2019-20 Terps Basketball 5-0; Temple Next
Given the length of a college basketball and the physicality of today’s game it’s essential to have depth on your team to be successful. Inevitably you’re going to have to deal with injuries. Or off-court issues. Or simply the fact that one or two of the guys you counted on just might not be ready for the bright lights yet. Teams that have the depth to survive those things will generally have a lot less dips in their rollercoaster rides.
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It goes without saying that the one single thing that has really stood out about the Maryland Terrapins three games into the season is the really impressive depth that they’ve used to hammer their first three opponents. The team is only going to get deeper when 7’2” freshman Chol Marial becomes available to them at some point this winter.
The single common thread in each of the Terp wins in their 5-0 start this season is that there are stretches of games – specifically the last six minutes of the first half and the ten minute mark of the second half – where opponents appear to be absolutely physically whipped and gasping for air. I saw a George Mason player last week look at the scorer’s table after the buzzer went off and I swear his look seemed to say, ‘Jeez…they’re putting another three guys into the game’. A well-rested Anthony Cowan, for instance, must look like he’s playing at a video game pace when he comes in for the last five minutes of the half.
Now consider the fact that one of the most difficult jobs a College basketball coach has is in the development of a culture and a vibe where players want to stay and play in your program. There’s a lot more art than science to that and it’s easier said than done. In this day and age players leave programs at the drop of a hat. Last year there were 704 transfers off of D1 Basketball rosters that entered into the NCAA transfer portals. There are always various reasons given for a transfer but the one base reason is almost certainly dissatisfaction with a player’s role or playing time.
All of those things taken into account beg one fundamental question…Is there such a thing as too much depth on a team? Further, how the hell do you keep everybody happy?
A part of me is a little reluctant to go expound on any of this because, to be honest, I just want to enjoy this season and all of the possibilities it may bring. This Terp team is filled with great guys and great stories. Beyond that they have a head coach in Mark Turgeon with the kind of temperament where keeping the peace comes naturally.
The easiest (and most obvious) way to keep everybody happy is to win and win big. Fans see thirty point wins and see cupcakes. That may be the case but it’s a great reward for guys who have been busting their asses for little glory. When a walk-on like Reese Mona scores five points in the waning minutes of a trouncing it makes for more than a cute twitter story. Things like that implicitly tell your team that – if we do things right- there’s a piece of pie for everyone.
There will likely come a game in the very near future where a player who is accustomed to playing 18 minutes gets 10 or one playing 14 minutes gets 4. It’s perfectly natural for a competitive athlete to want more playing time. It provides incredible motivation. If you find a guy who doesn’t want more run he’s likely in the South Pole at the end of the bench. Most players (but not all) can handle minutes getting cut if you end up winning the game. If the game turns out to be an L then players start to think the two things are connected – I played less therefore we lost. That can become a little dangerous if there are consecutive losses to deal with. In either case the coach have to recognize the signs of discontent. Fortunately 18-22 year old men wear those signs pretty obviously in the form of body language and shortened conversations. There are very few communication gaps on the most successful teams and that applies both to the players that play and the ones who don’t.
At some point during the season, everybody shortens their bench and Maryland likely will not be any different. It’s the basketball version of musical chairs…at some point the music stops and a guy – or two- is left without a chair. Again, the addition of Marial at some point this season will have a real impact on this as well. The coaching staff seems ecstatic about his abilities and his feel. He’ll have every chance to play his way into being a regular, if not a starter.
Random thoughts after five games…
The Turtles are damn good. They’re long and deep for sure and with just enough experience. It’s a well-known axiom in the sport that the most significant development for a college player is between his freshman and sophomore seasons. The physical and emotional growth we’re seeing over the span of months is really a remarkable thing. Jalen Smith is the poster boy for that growth. He has always been 6 feet 10 inches of problem for opponents but what a lot of people don’t see is how much more comfortable he is in his role and in his own skin. He’s a guy who is very easy to root for.
It will be interesting to see what Turge does with his starting lineup in the coming months. I know he is well aware of the insane depth they have but I do think – for the sake of continuity – he would like to settle on a starting five. I suppose the question there is do you go with a veteran like Ricky Lindo or one of the freshman Mitchell twins? Maybe you go with impressive freshman Donta Scott as an undersized power forward? It’s nice to have those options. While there is no question Eric Ayala is one of the best five players on the team it does look like Turge enjoys having Ayala to plug and play off the Terp bench. He can do an awful lot for you as a sixth man. The bet here is that Lindo will get that spot more often than not (unless a 7’2” guy becomes available).
The increased pace that Maryland is playing at right now will make Darryl Morsell a double digit scorer all year long (even though he’s under that right now). He’s a completely different player in transition. For a guy that a lot of folks have dogged because of his shooting right now he’s shooting 50% from three and 87% from the foul line. I get it…small sample size, right? He just looks so much more confident now as a shooter. That comes from putting the time in the gym. The open court games in the NCAA tournament last year against Belmont and LSU seemed to supercharge him and led to the one single thing I love most about this 5-0 start…
I know there have been other seasons where Mark Turgeon and his staff have talked about pushing the ball more but – for whatever reason – they just couldn’t sustain it. This team and the way it was put together are absolutely ideal for running on every single loose ball and rebound. Think about how many players we’ve seen make plays in transition this year. Even Smith took the ball coast to coast in a game earlier this year. He’s not gonna make anybody forget Magic Johnson but you have to love the confidence and the effort and the fact that his coach lets him do it.
The Terps might not be quite the rebounding team that they were last year when Bruno Fernando was in the paint but they’re athletic enough to be very good at it. I also like the way they’ve protected the rim in the early going – 29 blocks after five games is a great number. I can’t imagine that average is going to dip when Chol becomes available.
I’d like to see sophomore Serrel Smith light up one of these next couple of opponents. He had some good minutes in the first game of the year against Holy Cross but seems to have struggled since. The fact that he can score a lot of points in a short period of time works for and against him. You know he’s always going to get a chance but you also know if he’s not making shots early his run will be a little limited. While he’s a dramatically improved defender this season his reputation precedes him. Complicating things for Serrel is the emergence of freshman Hakim Hart. I have to admit that I was wrong about him after watching him in last year’s Capital Classic. That kind of run and gun showcase definitely wasn’t his game. He seems to thrive in structured situations and games and his length and feel make him a very good natural defender and rebounder. Any points are just a bonus.
It’s kind of interesting the way the schedule breaks now. The upcoming Thanksgiving week will see the team play three games in four days (advantage Terps) before returning home for a better-than-expected Notre Dame team in the ACC-Big Ten challenge. Fast on the heels of that are two huge conference games with Illinois and Penn State. The game of the year so far in college hoops was probably the Michigan State- Seton Hall game. It was a final four level game with final four level teams. The Terps play at the Hall less than thirty days from this writing on 12/19. By that time there will have been plenty of tests for this team to determine exactly what kind of momentum they’ll take into conference play in January.
A fixture in the Washington sports scene since his days as a player and a coach, Chris Knoche has accumulated a diverse resume as a media presence in town for more than two decades. That resume has earned him opportunities on both national and local stages and made him a Washington DC staple on radio, television and in digital media.
He was an all-Metropolitan selection as a player at WT Woodson High School and played collegiately at the University of Colorado and American University. After serving stints at American – first as an assistant coach, then as the Head Coach from 1990-1997- he began working games as a Color Analyst for CBS/Westwood One, ESPN, Comcast Sportsnet and DirecTV. After the 1998 and 1999 seasons Chris was selected to do NCAA tournament work for Host Communications and CBS/Westwood One. In 1999 Chris began working as the Color Analyst for the University of Maryland broadcast network and enters his 20th season with the Terps this season.
During those twenty years Chris has appeared regularly on George Michael’s “Full Court Press” on the NBC affiliate in Washington as well as being a regular guest for the highly rated “Sports Reporters” show on ESPN 980 radio. He currently serves as host for the DC Basketball Coaches podcast along with former Maryland Head Coach Gary Williams and he has regularly written columns for comcastsportsnet.com and Baltimoresportsandlife.com.