Four games into its highly anticipated 2019-20 season, the Maryland men’s basketball team has held serve. The No. 6-ranked Terps are 4-0 with four double-digit home wins against mid-major competition. They haven’t set the world on fire, but they’ve had more than enough to burn out their opponents.
Maryland has made a habit of starting slow, trailing early in each game before pulling ahead. The turnaround came quick against Oakland Nov. 16, as an 18-17 deficit became a 30-point lead in a bit more than 20 minutes of game time en route to an 80-50 win. Four days later, Maryland cruised past Fairfield, 74-55, in a game that would’ve been much more lopsided had the Terps made a few more foul shots (they went 8-of-15) or had the Stags missed some heavily contested threes (they hit 10 of their first 16 and finished 12-of-25).
It’s hard to draw too many conclusions from this sample size. The most notable trends have been slow starts to games and shaky 3-point shooting — Maryland is 27-of-95 (28.4 percent) from beyond the arc. Turnovers were a problem in first halves against Rhode Island Nov. 9 and Oakland but not otherwise. Free throws were a problem against Fairfield, but that’s it. Only senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. has scored in double figures all four games, although there’s been plenty of contributions from around the roster.
There’s a lot still to learn about this team. But here’s what we know for sure right now.
1. This team is DEEP.
Maryland’s depth was a talking point all summer and throughout the preseason. But there’s something different about seeing it consistently on display in games.
Head coach Mark Turgeon has started eight different players in just four contests. He used 11 players in the first half against Fairfield Nov. 19, all of them logging at least four minutes in a game that certainly wasn’t out of reach. Maryland currently has five players averaging at least 9.5 points per game even though it hasn’t had any 20-point individual performances yet.
The team returned seven of its top eight scorers from last season, highlighted by veteran guards Cowan and Darryl Morsell and the sophomore trio of Jalen Smith, Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala. But everyone else in the rotation has had at least one strong outing, too.
Serrel Smith Jr. had eight points against Holy Cross Nov. 5, while Makhi Mitchell added six. Hakim Hart tallied seven against Oakland, while Makhel Mitchell was a plus-23 in 16 minutes that afternoon. Ricky Lindo dropped 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting against Fairfield. And Donta Scott is sixth on the team in minutes (15 per game) and seventh in scoring (4.8 ppg).
Even the walk-ons have joined in on the fun. Reese Mona drained a long two and a 3-pointer to massive roars against Oakland. Former club team player Will Clark converted a fast-break layup in the waning minutes of that game for his first career points. With Travis Valmon’s 3-pointer against Fairfield, all 15 healthy Maryland players are on the scoreboard this season.
2. Maryland is comfortable pushing the pace.
Turgeon’s Terps have never been known for playing up-tempo. Maryland’s last five teams have ranked Nos. 174, 213, 251, 265 and 300 in average offensive possession length, per KenPom.com, a college hoops analytics site. Through four outings, the Terps are 37th nationally in the category right now.
Maryland hasn’t been shy about wanting to get out in transition. That’s translated to a 24-4 advantage in fast-break points against Rhode Island and a 30-4 margin against Oakland, which tried to slow the game’s pace early on. An uptick in defensive pressure has contributed to this, but the Terps are even running after opposing baskets, and the players love it.
“I’m an athlete. I like to run. I like to get up and down. I feel like I’m in great shape,” Morsell said after the Oakland game. At halftime of that contest, he said he told his teammates, “We’ve got a lot of athletes on this team — let’s make this a track meet.”
3. The Terps can mix it up on the defensive end.
Maryland teams under Turgeon have primarily played man-to-man defense, turning heads last year by mixing in the occasional zone. This season’s arsenal looks much deeper.
Turgeon said his team has shown a new defensive look in each game; he’ll deploy a defense when he feels his team is ready, sometimes after a day of practice and sometimes after several weeks. Maryland has shown several variations of a half-court zone, with a 1-3-1 look helping to swing the Rhode Island game. The Terps have even utilized multiple presses.
With different looks and an aggressive style, Maryland has forced turnovers on 23.8 percent of opponents’ possessions, 50th in the country. That’s a night-and-day difference from last season’s 14.1 percent (352nd).
“We just want to be a multidimensional team defensively because we think we’re deeper, we think we’re in great shape,” Turgeon said Nov. 18. “I think it helps us and it gives the opposing team more to work on. … It’s just gonna help us be ready for the really good teams.”
4. Aaron Wiggins has established himself as a two-way weapon.
The High Point, N.C., native had 26 steals in 34 games last season. He’s already up to 11 through just four contests, with three pickpockets in each of the first three games and two against Fairfield. He also pulled down a team-high 13 rebounds against Rhode Island for his first career double-double.
“It pays off, the work I put in … working on my quickness defensively, being able to slide my feet,” Wiggins said after beating Oakland. “Seeing it all pay off is just one thing I have to continue to work on and I can definitely see improvement.”
Wiggins came to College Park, Md., best known for his shooting, and he knocked down 41.3 percent of his 3-pointers as a rookie. That’s actually been the least effective part of his game so far this year — he’s connected on just 5 of his 23 attempts (21.7 percent). But he’s also 9-of-14 on two-pointers and has eight assists against seven turnovers.
Turgeon pointed to Wiggins as a potential breakout star all offseason, and he’s shown the fruits of his labor in a lot of areas. If and when he puts it all together, it’ll be one more reason to believe in this team.
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