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Terps' success inside might change Evan Smotrycz's role

Evan Smotrycz will return to a Terps team that is much deeper, and much better, than some might have thought.
Evan Smotrycz will return to a Terps team that is much deeper, and much better, than some might have thought. (Geoff Burke / USA TODAY Sports)

COLLEGE PARK — With Evan Smotrycz likely to return from a broken foot as soon as tonight, it's going to be interesting to see how Maryland coach Mark Turgeon fits the 6-foot-9, 235-pound senior forward back into his team's rotation.

Turgeon hopes Smotrycz, who broke his left foot in practice on Oct. 21, will be in some kind of game shape when No. 8 Virginia comes to Xfinity Center Wednesday for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

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Smotrycz could get on the court for Friday's home game against Monmouth and, if not, for Sunday's home game against VMI. The kind of role Smotrycz will play, at least in the short term, might have been changed by what transpired earlier this week in Kansas City.

After the Terps beat Arizona State in the semifinals of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic Monday night, Maryland assistant Dustin Clark suggested to Turgeon that he use a bigger lineup against Iowa State in the championship game Tuesday.

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Turgeon started senior forward Jon Graham to match up against Cyclones star Georges Niang, then had to switch to 7-1 freshman Michael Cekovsky when Graham got into early foul trouble.

In their first extended time together, Cekovsky and 6-11 sophomore Damonte Dodd controlled the inside and forced the Cyclones outside, where they missed 21 of 27 from 3-point range and shot under 30 percent overall.

The two Maryland big men also contributed eight points after combining for 12 the night before, giving them a total of 20 for the two games. They also combined for 21 rebounds and eight blocked shots.

The strong start by Maryland's two biggest players as well as junior Jake Layman at the power forward has changed how Smotrycz can help the Terps moving forward.

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It will mean more than just reduced playing time -  Smotrycz averaged nearly 28 minutes a game a junior. It might also mean that Smotrycz will be asked to play as much on the perimeter as he does inside.

"I think coming back, with me being integrated into the 4-man position, I think he's going to play a little bit of 3 [small forward] and a little 4 on the offensive end," Layman said Thursday. "He's still a very good long-distance shooter, he can still knock down shots for us and I think his rebounding will be big for us as well."

After transferring from Michigan as a junior, Smotrycz averaged 11 points and six rebounds a game. He didn't shoot from distance (36.7) as well as he did in Ann Arbor (43.5 as a sophomore), yet still finished behind only then-sophomore Seth Allen among 3-point shooters.

This year's team – with more movement, better shooters, and players such as Cekovsky and Dodd providing the kind of help inside that the Terps didn't have a year ago - Smotrycz's deficiencies might be less obvious.

"He's such a smart offensive player, he knows how to move without the ball, he knows what to do with the ball, especially with me, Melo [Trimble] and Dez [Wells] driving to the hoop, I think it will open things up for him to get a lot of open shots," Layman said.

Smotryzc's experience overall will also help this young Maryland team, as will his knowledge of Big Ten teams, players and the vagaries of various venues (such as which arenas have friendly rims). He was one of the few Terps to play well in last season's blowout defeat at Ohio State.

Smotrycz's role in Turgeon's rotation seemed pretty clear prior to the Terps winning the tournament in Kansas City. He might have moved right back into the starting lineup.

Now, as Maryland gets ready for next week's showdown with Virginia, the rotation of big men has deepened and exactly how Smotrycz is going to be used is up for debate.

Turgeon has long contended that Smotrycz's broken foot has been a "blessing in disguise for our team, but not for Evan."

That is certainly the case now. It can also work out well for Smotrycz, if he is willing to see his role change for what is now a much deeper, much better basketball team.

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