Terps Trio: Football seniors, Turgeon's choice at point guard and Damonte Dodd

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.

How would you evaluate Maryland football’s senior class that will appear in its last home game on Saturday?

Jeff Barker: This year’s outgoing class possessed good talent, particularly on defense. There was Joe Vellano, A.J. Francis, Demetrius Hartsfield, Kenneth Tate, Justin Gilbert and Kevin Dorsey, among others.

But it’s hard not to feel for this class a bit.

It just didn’t end right for these guys. I say that not as a fan, but as someone who got to know this class covering them and wished them well.

With two games remaining this year, Maryland is 25-35 since the 2008 season began. Along the way, there were two head coaches, three defensive coordinators and three offensive coordinators.

Think about Tate’s path -- from a high school wide receiver, to an All-ACC safety, to a hybrid linebacker-safety and, this season, to strong-side linebacker. That takes a lot of adjusting. There were some knee injuries in there as well that limited the player.

When I talked to Tate during the preseason, he was a little more sober about football than when he entered Maryland as a top recruit from DeMatha. His experiences have reinforced that the game is also a business. He seems more keenly aware that nothing about his future is guaranteed. "You could have a coach one day and not have the coach the next day," Tate said.

Don’t get me wrong. Tate still loves the sport and his teammates and aspires to play in the NFL. He said Saturday’s Senior Day – when he will be introduced before the Florida State game – will be “really, truly a special day.”

“These are the days that you just don’t think about when you to college. I’ve come to that realization now that I’m definitely going to miss this place,” Tate said.

If you were coaching Maryland, who would you want your starting point guard to be this season?

Don Markus: Despite the influx of talent into Mark Turgeon’s program, this remains his biggest dilemma. None of the three players with point guard skills – junior Pe’Shon Howard, sophomore Nick Faust and freshman Seth Allen – can be classified as traditional point guards. Even Suitland High’s Roddy Peters, who announced this week that he will be coming to College Park next season, is also more of a scoring point guard.

Coming off the preseason, I really thought Turgeon would go with Allen over Howard because of his athletic ability and his willingness to attack the basket. While his performance against a Division II team in an exhibition game – 16 points, 5 assists, 0 turnovers, 5 steals – didn’t come against a top-level opponent, it certainly opened more than a few eyes and gave the debate some steam.

Based on what happened in the season-opening loss to Kentucky, when Allen helped jump-start the offense in the second half with a couple of 3-point shots and later when Howard forced a 3 that could have sent the game into overtime rather than pass to wide-open teammates on either wing, I thought that might have changed Turgeon’s mind.

It didn't.

Turgeon acknowledged after the game that Howard didn’t run the play that was called – which was to get the ball to the wing shooters – but praised Howard’s defense on Julius Mays. Given the time left (7.7 seconds when the Terps took the ball out) and better shooters on the wing (including Logan Aronhalt, who was inserted for that reason), it was a bad decision by Howard.

After Monday’s game against Morehead State, when Howard didn’t take a single shot but had a good assist to turnover ration (7-3), I figured Turgeon’s mind was further muddled.

It wasn't.

 I asked him at Thursday’s news conference leading into Friday’s home game against Long Island University if he wanted Howard to to look more for his shot or continue to concentrate on setting others up.

“I don’t want him passing up wide open shots. I thought he had a 3 in the first half off an offensive reboundsm they threw it out to him that he wouldn’t hesistated in the Kentucky game, he would have let it fire,” Turgeon said. “I do think on the break he needs to explore a little more. I think I need someone just to run our team right now and he’s willing to do it.

   “I don’t want him not shooting, but I want him thinking running out team first. Seth can’t play that way. Seth thinks score, then run the team. It’s been the way he’s been raised and brought up and the way he’s played. Pe’Shon can and will hit make open shots. He was actually shooting the ball really well going into the Kentucky and I think that’s why he was so aggressive in that game because he was shooting it so well.”

    Allen played well against Kentucky – finishing with six points, five assists and no turnovers in 25 minutes – but played more like a freshman against Morehead State. As for Faust, he seems to have reverted back to the beginning of his freshman year at times by taking wild shots. Some more long stretches on the bench – as he had in the second half of the Kentucky – should cure him of that.

 Faust played well at the point down the stretch last season and while his assist to turnover ratio wasn’t what you wanted, his ability to break down a defense with his dribble will open things up for Maryland’s wing shooters. I think Allen that ability as well, but I am not sure about Howard, who was never that fast to begin with and is coming off a season when he had foot and knee surgery.

   Just as Turgeon is going to use this stretch of home games – the Terps play only one true road game, next Tuesday at Northwestern, before ACC play starts in January – to figure out his rotation. But I think he should also figure out who his starting (and more importantly finishing) point guard is going to be before then.

Maryland announced the signings this week of Roddy Peters and Damonte Dodd. There's been plenty written and said about Peters since his commitment last month, but what can we make of Dodd and his potential?

Matt Bracken: In the five-plus years I've covered Terps recruiting for The Sun, Dodd is the only basketball recruit Maryland landed whom I had never heard of before the actual commitment. I can't speak for all of my colleagues on the beat, but I don't think I'm the only one who was blindsided by the pledge of a mostly unknown center from a geographic area -- the Eastern Shore -- that typically produces zero high-major Division I players per year.

His senior year at Queen Anne's County High yielded eye-popping statistics -- 24 points, 16 rebounds, seven blocks per game -- but, unsurprisingly, not much in the way of legitimate competition. So Dodd and Maryland agreed that spending a post-grad year at Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock, Va., would be best for his long-term development.

It's early in the season, but returns on Dodd's prep year so far have been nothing but positive.

“Right now, his strength is really being able to run the floor," Massanutten coach Chad Myers said in a Maryland news release. "He’s rebounding well. He’s very active and he’s starting to do a pretty good job of sealing and catching the ball around the basket, around the post. But I would tell you right now, it would be his motor and his ability to run the floor.”

Added Scout.com's Evan Daniels in the same release: "There's a lot to like about Damonte Dodd. He has a big, strong body, is active on the defensive end and will lock down rebounds in his area. He's a post prospect with some nice upside and should continue to get better with another year of high school under his belt. This is a nice pick up for Maryland and someone that can help them in the post down the road."

"Down the road" could very well turn out to be next year as a freshman. Alex Len's performance against Kentucky has put the sophomore center in the NBA draft lottery conversation, so expecting him back for the 2013-14 season is probably wishful thinking. And, of course, James Padgett will graduate this spring, leaving Maryland with Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare as its bigs. Evan Smotrycz -- who has drawn rave reviews in practice -- will also see plenty of time as a face-up 4. Mitchell looks like he'll be a rebounding force for the Terps over the course of the next four years, and I'm betting that Cleare rounds his way into shape before too long. Both of those guys are great building blocks for Maryland in the post.

But a third back-to-the-basket big man will be needed, and Dodd's rapid development over the past eight months suggests that he'll be up for the job. He's still considered a player with -- as Mark Turgeon put it yesterday -- "big upside." My guess is that Dodd will get to show some of that upside next year.

"He plays extremely hard and he strives to get better every day," Turgeon said. "He's almost 6-foot-10 and still growing. He runs, rebounds, and blocks shots, and his best years on the basketball court are ahead of him."

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