Thanks to a 9-0 start, the Maryland men’s basketball team has a lot to be happy about, and some of the Terps’ recent success can be tied to head coach Mark Turgeon’s decision to go with a smaller lineup.
The tactic helped propel the Terps to an Orlando Invitational championship Nov. 28-Dec. 1 and, mostly recently, a win against Notre Dame in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge Dec. 4.
In crunch time against Harvard in the semifinals of the Orlando Invitational Nov. 29, Turgeon went with his best five — Anthony Cowan, Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Darryl Morsell and Jalen Smith — with the 6-foot-5 Morsell serving as the de facto power forward. Turgeon started this lineup against Marquette Dec. 1 and Notre Dame Dec. 4.
The Terps have been plagued by slow starts this year, but former Arkansas coach Jimmy Dykes, now an analyst for ESPN and SEC Network, thinks a smaller lineup could help solve the problem.
“Sometimes it takes a while to figure out who’s our best five and who’s our five that is dialed in from the tip and ready to go,” Dykes said on Glenn Clark Radio Dec. 4 before he called Maryland-Notre Dame for ESPN. “I think it also has to do with leadership on a team and how well you talk. Your first half needs to look like your second half on both ends of the floor and it hasn’t always done that for Maryland so far this year, but every team has issues right now that they’re dealing with.”
This Terps team has been called one of the deepest Turgeon has ever had at Maryland, with sophomores Ricky Lindo Jr. and Serrel Smith and freshmen Donta Scott, Hakim Hart, Makhi Mitchell and Makhel Mitchell coming off the bench. Scott (5.2 points per game) leads the group in scoring.
“It’s a real luxury as a coach to have multiple options and [to] win games if your best player is not your best player on that night,” Dykes said. “That is a real sign of strength, and I think Maryland is going to be able to [play well] this year if Cowan’s not their best player.”
After losing a heartbreaker to LSU last year in the NCAA Tournament’s second round, Jalen Smith decided to return to Maryland for his sophomore year without entering his name in the NBA Draft, a move that significantly bolstered the Terps’ starting lineup this year.
Smith, nicknamed “Stix,” is averaging 13.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks this season while recording five double-doubles as well.
“That’s always the hard balance when a kid comes back who could have gone early, and now they come back and you’re worried about where both of his feet are every day,” Dykes said. “I don’t think Stix is a bad kid at all, I think he is a really high quality kid. But all of those guys have stuff to work on, so they try to improve that area and prove that area within a game.”
Dykes said he likes Smith to play around the rim, not the 3-point line.
“In crunch time, you want your best players in their best spots,” Dykes said, “and for Maryland, that’s with the ball in the hands of Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith being a threat around that rim.”
Dykes believes in this team but still has a hard time predicting how the Terps will fare as the season progresses. Maryland has a tough road matchup coming up against Seton Hall Dec. 19, and the Terps will face stiff competition in conference play with the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue looming.
“The pieces are there, the size is there. They’ve got an electric guard in Cowan who can carry you through rough times,” Dykes said. “I look at Maryland like I do for 25 or 30 other teams in college ball: They could win the whole thing or they could get eliminated in the second game of the NCAA Tournament. It’s so even and there’s just so little separation between [Nos.] 1 and 25 right now that you’d have to keep improving as the season goes on.”
To hear more from Dykes, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox