Terps Trio: Inconsistent big men, Lefty Driesell, first football recruit

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.

A lot has been made about the erratic play at point guard this season for the Terps. How has a lack of consistency among Maryland’s big men contributed to the team’s inconsistent play?

Don Markus: I stated in December that the two biggest issues for Maryland this season would be a lack of outside shooting and the development of a second scoring option inside aside from Alex Len. Thanks to Logan Aronhalt, Seth Allen and Jake Layman, the outside shooting has not been as big a problem as I thought. But along with the ongoing issues at point guard, Maryland’s inside game has been a much tougher nut for Mark Turgeon to crack.

To me, Len is the difference between the Terps being an NCAA tournament team or not. Just look at what the 7-1 sophomore center did in a little more than 72 hours between last Saturday’s win over then No. 2 Duke and Tuesday’s disastrous loss at Boston College. He went from looking like a sure-fire lottery pick in the way he dominated Mason Plumlee to a player who needs another year – or two – in college in the way he was dominated by the likes of Eddie Odio in the second half.

But Len is not alone in taking the well-deserved criticism directed at Maryland’s big men.

I’m going to leave James Padgett out of this debate, simply because the senior forward has given Turgeon far more than he ever produced for Gary Williams during his first two years and far more than anyone – including me – ever thought he was capable of doing. I thought Turgeon was a little unfair in singling Padgett out the other night when Len did so little, and freshmen Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare did even less.

Mitchell and Cleare have both shown promise in their first year in College Park, and will have to step up next season when they play much more prominent roles for the Terps.

Mitchell was the early season surprise, getting 10 rebounds against Kentucky in the season opener and putting together three double-doubles against other less formidable non-conference opponents. He’s had a few pretty good games in the ACC – two of them coming against Duke – and has a chance to have a pretty solid career – or more – if he sticks around for four years.

The jury is still out on Cleare. Turgeon talks about how hard the kid works in practice, but the 6-9 265-pound Bahamian is often the odd-man out when the Terps go to their small lineup, as they did against BC and Cleare wound up playing just five minutes. He had a terrific sequence against Duke last Saturday night, but again finished the game on the bench because the Blue Devils went small.

Given how everyone thinks Len is gone after this season, I would like to see Turgeon give Mitchell and Cleare more minutes – playing together if the matchups work – as the season winds down. I know Turgeon is still coaching as if the Terps have a chance to make the NCAA tournament and doesn’t want to blow a chance of even making the NIT, but I don’t think Len should be a given for 30 minutes a game.

I remember back to last season when everyone was talking about how much better Maryland would be this season because of its added size. But that has been negated by how many times the Terps have gone “small” and by the fact that none of their big men – Len at the top of the list – have played with a lot of consistency this season.

Maryland will honor retired coach Lefty Driesell at halftime of Saturday’s game. What took so long?

Jeff Barker: Driesell coached Maryland for 17 seasons, amassing a win total (348) that ranks second in school history. His winning percentage (68 percent) is best in the program’s history.

But he was forced out in 1986 after the cocaine-induced death of Len Bias and subsequent tension between coaches and administrators over reforms designed to promote athletes' academic success.

Maryland distanced himself from Driesell after that.

As the years have gone by, his former players and supporters complained he never got his due. His players included Tom McMillen, who became a Rhodes Scholar and Democratic U.S. representative; and Len Elmore, who graduated from Harvard Law School

Driesell is not close with Gary Williams, who coached Maryland for 22 seasons.

One of the first things that current coach Mark Turgeon did upon taking over in 2011 was to reach out to Driesell.

Turgeon said he wanted Driesell and Driesell’s former players to feel more connected to the program.

Turgeon invited Driesell to speak to the current Maryland players today – the day before Driesell appears at Comcast Center to be honored at halftime. A bronze relief of the former coach is to be unveiled in April.

Maryland’s 2014 football recruiting class has its first member. What’s his story?

Matt Bracken: It’s fitting that the first commitment of Maryland’s first Big Ten recruiting class is an offensive lineman. McDonogh’s Jared Cohen should be the first of several offensive line pledges for the Terps as they transition from the ACC to the conference that gave us three yards and a cloud of dust.

After 2012, when Maryland ended up with just two offensive lineman – Mike Madaras and Nick Brigham, who has already transferred from College ParkRandy Edsall and Co. prioritized the position group for 2013. The result was a four-man class featuring star power (Derwin Gray), athleticism (Moise Larose), sleeper potential (Jajuan Dulaney) and veteran experience (Silvano Altamirano).

It’s hard to predict what Maryland has found in Cohen, who earned first-team All-MIAA A Conference, second-team Baltimore Sun All-Metro, and third-team All-State honors. The 6-foot-3, 275-pound junior hasn’t been rated yet by any of the major recruiting services, but he’s certainly excelled against the best competition this area has to offer.

When he arrives in College Park, Cohen expects to join a competition with the likes of Altamirano, Dulaney, Sal Conaboy, Evan Mulrooney and Stephen Grommer, among others.

“When [the Maryland coaching staff] offered me they told me they were offering as an inside lineman, guard or center,” he said. “I’ve never played center, but I have played guard and tackle. I think I’m a guard. I don’t think I have the physical attributes of an ideal Division I tackle. But I’m fine with that. I’m happy playing guard.”

Maryland’s message to Cohen after his commitment was pretty straightforward: get stronger, keep working hard. There were no instructions from the coaches to recruit other local prospects, but there are certainly other notable in-state linemen who could merit a Maryland look, including Good Counsel’s Sam Madaras, Mike’s little brother, and Bishop McNamara’s Damian Prince. And then there’s one other Good Counsel offensive lineman – who claims offers from Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Ohio State, among many others – that Cohen just so happens to know.

“I’ll try to talk to a few guys,” Cohen said. “Sam Mustipher, I know he’s looking at a lot of schools. If he committed to Maryland, that would be big. Me and him are pretty friendly.”