Thoughts on Maryland's transfers, Michal Cekovsky and the need for improvement on defense
Apr 11, 2014 at 9:00 AM
Baltimore Sun reporters Don Markus and Jeff Barker and producer-editor Jonas Shaffer weigh in on three topics from the past week in Maryland sports.
Of the three men's basketball players who are transferring from Maryland (Nick Faust, Shaquille Cleare and Roddy Peters), which is Mark Turgeon going to miss the most?
Don Markus: The quick answer would be none of the above, considering that Maryland is coming off one of its most disappointing seasons in recent memory. The diplomatic answer would be that all will be missed in their own way.
From a personal standpoint, I think Mark Turgeon will miss Shaquille Cleare the most.
Despite not living up the hype coming out of Houston, where he benefited from playing on the same AAU team as Kentucky's Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Cleare is a hard-working, smart kid whose lack of athleticism made him look three steps behind – or below – the play.
The proverbial handwriting was on the wall even before it was leaked Monday that 7-foot Slovakian Michal Cekovsky had committed to Maryland for next season. The expected arrival of 7-1 ½ Trayvon Reed this summer was the first sign, as was Cleare losing his starting job midway through his sophomore year.
From a basketball standpoint, at least in the short term, Turgeon will miss Roddy Peters the most because he would have been the only player on the current roster with the mindset of being a true point guard.
This puts some pressure on Turgeon to find an experienced point guard – either a junior college player or a graduate student eligible to play right away – so that the pressure doesn't fall immediately on incoming freshman Melo Trimble, who is more of a combo guard that a true point.
As for Nick Faust, his departure leaves the Terps lacking what Turgeon calls an "elite defender" on the wing and might require leading scorer Dez Wells to take on that role along as well during his senior year. But it can be done.
Faust was also a factor when the Terps trapped and pressed – he led the team in steals – but without him, Maryland is likely going to be a much steadier and smarter team offensively.
The Terps won't miss Faust's penchant for taking bad shots or his habit of continuing to shoot after missing his first three or four, typically 3-pointers. He wasn't the only culprit, but otherslike Jake Layman and Evan Smotrycz are better shooters whose roles in the offense are designed that way.
For his career, Faust was a 38 percent shooter, 31 percent on 3-pointers. A big scorer in high school at City, Faust scored 20 points in a game only once at Maryland. In 27 games when he took 10 shots or more, Faust connected on at least half of them just nine times.
Faust and his supporters thought he should have been a bigger part of the offense, which is the reason he's leaving. Because of his athleticism, Faust will likely land at a high major in the process of rebuilding, as Pe'Shon Howard did last season.
Maryland should also be able to cut down on its high percentage of careless turnovers without Faust.
In what turned out to be his last game as a Terp – a first-round loss to Florida State in the ACC tournament – Faust committed seven turnovers. Turgeon stuck with him that day largely because Smotrycz wasn't available because of an injury.
Turgeon has taken the high road on all three transfers, even though Faust's father, Anthony, took some not-so-veiled shots at his son's former coach in an interview with the Washington Post. (The elder Faust declined comment to The Baltimore Sun.)
I think while it's not addition by subtraction with all three of the players – as well as with assistant coach Scott Spinelli, who is expected to go to Boston College – I do think the chemistry should improve and Turgeon and the Terps can try to move past what was a very tough season on and off the court.
Jonas Shaffer: Because we're all really living in Frank Kaminsky's world, naturally the most immediate comparison for a slim 7-footer with a Euro-style game and a "-sky" suffix is the Wisconsin star.
How unfair. Not just for Cekovsky, whom many Maryland fans might have first thought was kin of men's soccer coach Sasho Cirovski when they scrolled past the headline. Expecting any big man, anywhere, to turn out to be the guy who can put up 28 points against one of the nation's best defenses is silly.
My quick-fire comparison, after watching some extended highlights of him in action?
A taller, more athletic Tyler Cavanaugh of Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons sophomore averaged almost nine points and four rebounds for the Demon Deacons last season, attempting nearly a third of his field goal attempts per game (6.2) from beyond the arc (2.0). At 7 feet, Cekovsky has a couple of inches on the 6-9 Cavanaugh but is still only 220 pounds, 10 pounds lighter than the Wake Forest forward.
Like Alex Len before him, the Slovakian needs time in the weight room and lessons in the nuances of defense. In the above highlights, Cekovsky was sometimes too passive in the demanding the ball in the post, even against smaller opponents. But he looked to have a good stroke from the free-throw line and could handle the ball in the paint, both important qualities in a big man.
On defense, he boxed out well and proved disruptive in drives to the paint. But he also showed a habit of chasing the ball handler on fast-break defensive situations, rather than sprinting downcourt to protect the goal, and had unsatisfactory hedges on pick-and-roll plays.
Will he be more advanced than incoming center Trayvon Reed? Cekovsk's older, which will help. And if he turns out to be more Cavanaugh than Kaminsky, no matter. Mark Turgeon and the Terps just need him to be better than Shaquille Cleare was last season.
With so much turnover, what must change for the Maryland men next year?
Jeff Barker: Let's talk defense.
Before Mark Turgeon arrived at Maryland in 2011, his Texas A&M teams were known for it. In his last season there, the Aggies ranked 19th in the nation in fewest points allowed and went 24-9.
I've long thought that Turgeon's Maryland teams would similarly be known for defense. I imagined that getting stops would be the Terps' hallmark. I think Turgeon did, too.
When you think "defense" in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Tony Bennett's Virginia Cavaliers come to mind first. They surrendered 55.7 points per game, best in the conference. Virginia's defense has become central to its identity.
Maryland surrendered 67.7 points per game, 10th in the ACC. The Terps were ninth in field-goal percentage defense at 41.7 percent.
With those same numbers, Maryland would have tied for ninth in the Big Ten in scoring defense and would have ranked seventh in opponents' shooting percentage.
You just know that Maryland's defensive statistics aren't satisfactory to the coach.
Maryland lacked a rim protector last season. The departure of 7-footer Alex Len to the NBA after 2012-13 didn't help.
But that wasn't the whole problem.
Defense is about technique and athleticism, but it's also about will. It's about the players buying into a coach's philosophy.