Thoughts on Maryland-Syracuse, Shaquille Cleare and 'Junior Day'
Feb 21, 2014 | 11:46 AM
Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and producer-editor Jonas Shaffer weigh in on three topics from the past week in Maryland sports.
What do you expect when Maryland hosts No. 1 Syracuse on Monday night in its biggest home game of the season?
Jeff Barker: With no Duke or North Carolina on the home schedule this season, this is the game Terps fans have been aiming for. It's been sold out for some time.
At least once a season, Maryland fans need a chance to really make some noise. There is probably plenty of pent-up frustration on campus with the way this season has unfolded. Maryland fans will get a chance Monday to vent.
By the way, Syracuse will be a regular dance partner for Maryland. The Orange are the only ACC school that will continue to play the Terps next season in football – as a nonconference foe – when Maryland is in the Big Ten. Of course, Syracuse is so new to the conference, it hardly feels like an ACC team yet.
It's too bad the Orange won't come in undefeated on Monday. Syracuse's loss to Boston College took a little luster off the matchup.
Of course, Syracuse may also lose at Duke on Saturday night.
We all know the ACC schedule-makers did Maryland no favors this year. But Maryland caught a bit of a break when the conference scheduled Syracuse-Maryland two days after the Orange visit Cameron Indoor Stadium.
How does the emergence of Damonte Dodd impact Shaquille Cleare's future as a Terp?
Don Markus: Shaquille Cleare's demeanor often changes depending on how he and Maryland are playing.
But it is a little more difficult to read Cleare's emotions when he is not playing.
On Tuesday night, Cleare came out of the team's dressing room at halftime engaged in a lively conversation with Charles Mitchell, his closest friend among the Maryland players. While Mitchell had reason to smile after starting strong in what turned out to be a 71-60 victory over Wake Forest, Cleare didn't seem at all upset despite playing just three minutes.
It isn't certain how Cleare felt after not playing at all in the second half, while freshman Damonte Dodd played nine of the 11 minutes he was on the floor against the Demon Deacons. With Mitchell starting the past five games after backing up Cleare for most of the season, it's now a question as to who will get the majority of the remaining minutes at center.
Dodd's seven-minute stint in the second half against Duke in Saturday's 69-67 has apparently given Maryland coach Mark Turgeon the confidence to use the 6-10, 240-pound center from Centreville on a regular basis. Though he had some shaky moments in the two minutes he was used in the first half Tuesday night and early in the second half, Dodd looked more comfortable later on.
With the Demon Deacons hanging around by getting multiple shots on several possessions, Turgeon put Dodd in for Mitchell with 5:49 to play. Though Wake Forest was able to do the same thing immediately after Dodd got on the floor, he helped turn the game in Maryland's favor with a blocked shot, by forcing a travel on backup center Tyler Cavanaugh and grabbing two of the three rebounds he was credited for in the game.
Asked after the game about what Dodd needs to work on to become a regular part of Turgeon's rotation, Mitchell said, "Just focus on the little things. Like I told him, I was a freshman last year and I know what he's going through, like not knowing where to be in a certain situation, especially on defense. He has gotten better every day and he has been a big defensive presence for us."
The emergence of Mitchell and Dodd has made Cleare barely an afterthought. Expected to play a significant role this season after not playing much as a freshman behind Alex Len, Cleare didn't produce much statistically while starting 19 of Maryland's first 22 games. He averaged just 3.4 points and 2.2 rebounds in around 15 minutes a game. He blocked only 13 shots, fewer than team leaders Jake Layman and Dez Wells. He often got into early foul trouble.
After playing a little over 13 minutes a game in a three-game stretch against North Carolina, Florida State and Virginia, Cleare played just three minutes each against Duke and Wake Forest. That trend could continue when the Terps play a big, athletic team in top-ranked Syracuse Monday night at Comcast Center.
There's been a feeling that Turgeon gave Cleare as much time as the team could afford with hopes that the 6-9, 265-pound center would live up to the hype that followed him from Houston as Maryland's top recruit two years ago. A lot of what Cleare did well didn't show up in the boxscore, such as defending ball screens and using his strength to keep opposing centers away from the basket.
But it now appears that Dodd will continue to be used in the role of Mitchell's principal backup as long as he can block shots, rebound and play defense. What that means for Cleare's longterm future as a Terp isn't well, clear, though next season's expected arrival of 7-1 ½ Trayvon Reed could cloud it even more than it is already.
Maryland is hosting its first "Junior Day" this weekend. What should I expect?
Jonas Shaffer: If this is the first you're hearing of a Junior Day, the premise is about what you'd probably expect: A bunch of juniors and underclassmen will come to Maryland for a daylong visit or weekend trip. They'll visit the campus, tour the football facilities, maybe check out a basketball game. I've heard it's a good time.
This weekend is a Junior Day weekend, with visitors reportedly being split between a Saturday visit and a Monday visit, the latter of which coincides with the sold-out Maryland-Syracuse men's basketball game. The sheer volume of recruits expected to visit is too great to offer a prospect-by-prospect evaluation.
One headliner won't get overlooked, though. Defensive tackle target Adam McLean is expected to be on hand. He seems very, very excited about the prospect of being treated to an ACC basketball game. Terps coaches, I imagine, are just as delighted to have him on campus.
A consensus top-200 player nationally, McLean has offers from Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and others. When Maryland was one of his only offers and since-departed assistant Tom Brattan was recruiting him, the Terps reportedly were among the Quince Orchard star's favorites.
They've since dropped back to a trail position, behind a more high-profile group of suitors.
A visit and a basketball game aren't enough to get a commitment from McLean (though that's not to say the Terps won't end up with one or two from this weekend). But with a new recruiter working McLean, it should be a good night to reset his recruitment.