The Baltimore sports scene is blessed with a bunch of talented bloggers who bring their unique perspective to the conversation. Each week, I hope to chat with one of them in a regular feature called Blogger on Blogger. This week, I exchanged emails with Dave Tucker, who writes about the Terps for Testudo Times.
MV: Is the Maryland fan base’s love affair with men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon officially over? What are the biggest gripes about this year's team and what concerns do you have going forward?
DT: I think for a growing number of Maryland fans, the love affair with Turgeon is starting to wane. Once Dez Wells was declared eligible for this season, many believed that Maryland was both capable of being an NCAA tournament team and could compete in what was thought of as a weak ACC conference. Expectations were certainly raised after the first game of the season, when the Terps nearly knocked off Kentucky, who at the time was the No. 3 team in the country. That game was also Alex Len's coming-out party, as the sophomore put up 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds while matching up against Kentucky's Nerlens Noel. Maryland followed that loss by rattling off 13 straight wins, including their ACC opener against Virginia Tech. But since that game, Maryland has struggled mightily, especially against some inferior teams, and many people are now frustrated and upset at where Maryland sits heading into the ACC tournament. I think the inconsistent play, continual fundamental errors, and at times lack of urgency from the team have people frustrated. I think Mark Turgeon is doing everything he can think of to try and get the most out of this team, but inexperience and disappointing play at the point guard position have really prevented the team from reaching their maximum potential this season. I personally put a lot of that on how young this team is and on their lack of a consistent point guard. Heading into next year, the biggest question is whether someone like Roddy Peters can stabilize the point guard spot and if not, who else can step in?
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MV: Would an NIT berth be beneficial for this team?
DT: I think an NIT berth would be extremely beneficial to this team, possibly more so than an NCAA berth, because I think they'll end up playing more games in the NIT. Any chance for these young players to gain additional experience before the 2013-14 season is going to pay big dividends down the line. Despite some struggles in recent games, I think you are seeing improvements in how Maryland is playing. Gaining that consistency by matching up against some decent competition will only help them down the line.
MV: All the freshmen had up-and-down years. Which of those four do you think are useful and will make big strides next year?
DT: I think Charles Mitchell has had a great season in the front court and showed that he's going to be a dominant force throughout his career at Maryland. If Alex Len leaves early, Mitchell should be able to step in as the starting center and continue to progress, hopefully developing into a consistent force inside. Shaq Cleare was much less consistent this season and I think many expected him to have a season similar to Mitchell's production. Heading into the season, I think most fans would have expected Cleare to be the better front court player, but for a variety of reasons, he's been much more inconsistent and at times struggled to get on the court. He's gone from starting games to only playing four minutes over the final two games of the regular season. No one is entirely sure what has contributed to the lack of minutes, but I expect him to really improve this summer and be a much more consistent player next season. Seth Allen has shown flashes of being a special player who can create his own shot, slash to the basket, hit threes and run the point. I think next year he'll continue to progress and hopefully with another year of maturity, be a great two guard for Maryland. He's reminded me a little of Greivis Vasquez at times -- in that one minute he'll have a jump out of your seat play and the next he'll leave you scratching your head. Jake Layman is another player that you can see has talent, but hasn't been able to consistently display it. He can hit threes, but he also has a great ability to drive and finish around the rim. I think he could be a great four-year player and by next season, could average in double digits for the Terps.
MV: When it comes to potentially declaring for the NBA draft, what do you think Alex Len will do and what should he do?
DT: If Len is projected as a lottery pick, there is absolutely no reason he should stay at Maryland. I think if teams are telling him he'll go that high, he'll leave. While he's struggled at various times throughout the season, NBA teams are drafting him on his potential and size. He's shown he can compete against good talent such as Noel and Plumlee and, as the old adage says, you can't teach size. Regardless of whether or not he could improve his game by staying an additional year at Maryland, the risk of injury is too great for him to turn down millions of dollars in guaranteed money. Additionally, with this draft class being so weak, he's likely to get drafted higher this year as more of a prospect verses returning to Maryland and improving. While he might be able to improve his skills over the course of an additional season at Maryland, he could still get drafted lower next year in what many expect to be a deeper draft class.
MV: What's the biggest reason for this disappointing season: poor coaching, no point guard, overall lack of talent, or something else entirely?
DT: There are two primary factors I think contributed to this team's disappointing season: youth and point guard play. People seem to forget that Maryland only has two seniors on this team and one of them was a transfer who was able to play immediately. Most of this team is comprised of freshmen and sophomores and inexperience has played a major role in their struggles. At times, you've seen that they're talented and when executing, can beat and compete with quality teams. They just haven't been able to accomplish that game to game, especially in ACC play. Having a fairly easy non-conference schedule didn't help, but the bigger issue was that a lot of the younger players never stepped up into a consistent role. Mark Turgeon used a variety of different starting lineups to try to find consistency, but while one player played great one game, they struggled the next.
The other factor, point guard play, also had a big impact on the play of this year's team. Many expected junior Pe'Shon Howard to continue to develop but he struggled early in the season, eventually losing his starting job and playing limited minutes off the bench until recently. Maryland didn't really have a backup point guard, so Turgeon experimented with having Nick Faust, Seth Allen and Dez Wells running the offense. Faust, who ran point last season when Howard got injured, did a pretty good job, with a 1.3 assist-to-turnover ratio, but it was clear Maryland struggled without a true point guard running the show. They seemed lost at times on offense and on numerous occasions allowed teams back into games because they weren't able to continuously score and maintain leads, like in the Virginia game on Sunday.
I think Mark Turgeon is a great coach. Has he made some mistakes this season? Probably, and he'd be the first to admit that. But I think people need to be patient with him and know that it takes time to build a program up with your system and players. There are a lot of positives that came from this season, like Maryland being the No. 5 five team in the nation when it comes to rebound margin and No. 9 in field-goal percentage defense. They have a young core of players and will be adding more talent next season. Dez Wells, Nick Faust, Seth Allen, Charles Mitchell should all be great players for Maryland. The continued development of Cleare and Layman, plus the freshmen coming in make this a team I'm excited about next season. Once they can develop consistency, they should be a very good team. I think you'll see that next year, especially once the point guard position becomes more solidified, and hopefully their last season in the ACC will be a special one.
If you are a blogger who is interested in participating in this feature, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.