Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Why the Terps Will Be Tough to Beat in ACC Play

What  the Team Has Shown Thus Far

by John Vittas

So the book is closed on an underwhelming out-of-conference schedule for the Maryland Terrapins.

They lost their showdown with Kentucky and proceeded to rattle off 12 straight wins against a host of no-name schools, winning by an average margin of nearly 20 points.

As great as the stats have been for the Terps, they seem almost irrelevant given the competition level.

So, after two months of (semi) real games, here is what we've learned from the non-conference season and why the Terps will be a hard out come conference play:

1. Balance and Depth

The arrival of four freshman and two eligible transfers has allowed Mark Turgeon to work with a 10-man rotation through the early part of the season. No player has averaged more than 25 minutes per game and Mark Turgeon has had the luxury of benching his more veteran players down the stretch of blowouts to give his freshman a chance to grow together. All ten players have attempted at last 41 shots and no one has taken more than 117.

The departure of Terrell Stoglin has allowed this year's team to play smart, unselfish basketball no matter what combination is on the floor.

The reason the depth is the most significant advantage the Terps possess is that with no hierarchy evident, Turgeon can play the five hottest players at the end of any game, an advantage most ACC coaches don't have (only exception: maybe Roy Williams). Most ACC teams work with 6-7 man rotations (Duke and NC State) and have nowhere to look for help if the main cogs aren't performing.

Maryland has every important role on a basketball team filled. An argument can be made that they are the most well-rounded team in the conference, with the roles shaping up like this:

Veteran Leader: James Padgett
Smart, Heady Point Guard: Pe'Shon Howard
Explosive Freshman: Seth Allen
Big Bruisers: Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare
High-Flying Wings: Dez Wells and Nick Faust
Sharp-Shooter: Logan Aronhalt
PTPer Who Can Take Over a Game: Alex Len

Haven't figured one out yet for Layman, but the point is, this team has all the pieces necessary to win if everyone does their job.

Talk about roles, Logan Aronhalt is shooting 56% on three-pointers this year.

2. Alex Len

The most important role on that list above is filled by Alex Len, and all 7-foot-1 of him. Len has taken over the lead role since Stoglin left and will be the guy the Terps look to down-the-stretch of a close game (although Dez Wells may have something to say about that).

Len's first crunch time audition came against Cornell last year, where he scored several late buckets to snuff out a comeback from the Big Red. And this year, his willingness to step up in big games has already been made evident.

Len has had his three best games against arguably the three best opponents Maryland has seen thus far: Kentucky, Northwestern and Stony Brook. He exposed the 7-foot combo of Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein, and went for 13-and-13 on the road against Northwestern. And much like the Cornell game last year, Len finished a monstrous three-point play to deny a comeback bid from Stony Brook last week on his way to another 19-point performance.

Crunch time aside, Len is equally as valuable in minutes 1-through-35. He clogs up the lane and changes countless shots by opponents. How many guards have been able to drive and score against Maryland this year? Almost none. Same can be said about post moves in the paint or put-backs off rebounds. The Ukrainian erases shots as often as Terrell Stoglin took them last year. I wish there was a way to see points-in-the-paint margin, because the Terps should easily be top-10 in the nation.

If your still doubting his big-game ability, watch this:

3. Size

Len isn't the only reason Maryland is dominant down low. Freshman forwards Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare have chewed up an equal amount of real estate in the paint. While they haven't had the impact of Len or shown post moves like James Padgett, Mitchell and Cleare have denied plenty of shots in their own right and have had a knack for grabbing tough rebounds. Their minutes off the bench will be vital to Maryland's success against the big boys of the ACC.

And, don't dismiss James Padgett either. Man has played great in a starting role and deserves more minutes. And I think he might just get them when Maryland plays the more polished front lines of the ACC.

Freshman forward Charles Mitchell, in the process of a 19-and-14 afternoon against Delaware State
USA Today Sports

4. Defense

In my mind, the effort a team puts forth on defense is solely a reflection on how well a coach motivates his troops and commands their respect. And there is little doubt to how hard Maryland has played on the defensive end, keeping opponents' FG percentages far below their own, which currently stands at 50.3%, good for top-10 in the country.

Turgeon is a master motivator and has five spots on the bench to fill with guys who don't give it their all.

Everyone is talented in the ACC, and the recipe for winning amateur basketball games is making sure the kids in the other jerseys are more rattled and less comfortable than you are.

Len stuffing Northwestern's Drew Crawford. Look, even Dez is afraid of him.

5. Chemistry

And akin the topic of getting rattled and staying poised and composed under pressure, comes chemistry. From what us students in College Park have seen, this group of hoopsters is as close as any. They go to class together, go out on weekends together and have eachother's backs through anything.


No better proof exists than their performance in Chicago against Northwestern. The only true road test of the season quickly turned into an impressive, 20-point thrashing of Maryland's supposed Big Ten equivalent.

That Northwestern game coupled with a strong showing under Brooklyn's bright lights (Maryland played just as many freshman as Kentucky did) bode well for the road tests of the ACC. Pulling upsets on the road show a team's true mettle and say a lot to selection committees, and this team appears capable of doing that.

Here's a reminder of what this young Maryland team did in a hostile environment:

Last but not least, these first five games of ACC play are unbelievably significant. The Terps CAN win all five, but at the same time could lose each one as well. No team is a cupcake (Va Tech, FSU, Miami, NC State and UNC), but no team is unbeatable. If Maryland can go at least 4-1, they should be an established national contender.

You can follow the author of this article on Twitter, @JohnVittas3

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