COLLEGE PARK — From Maryland’s zone defense to its half-court offense to Mark Turgeon trying to find a regular rotation, here are three takeaways from the Terps’ 73-55 win Saturday night over Rhode Island at Xfinity Center.
Maryland’s zone proves once again to be a game-changer.
Trailing 24-12 midway through the first half, the Terps went into a zone defense that Rams coach David Cox later said changed the tone, and outcome, of the game.
While the sloppiness that resulted in 14 first-half turnovers negated some of what the zone produced, it seemed to energize both the team and the crowd in helping the Terps take a 35-32 halftime lead.
The zone — which seemed to be a hybrid of the 3-2 zone Maryland used last season and a 1-3-1 — should become even more of a staple this season for a couple of reasons.
One is that, with at least two and possibly three freshmen becoming part of the rotation, the young Terps might be able to cover a small portion of the floor more easily than switching on ball screens.
In their man-to-man defense early in Saturday’s game, the Terps gave up more layups and open jumpers because of miscommunication.
More importantly, Maryland’s length with Aaron Wiggins at the top of the zone, with a combination of Anthony Cowan Jr., Eric Ayala or Darryl Morsell on the wings, makes it difficult for opposing teams to get the ball inside.
Also, with the 3-point line pushed back more than a foot this season, it forces the offense to start even further out to get the ball inside for quality shots.
Like most veteran coaches, Turgeon is very stubborn changing what he feels more comfortable with in the man-to-man defense. But at least he’s showing a little more flexibility than he ever has.
The Terps played zone for long stretches last season only twice, but it worked both times — in a road win at Minnesota and in a comeback bid from a 14-point deficit against LSU in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Against Rhode Island, it helped push the pace. And after committing so many turnovers in the first half, Maryland stopped giving the ball back and started to catch up before eventually pulling away.
More movement, less dribbling is needed in the half-court offense.
Since there are going to be games in which the Terps won’t be able to run, they will need to be able to score efficiently when they slow the pace in their half-court offense. Based on what has happened the past eight years, that has not always been a strength.
Maryland’s versatility in having players who can both shoot from the outside and drive should make the Terps a good half-court team.
Whether it’s the plays that are being called or the way Maryland is running them, there still seems to be too much standing around on the wing, which has been a problem throughout Turgeon’s tenure. There needs to be more players cutting, more driving and more kick-out passes for 3-pointers.
Rather than relying so much on 3-point shots — the Terps are 11-for-46 so far from long distance — Cowan and Ayala need to be driving more and drawing fouls, as both did at times Saturday, or driving and throwing lobs or kicking out to the wings.
Maryland presents more matchup problems this season than any of Turgeon’s previous teams. The Terps need to identify the defense’s weak link and exploit that mismatch.
It could be the difference between a great season or just another good one.
Much was made in the preseason about how deep Maryland’s roster is, and how that could be both a blessing and a curse for Turgeon in the way he shuttles players in and out of the lineup.
Partly because of the early fouls that limited freshman center Makhi Mitchell in the first half Saturday, Turgeon immediately had to shorten his rotation.
Making his first start, Mitchell picked up two quick fouls, ended up with four and wound up playing just four minutes. Ricky Lindo Jr., who was benched, played just seven minutes, including less than a minute after halftime.
Even freshman forward Donta Scott, who could wind up starting at some point this season, played less than six minutes in the second half.
Of all the players who was expected to be solidly in the rotation, and possibly in the starting lineup, Lindo has been the one who seems to have regressed the most. In fact, he has become something of an enigma.
After Turgeon said the sophomore forward made one of the biggest jumps of any of his players over the summer, Lindo has not played with the kind of defense and energy he showed as a freshman.
It all led to Turgeon playing basically five guys in the second half Saturday, something that he really doesn’t want to do on a regular basis or should have to do that often.
Wiggins, Cowan and Morsell didn’t come out of the game until the bench was cleared in the final minute of the first half, with Jalen Smith playing nearly 16 minutes and Ayala a little more than 15. Scott was the only sub to get more than two minutes.
It’s something of a dilemma for Turgeon, who wants to develop his depth while also making sure that his top six or seven players have the kind of chemistry to make some of them interchangeable.
Turgeon will certainly have the next two weeks to figure out his rotation, given that he has nearly a week before the team plays its next game Saturday against Oakland. The Terps shouldn’t have much of a test until facing Temple in the first round of the Orlando Invitational on Nov. 28.
Maryland’s starting lineup is not the problem, since the players who had the biggest impact the first two games were Morsell in the opener against Holy Cross and Ayala on Saturday. Both came in with the second unit, with Ayala starting the opener and Morsell starting against the Rams.
It’s just a matter of how deep Turgeon wants to go, knowing that there is a possibility that 7-foot-2 freshman Chol Marial, if he recovers as well from his Sept. 4 surgery to repair a recurring issue of shin splints and stress fractures in both legs, could join the rotation by the time the Big Ten season gets fully underway.