal Cekovsky can do more rebounding with their length, he also thinks that "our guards can really be great rebounders for us."
"Dez [Wells], Jake [Layman], Dion [Wiley] can be a good rebounder," Turgeon said. "Jared [Nickens] is 6-6, 6-7, Melo [Trimble] is a big guard, 6-3. We had 25 bad or no boxouts [on missed shots] in the second game [against Bowie State], which was down from the first game from about 40. Of those we gave us 16 offensive rebounds."
Turgeon said he has spent the past month trying to get the Terps to become a more physical team. Dodd's role for this season increased significantly when incoming freshman 7-footer Trayvon Reed was dismissed from school after a late July arrest.
In the two preseason games, Dodd had one more foul (seven, including fouling out against Bowie State) than rebound (six). In Dodd's defense, he also had a team high seven blocked shots in the preseason. A year ago, Dodd finished with more rebounds (33) than fouls (29) in a limited role.
"We feel like our team needs to be more physical in practice, so we get after it pretty good in practice, [and] he's developed some habits that we've tried to break this week and I think we have," Turgeon said of Dodd's foul issues against smaller teams. "Our decision-making has to be a little better on defense.
"Is it a concern? Yeah, but I think he can learn from it. It's early.I think him and Checko [Cekovsky] can both rebound better. Sometimes when you're that big, you don't move as quick as you need to. Those teams we played were smaller and faster and speed sometimes is hard to box out. They're just a little off right now."
Senior forward Jon Graham, who had a team-high 11 rebounds against Bowie State after tying Wells with a team-high six against San Francisco State, said Thursday that "rebounding changes the game. Whoever wins the rebounding battle usually wins the game."
Layman, a junior forward whose combination of height (6-9) and athleticism air should make him a more-than-respectable rebounder, said that the message from Turgeon and the coaching staff is "everyone is going to have to rebound now, point guards and especially bigs."
With guards crashing the boards, it could cut down on Maryland's ability to run.
"Sometimes we tend to have guys leak out and get that fastbreak dunk, but now we need to know that we have to have five guys crashing the boards and secure the ball, then go down and score," said Layman, who had seven rebounds to go along with a team-high 18 points against Bowie State.