Terps Basketball Q&A With Mike DeCourcy, Sporting News
Our own Terps Analysts at BSL – Chris Knoche, and Raphielle Johnson – recently gave their thoughts on the Terps after the return of Bruno Fernando and departure of Kevin Huerter (and Justin Jackson).
You can find those reads here and here.
For an outside perspective, BSL has reached out to Mike DeCourcy from The Sporting News for his insights on the Terrapins.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Baltimore Sports and Life: Coach Turgeon is preparing to enter his 8th year at the helm of the University of Maryland Men’s Basketball program. After reaching the NCAA Tournament in ’15, ’16, and ’17; the Terrapins failed to dance in ’18.
Turgeon has taken criticism locally for his style of play (a slow deliberate pace, and a consistent inability to generate offense from defense), and lackluster Out-of-Conference scheduling.
His overall Big Ten record is strong, and he’s respected locally for his recruiting success.
Turgeon is under contract through the ’22-’23 season. How do you rate the job Turgeon has done at Maryland? For you, is he a Top 25 overall Head Coach?
DeCourcy: I think he’s been fine. Not exceptional. Not extraordinary. He’s had some bad luck, most notably Justin Jackson’s injury problems this past year. That certainly was the difference between the season they had and one more successful, and it’s probably the difference in them making another NCAA Tournament. I’ve never been hesitant to acknowledge greatness. Like, I’m perfectly comfortable declaring Mike Krzyzewski as the greatest college basketball coach of all time, or when I pushed for Gary Williams to be a Hall of Famer several years before his induction. But I’ve never been in the business of ranking head coaches.
My question with Mark and Maryland is what does he want the Terps to be? What is their identity? They don’t consistently excel at either end of the floor. They’re always pretty good on both ends. Becoming better defensively might lead to better returns at the offensive end.
Baltimore Sports and Life: Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson have moved on, and will be beginning their professional careers. Huerter currently appears likely to be a late 1st round pick. Jackson entered the ’17-’18 appearing in some mocks as a mid 1st rounder; but struggled (understandably) playing with a torn labrum, and has not been able to perform for NBA teams in individual workouts. Most current projections for Jackson have him going in the 2nd round, or not at all.
What do you think about their respective decisions, and what do you expect from them at the next level?
DeCourcy: If Kevin gets drafted as a late first rounder it’s hard to argue with his decision. He is a very talented shooter and passer. I wonder a little why he didn’t stand out more with younger players on the U-19 team last summer. He might say he didn’t get a chance, but he shot poorly from the field and from 3-point range. I’ve always liked him as a player and hope this goes great for him.
Justin’s decision seems a little tougher to understand. Perhaps he didn’t want to return to college and then either continue to be bothered by this injury or get hurt again and then have to deal with concerns about his durability. It’s always tough when guys have to cope with injury just when they’re on the brink of something special. I feel bad for him.
Baltimore Sports and Life: While Huerter, and Jackson bolted; Bruno Fernando elected to return to College Park. Maryland will have a highly athletic starting PF / C combination with incoming Freshman Jalen Smith, and Fernando. On talent, how will that combo compare to the rest of the Big Ten?
DeCourcy: I’d have to say they have more pure talent at those two spots than anyone in the league. They’ve got to make that count in the way they did in 2016, or perhaps even more so. Diamond Stone, Robert Carter and Jake Layman were very gifted, but that team always felt a little bigger than it needed to be and probably wasn’t as effective on D as it could have been. This team with Smith and Fernando will be more dynamic. So they should be more difficult to score upon. Their challenge is to make that happen.
Baltimore Sports and Life: Anthony Cowan had a strong Sophomore campaign, showing marked improvement from 3, and in his ability to get to the line (and convert once there). He’s a quality on-ball defender, whose limited size can be a liability at times. Where does he rank for you among returning PGs Nationally?
DeCourcy: I haven’t done a position ranking as yet but I’m comfortable saying that I’d love to have Anthony Cowan running my team. He can shoot, distribute the ball, defend his position. The best stat to tell you why Cowan is special: 191 free throw attempts. People don’t always realize how important that number is, what it can do for a team. If you’re in the neighborhood of 200, you are doing serious damage to more or less every defense you face. If Maryland is successful this year, I think he’ll take fewer threes than last year, when the lack of depth and the absence of Jackson put more pressure on Anthony to be a scorer. But I’d like to see the free throw number grow even bigger.
Baltimore Sports and Life: Without Huerter, there is added pressure on Sophomore to-be Darryl Morsell to take a leap this coming year. In his Freshman season, he showed good athleticism, and a willingness to attack the basket. He also struggled mightily (3 for 25) from 3. Impressions on Morsell?
DeCourcy: He’s a dynamic player. There’s no question about that. It would be helpful if he could at least be someone who could “make a shot,” as we say. There are shooters, non-shooters and guys who can “make a shot.” It’s not common to go from 3-for-25 to being a shooter, but if he’s at least a threat teams won’t be able to back away when he gets the ball on the perimeter. If he eventually becomes a shooter, he’s got a chance to be a pro. But it’s hard to make it in the league now without that skill.
Baltimore Sports and Life: Huerter’s departure will also provide the opportunity for additional minutes from Freshman Aaron Wiggins. Wiggins recently had 28 points on his way to being named MVP of the Capital Classic. Looking at Maryland’s roster, is he your x-factor on how good the Terps become in ’18-’19?
DeCourcy: You left out the fact Dion Wiley is transferring, which puts even more emphasis on Wiggins. With Wiley around, you had someone who had the occasional big game and knew the system. Now there’s no choice but for Wiggins to be good. And one of the ways he has to be good is shooting the basketball. Morsell is still a project in that area, Cowan needs to improve and Huerter is gone. If opponents can pack in their defenses, it’ll be tough for Maryland to contend for the league title. If there are a couple guys who can stretch the defense, Maryland has a shot at its first Big Ten championship.
Baltimore Sports and Life: If the starting 5 is Cowan, Morsell, Wiggins, J. Smith, and Fernando; the bench figures to be Ayala, S. Smith, Tomaic, Bender, Ramsey, and Herard (once eligible). Which of the reserves interest you most?
DeCourcy: Probably Tomaic. I like what Bender can provide, but if Tomaic could progress to the point where Mark can use him regularly he might provide some of the shooting that might be missing. Tomaic hit nearly half his 3-pointers last year, but he wasn’t ready to be a rotation player. If he puts in a good offseason, maybe he can fill that need.
Baltimore Sports and Life: Hierarchy wise, where does MD fall for you in the Big Ten? What are your general expectations for this team? What do you see as the ceiling? How would you have answered these questions had Huerter returned?
DeCourcy: If Kevin Huerter had played this season for the Terps, they’d have been one of the top contenders in the league. Because they’re adding two high-end freshman, have the point and the post well covered and would then have a first-rate wing talent, as well. Without him, Maryland fans are having to hope some young players arrive ready to play and others make significant leaps from the most recent season. That’s a lot of hoping for one team. But it’s not crazy hoping, so if all the bad luck that cursed Maryland last season becomes good luck this season, contending for the league title is in reach. A reasonable expectation is to get back into the NCAAs. A reasonable demand is for these Terps to establish themselves as a solid or better defensive team, somewhere in the top 25 neighborhood in defensive efficiency, which would improve their chances in every pursuit.