Former Maryland star and current college basketball analyst Len Elmore is very complimentary of the job Jalen Smith has done for the Terps, who have strung together five straight wins, but he says it’s another player who is the team’s X-factor.
Smith, a 6-foot-10 sophomore center, is averaging 15.2 points and 10.0 rebounds per game for Maryland. He’s also building a reputation as a rim protector, as he’s averaging 2.5 blocks per game and has 54 total blocks for the season.
Elmore, a center at Maryland from 1971-1974, has been impressed with Smith’s rim protection of late.
“You block a couple of shots and then your mere presence has an impact on the offensive players around the rim,” Elmore said on Glenn Clark Radio Feb. 4 before he called Maryland’s 56-51 victory against Rutgers on FS1. “Him being on the floor gives the guys guarding on the perimeter more confidence [about] getting in guys’ grills and [forcing] the issue.”
Fortunately for the Terps, Smith has avoided foul trouble for most of this season. That’s helped lead to a breakout year for the sophomore and trust from Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon, who plays Smith 30.4 minutes per game.
“He has to stay in the game. Teams game plan for him,” Elmore said. “His presence forces adjustments, and he’s been playing like a man possessed.”
Smith’s presence can also impact the offensive end of the floor. He is averaging 20.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game during the Terps’ last six games, during which Maryland has gone 5-1. If he dominates in the paint, that opens up his outside shot (41.4 percent from 3-point range this year).
Teams concentrating on Smith can lead to open shots for guards Anthony Cowan and Aaron Wiggins, too. Cowan (16.3 points) is the leading scorer for the Terrapins. Wiggins also averages double-figures for the Terrapins with 10.6 points per game.
Cowan and Wiggins must hit those open shots consistently and take care of the ball if they want to help lead their team to a deep run in March, according to Elmore. Elmore believes Wiggins, who shot 41.3 percent from 3-point range last year, is the Terps’ X-factor. Wiggins has shot just 31.7 percent from deep this year.
“He’s the guy, quite honestly. I think he’s got the most talent top to bottom on the team,” Elmore said. “When you’re looking at the ability to go inside out, put it on the floor, shoot the jumper, do so many things and play defense, I think Wiggins has all of that. It’s just a question of him putting it together as a sophomore.”
The 6-foot-6 Wiggins is also the Terps’ second-leading rebounder with 5.6 boards per game and is a “matchup nightmare,” Elmore said. Wiggins can guard multiple positions on the court, and smaller guards have a hard time containing him on the offensive end.
Elmore believes Smith can without a doubt carry Maryland, but if Wiggins can become more consistent, Maryland is in good shape.
The Terps have made the tournament four out of the last five years under Turgeon, though they have not advanced past the Sweet 16. In last year’s NCAA Tournament, the Terps lost, 69-67, to LSU in the second round. But as long as Smith is on the floor, his teammates will be able to feed off his energy and build their confidence, according to Elmore.
“He provides such an obstacle as a rim protector. He’s done a good job of coming over and helping when necessary [while utilizing] some discretion,” Elmore said. “I think it’s extremely important [that he’s on the floor], and it gives confidence to teammates to see him out there on the defensive end.”
To hear more from Elmore, listen to the full interview here:
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