Alex was kind enough to take our questions back before the season tipped off. Now that tournaments and March Madness are squarely in sight, we touched base again before the Hoos and Terps square off in Charlottesville.
STL: Since winning its tournament in the Virgin Islands early in the year, Maryland has struggled to put together a stretch of good games against quality opponents. What's held the Terrapins back this year?
TT: The Terps have a plethora of problems, but two stick out. One, they've gotten virtually no development from Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell, two sophomores who either showed brilliant flashes as freshmen or came in with a significant recruiting pedigree. Cleare was the 30th-ranked player in America by ESPN two classes ago, but he's been was disappointing last season and has been an unmitigated disaster this season. Mitchell is an energizing rebounder with alright numbers, but he's been held back by egregious free throw shooting (35 percent) and defensive limitations. Maryland doesn't have a single formidable interior presence, which, obviously, hurts. Alex Len meant more than most realized.
Second, Maryland hasn't established any sort of offensive identity. I am frequently asked to describe this team's offensive system, and I don't have much to say.
STL: Maryland's most efficient offensive player-Jake Layman-has the lowest usage rate of any of the starters (and is behind two guys who come off the bench). Is that by design or by accident? Does Layman need to do more for Terrapins to be more consistently successful?
TT: See, this is where my concerns about the lack of a clearly defined offensive system come into play. Layman's an athletic inside-out threat and can do a lot of damage, but he spends long stretches on the periphery of the play with little impact at all. I've never heard any explanation for why Maryland lets him drift away from the offense as much as it does. There's no doubt that the Terps are at their best when Layman is, too.
STL: With surprising losses to Boston University and Oregon State, and hovering around .500 in conference play, Turgeon & Co. seem like they're headed squarely for dreaded bubble territory come Selection Sunday. The remaining schedule does the Terrapins no favors, with four games against teams in KenPom's top ten. As we're nearing the home stretch of the season, what do Maryland fans expect their postseason fate to be?
TT: This seems like an NIT team at the moment. Maryland's best wins are against Florida State at home and Providence at a neutral site. Last year, they had two wins over Duke and a home win against a decent N.C. State team, and they didn't get in. There are several other metrics and historical precedents that suggest they won't get in, either. If the Terps take one of the two games against Virginia and somehow manage to sweep in their games against Duke and Syracuse, they'll have a shot. Failing that, they'll need a deep, deep run in the conference tournament, and I don't even know if that gets them in.
STL: When we last "talked," we talked about Maryland's move to the B1G next season. Turning the focus specifically to basketball, Maryland's new conference is having a monster year, with five teams in KenPom's top twenty and all but two in the top 100. Looking ahead one season, how do you expect Maryland hoops to fare in its new conference?
TT: Given that Mark Turgeon has assembled such a quality recruiting class for next year, Maryland has momentum as it goes into its new league. I don't expect them to win the conference next year, but I do think they'll be competitive over their first few Big Ten campaigns. Their short-term fate might hinge on attrition; Dez Wells and Layman don't strike me as locks to stick around for full collegiate careers, and I'd be surprised if there isn't a transfer or two after this spring.
STL: What do you expect from the Terps tonight? Who ya got?
TT: Oddly, I'm feeling good about the effort the Terps will put out tonight. They were incredibly sharp on Saturday against the Seminoles, and they've shown more fight in the last few games than they'd shown at any point beforehand. With that said, I think Virginia wins, 78-74. They're good and they're at home, so I can't quite justify a Maryland pick. Best wishes from College Park.