Terps Hoops Midseason Review
Maryland men’s basketball started the season with high hopes as the No. 7-ranked team in the country and has been as high as No. 3 this year. But the Terps have hit some struggles on the road of late and have now lost all three of their true road games so far this season. As a result, head coach Mark Turgeon’s squad has bounced up and down the polls and currently sits at No. 17 nationally entering another road contest at Wisconsin Jan. 14.
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With half of Maryland’s regular season already in the books and the Terps sitting at a 13-3 record overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten, here’s a look at what we’ve seen from the team in College Park so far and what can likely be expected moving forward.
Maryland’s offense got off to a hot start this season as the Terps scored 80 or more points in five of their first eight games of the year and were ranked in the top 20 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom.com. But Maryland has struggled more scoring the ball recently and is down to 40th in adjusted offensive efficiency.
The Terps’ poor showings on offense this year are highlighted by a season-low 48-point game at Seton Hall Dec. 19 and a 49-point performance in their last outing at Iowa. Maryland has looked its best on offense this year when it’s able to get stops on the defensive end and get out on the break. But against Iowa, the Terps looked lost in transition and committed 17 turnovers that thwarted their offensive efforts.
Turnovers and poor three-point shooting have been Maryland’s biggest issues on offense so far this season. The Terps rank 106th in the country in turnover percentage and 277th in three-point shooting. Two-point field goals haven’t turned out much better for the Terps, as they rank 194th nationally in two-point field goal percentage.
Where Maryland has been particularly good offensively this year is at getting to the free throw line and making their shots from there. The Terps currently rank second in the Big Ten in free throws made (275) and attempted (381).
The leading scorers for this year’s Terps team so far is senior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. (16.2 PPG), sophomore forward Jalen ‘Stix’ Smith (13.3 PPG), and sophomore wing Aaron Wiggins (10.3 PPG).
Defense has been the Terps’ calling card so far this season. Currently ranked eighth in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, Maryland has overcome some of its offensive woes with stifling defense against its opponents.
In fact, the Terps are 11-0 this season when scoring at least 70 points, meaning they don’t always need their shots falling at a high clip to pull out victories. Solid defense has been particularly important for the Terps in Big Ten play. In all three of its conference wins so far this season, Maryland has held its opponents to under 40 percent shooting from the field.
What has been even more impressive about Maryland’s defense this year is that the Terps have been able to stop teams without fouling and limit their second chances by being strong on the defensive glass. Maryland currently has the third-fewest fouls in the conference (15.1 per game) and ranks third in the league in defensive rebounds (28.6 per game).
Maryland has also been a good shot-blocking team so far this season, thanks in large part to Smith’s 2.3 blocks per game. The recent addition of 7-foot-2 freshman Chol Marial to the rotation should help maintain the Terps’ success guarding the post.
It’s becoming more and more clear that this year’s Maryland team is built on defense and using its length and athleticism to overwhelm opposing teams. Other Big Ten programs might have more experienced rosters, but few have the raw talent and ability the Terps possess.
Smith and Marial are matchup nightmares in the post, and Cowan is as productive on both ends of the floor as a team with one senior in the rotation needs him to be. Junior guard Darryl Morsell and Wiggins give the Terps two wings that can get hot at any time, and they always provide tough defense even when their shots aren’t falling. Freshman forward Donta Scott is coming into his own as a versatile big who can also stretch the floor while bringing some extra toughness to the Terps’ lineup.
As Maryland continues to fight through its shooting struggles and sporadic offensive output, its major strengths of free throw shooting, defense, and rebounding have kept them ranked and in the mix for a Big Ten title.
It’s no secret that Maryland has struggled to shoot the ball from deep so far this season. As a team, the Terps are shooting just 30.6 percent from three, and two-point field goals haven’t gone much better (41.4 percent).
Turnovers and sloppy play on offense has also hurt Maryland this season but these weaknesses have been much more glaring in the Terps’ losses. Maryland has shown that it can take better care of the ball at times this year, but the Terps are still looking to do it on the road.
Part of Maryland’s road woes seem to stem from a lack of mental and physical toughness in the face of adversity. Not always showing as much grit and effort as some of its opponents has also been a pitfall of the Terps so far this year.
Second Half Forecast
With 15 games remaining on the regular season schedule, Maryland will look to stake its claim as one of the Big Ten’s best teams. The Terps will play three of their next four games on the road, so now is the time to start playing better away from College Park.
If Maryland can pull out at least two of three winnable upcoming road games — Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Indiana — and take care of business at home Jan. 18 against Purdue, the Terps would have a respectable 6-3 conference record entering a rematch at home against Iowa on Jan. 30.
Many will point to preseason expectations and say anything short of a two or three seed in the NCAA Tournament would be a disappointing year for the Terps, but given the departure of two frontcourt members midseason — Makhi and Makhel Mitchell — and the gauntlet known as Big Ten basketball, Maryland could still finish the year relatively strong and find itself on the four or five line come March.
A top-four finish within the conference will be needed to secure a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament, and that is still well within the Terps’ grasp. Turgeon will be looking for his first win in the conference tournament since 2016.
If the Terps can keep their defense status quo and find their shooting in the second half of the season, Maryland should start to look like a preseason top 10 team again rather than one that is in jeopardy of falling out of the polls altogether.
Pat has been covering sports in the DMV area since 2012. He is a former Washington Redskins beat reporter for PressBoxDC.com and has been covering University of Maryland football and basketball recruiting and daily beats for Rivals.com's Terrapin Sports Report since 2013. Pat graduated from College Park with his master's degree in journalism and has received bylines in publications such as USA TODAY Sports, The Philadelphia Inquirer, SB Nation, and Yahoo! Sports. A Philadelphia native, Pat enjoys fishing, golfing, and playing fantasy sports when he's not covering or watching a game.