Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.
Maryland's defense is ranked eighth in the nation, giving up 261.2 yards per game. Is the defense really that good?
Jeff Barker: Yes and no. There is no doubt that coordinator Brian Stewart's 3-4 defense is vastly superior to last year's unit before Stewart arrived.
The defense has been particularly strong up front, giving up an average of just 83.5 rushing yards.
If Maryland is to make something of this season, it seems clear the defense will be the anchor.
But there are some issues. Coaches say the defense, stingy as it has been, has not created enough takeaways -- just four fumbles and two interceptions through four games. Maryland's turnover margin is minus-7.
And then there are those big plays -- the ones that coaches call "chunk plays." Against West Virginia, the Terps were prone to surrendering yardage in big gulps.
"I still think we're a work in progress," Stewart said this week. "We're giving up way too many big plays, we've got to be better on third down, and we've got to tackle the catch."
But the defense has sure come a long way since 2011, when Maryland lost a 27-point, third quarter lead at N.C. State in the season's final game.
How big a blow to the Maryland basketball program is not getting the Harrison twins, and are there any positives to come from it?
Don Markus: It's hard to say anything positive is derived from not getting a commitment from two of the best players in the country, players that could have had more of an impact in one season on the Maryland program than any since Steve Francis had after transferring from junior college in 1998-99 or Joe Smith had as the national freshman of the year in 1993-94. The Harrisons would have taken what is likely going to be a much-improved team this season – one that has a chance to make the NCAA tournament – and turn into a legitimate national contender next year.
That said, I wondered during this whole process whether the arrival of the Harrisons would have disrupted the chemistry that the Terps seem to be building with the kind of players Mark Turgeon has brought in as recruits or transfers -- and one in particular, sophomore guard Nick Faust, that he inherited from Gary Williams. What was going to happen to Faust if Andrew and Aaron Harrison put on Maryland uniforms for the 2013-2014 season? What was Turgeon going to tell a kid he had to re-recruit in order to stay in College Park after Williams retired, then turned into a very key player as a freshman and perhaps his most important player as a sophomore. Oh, Nick, we need you to come off the bench for a while?
I also think that athletic director Kevin Anderson and his compliance staff must be breathing a sigh of relief that the Harrisons are not going to be coming. With all the discussion about Under Armour's possible role in the decision – one that apparently was "way overblown," according to Scout.com recruiting analyst Evan Daniels – you know the NCAA was going to look into how Maryland beat out Kentucky for the Harrisons. The NCAA typically looks into the recruiting of all upper-echelon high school talent, and it still might want to make sure the Terps were above board even if they finished second in this recruiting battle. But now the NCAA can focus its attention toward Lexington if it so chooses.
Just by the fact that Maryland and Turgeon were mentioned so prominently in the stories about the recruiting of the Harrison twins gives the Terps some street cred when it comes to future recruiting. There aren't that many schools that have been successful in beating out John Calipari for likely one-and-done players. I think it might have been a different case if there had only been one player, rather than two, since Aaron Harrison Sr. seemed to be favoring the Terps and might have been able to convince one son, rather than two, that Maryland was a better place.
About the only negative right now is the fact that Turgeon and assistant coach Bino Ranson put so much time and energy into recruiting the Harrisons – including making one last-ditch trip to Texas on Wednesday – and that other players currently being recruited by Maryland might feel neglected. Given the current makeup of the roster, the Terps will have two point guards next season, Pe'Shon Howard and Seth Allen, who are certainly capable of playing in the ACC but might not be as talented as a Roddy Peters or Rysheed Jordan, the two high school seniors who are still on Maryland's radar.
I'm sure it's going to be a little while before Turgeon and his staff recover from this first significant recruiting defeat, but after what Turgeon did in terms of recruiting the likes of Shaquille Cleare (the former AAU teammate of the Harrisons who first wanted to come to Maryland because of Gary Williams) and Jake Layman (who made the U-19 national team that the Harrisons did not) and getting transfers such as Logan Aronhalt for this season, Dez Wells (possibly for this season depending on the outcome of an NCAA decision regarding his eligibility) and Evan Smotrycz (from Michigan) for next season, I think we are already seeing that Maryland recruiting is in a different place. Just going down to the wire with the Harrisons confirmed that.
Chemistry is a big deal for Turgeon. Just ask him about what he had to do last season trying to get other players to practice hard because Terrell Stoglin wasn't, or have them buy into what he was saying about playing defense, again because Stoglin, the team's star, didn't show much interest in that part of the game. Stoglin is gone from the team not just because he allegedly flunked some drug tests, but because he flunked the chemistry course Turgeon was teaching. The arrival of the Harrisons might have made that course tougher for the teacher next season than for the students.
Where will Maryland turn next after missing out on the Harrison twins?
Matt Bracken: The good news here is that Maryland doesn't have to scramble and build new relationships. The Terps offered Suitland point guard Roddy Peters and Philadelphia point guard Rysheed Jordan months ago. And even though Maryland's pursuit of the Harrisons was a national story that college hoops observers simply couldn't ignore, Mark Turgeon would have happily accepted a commitment from Peters or Jordan while continuing to go after the twins.
Whether or not Peters and Jordan see it that way, however, is a legitimate question. Jordan, with offers from Syracuse, Temple, UCLA, St. John's and others, appears to be a bigger longshot than Peters. Jordan's AAU coach, in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, said he wouldn't be surprised if Maryland landed Peters.
Peters, meanwhile, grew up rooting for Maryland in nearby Forestville. The Terps monitored him for months before pulling the trigger on an offer in July. Now Maryland is competing against Georgetown, Kansas, Rutgers, Xavier and UCLA for his services. Peters has already visited Piscataway and Cincinnati. InsideMDSports reported this morning that Peters didn't make his scheduled trip to Westwood this weekend. A trip to Lawrence for Peters still likely looms.
The competition for Peters is certainly daunting, but Maryland's got more than a few things going in its favor -- namely location, available playing time at the 1 and comfort with the coaching staff and players. Terps assistant coach Dalonte Hill was essentially hired by Turgeon to win recruiting battles over D.C. Assault players like Peters. So Maryland absolutely has reasons for optimism.
If Maryland swings and misses on Peters and Jordan, keep these two off-the-radar 2013 guard names in mind: Jevon Thomas and Daxter Miles. According to a source with Team Melo, Thomas has received some recent interest from the Terps. A former St. John's and Dayton commitment, the well-traveled Thomas is a 5-foot-11 point guard from Queens who's currently doing a post-grad year at St. John's Northwestern Military Academy in Wisconsin -- the former home of one-time Terps forward commitment Martin Breunig. Miles is a Baltimore native who spent his junior season at IMG Academy in Florida, but is back for his senior year at Dunbar. The 6-foot-2 combo guard received some interest from Maryland last winter. The Nike Baltimore Elite player fared well in an exhibition game against the Harrison twins at BCCC over the summer, and he claims several mid- and high-major offers. Sources say Thomas and Miles are expected to wait until the spring to sign.
It's good to have contingency plans, and Thomas and Miles may or may not fit that bill. But the priority for Maryland remains landing Peters or Jordan this fall. I asked Turgeon in August how he was attempting to juggle one of the most high-profile recruitments in the country while still pursuing somewhat less-regarded prospects at the same positions. A day after the high-profile scenario didn't go the Terps' way, it's instructive to revisit Turgeon's comments, and keep those in mind as Maryland works to complete its 2013 class.
"We're working to paint a picture in recruiting of how they're going to fit in and how much work they have to do to get us there," Turgeon said. "They either buy in or they don't. You win some and you lose some. That's the way recruiting goes. You try not to get too high or too low. That's the key."