What's behind success of Terps men? Passing, rebounding

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Statistics don't always tell the whole story for Mark Turgeon's teams, but based on how poorly Maryland rebounded and how rarely the Terps turned passes into baskets his first season, you might have thought a somewhat respectable 17-15 record was a mirage.

Conversely, it is easy to understand why Maryland is 5-1 this season and why the Terps look more like a team — potentially a pretty good one after Tuesday's impressive 77-57 road win at Northwestern — than at any point in Turgeon's time in College Park.

Going into Sunday's BB&T Classic against George Mason (5-2) at the Verizon Center in Washington, Maryland leads the ACC in both categories after being ranked near the bottom of Division I (331 of 338) in assists and toward the bottom of the ACC (seventh) in rebounding last season.

The Terps this season are second only to Colorado State nationally in rebounding margin (17.3) and sixth overall in assists (18.7). Turgeon said Saturday after practice at Comcast Center that he has been a bit surprised by the jump in rebounding — and still a little skeptical based on the competition.

"A little more dominant than I thought," he said. "The numbers are a little misleading because I don't think we're boxing out as well as we're capable. We're playing a very good rebounding team Sunday, so it's going to be a great test to see whether it's just our size or whether we're a good rebounding team."

While the numbers will go down as the competition gets better, the Terps are beginning to resemble teams Turgeon coached at Texas A&M. His 2007-08 team at A&M that went 25-11 finished eighth in the country in rebounding margin. His 2010-11 team that went 24-9 was 19th.

"I don't know for us, but we've been always been top 1-2-3 in the conference [in rebounding] wherever I was, of course last year we weren't," Turgeon said. "It's what we do, we defend and rebound. The offense is coming together, five guys scoring, five guys different nights, system-type deal."

Sophomore center Alex Len's new aggressiveness, along with the addition of freshmen wide-bodies Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare, have given senior James Padgett help on the boards after a season in which the blue-collar forward seemed to be the only Terp trying to rebound.

Mitchell, averaging more than seven rebounds while playing just 17 minutes a game, said that Maryland's rebounding prowess begins in practice.

"We run rebounding drills where the losing team has to run, and nobody likes to run," Mitchell said Saturday. "We have a goal where we want to outrebound our opponent by 20 a game. That's a big thing for us. We're not No. 1 in the country but we could be there."

A more fluid offense — orchestrated by junior point guard Pe'Shon Howard and helped by the improvement of Len and the additon of sophomore transfer Dez Wells — has helped Maryland in both categories.

"When you're making shots and you're executing, everything looks better," Turgeon said. "We're shooting 48 percent for the year, the first night [against Kentucky] we shot 32. For us to get to 48 four games later, it means we're doing a lot of good things, most importantly sharing the ball, that's the key."

A year ago, the ball often stopped moving in Maryland's offense once it reached the hands of sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin, who led the ACC in scoring but took more than twice as many shots as the next two Terps combined.

This year, Len has taken the most shots (65, making 36) followed closely by Wells (55, making 28) and sophomore guard Nick Faust (54, hitting 20). Howard leads the ACC in assists and ranks 10th in the country (nearly seven a game to only two turnovers).

Three others — Wells, Faust and freshman guard Seth Allen — have also proven to be capable passers.

"I think it's willingness, it's recognizing situations, it's [having] good players," Turgeon said. "Some guys don't like to pass as much as others, and you're still fighting those guys. But for the most part, guys see another open, they're willing to make the extra pass, if they see a guy for a layup instead of a jump shot, they're giving it up. I've had [scouts] come to practice and they say, 'You guys really share the ball.' "

Comparing this season to last, Howard said, "I think it's the guys the coaches recruited. They knew the type of players they wanted, they wanted longer, more athletic players who can run and get out in transition and make plays. Last year the plays we were running we really didn't have the right guys for and now we have the perfect guys that fit in the situation. They found the guys they wanted to fit their system and it just works from there."