It might not always be evident, and they might not always be consistent, but Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon insists his team is getting better. He noted how the offense, which made vanilla seem exotic earlier this season, has improved; the what-were-you-thinking? decisions have become less frequent; the defense has buckled down in transition; the passes are more crisp and on-point; and the maturity level continues to increase.
Yes, the outlook is typically positive when you come off an 83-71 Terps (14-10, 6-5 ACC) victory Feb. 8 against a Florida State team that trounced you by 24 points in Tallahassee, Fla., back on Jan. 12.
"It makes you look better when you shoot it well, and you have Seth [Allen] making all those 3s … but we're becoming a better basketball team, much more sound," Turgeon said during his Feb. 9 teleconference. "Are we where we want to be? No. But hopefully we can improve between now and 9 p.m. [Feb. 10] against Virginia. We just keep plugging away."
Turgeon and his cohorts will need to do some plugging before the No. 20 UVA (19-5, 10-1) bout, because while Maryland may be making strides, there are still plenty of holes to fill. Even in a game against FSU where the Terps built a 20-plus point lead; shot 51.9 percent from the floor; 41.7 percent from 3; forced 16 turnovers; held its foe to 38 percent shooting; and saw sophomore point guard Seth Allen go off for a career-high 32 points, UMD still allowed the Noles to climb back into the game.
"We have to do a better job closing out games," Allen said Feb. 8. "We have to keep working defensively; we have to bring it all game long. We've got Virginia [Feb. 10], so we have to get better."
If Maryland could do a better job rebounding it would go a long way in helping them close out games. Turgeon-coached teams just don't get beat on the glass, but in four of the last five outings Maryland has lost the rebounding battle. Against Florida State, the Terps were out-boarded 38-31 and surrendered 20 offensive rebounds, which led to 20 second-chance points.
"We've played against some really good rebounding teams … but historically my teams rebound well, and this team just hasn't done it," Turgeon said. "We're not very big. We have some big guards, but our big guys aren't overly tall. But that's no excuse. We have to rebound better."
The other problem that's become a trend, and reared its head once again Feb. 8, is foul trouble. The Terps had 20 fouls against Florida State, and the Noles canned 18 of 22 free throws, allowing them to stay in the game. Post player Charles Mitchell and Shaq Cleare had four fouls each, while Jon Graham, Evan Smotrycz and Dez Wells had three apiece.
"The good news is I have a number of guys I can put in, but I don't like the fouls because it gets teams into the bonus and then the double bonus quicker," Turgeon said. "[Against FSU] at the 11:30 mark of the second half and the 10:43 in the first half [the Seminoles] were in the bonus -- and a lot of them were silly fouls. We'll watch the film and see if we can do a better job of playing without fouling."
Smotrycz had a couple of those silly fouls, and had to be taken out of the game for a long stretch. That may have been the reason the Terps' forward struggled pretty much all game, scoring just four points, going 0-for-4 from the field and tossing up two air-ball 3s, compounding the problem by looking lackadaisical defensively (one rebound).
"He never got in the flow," Turgeon said. "He got in foul trouble, shot the two air balls, and he never got into a flow. You have to move on, that stuff happens. The good thing was we didn't need him... And Evan, he's played well the last four, five games. He just didn't play well [against FSU]."
The only other Terp who didn't shine Feb. 8 was freshman point guard Roddy Peters, who saw just three minutes and still managed to have a defensive lapse and shoot a way-too-quick 3-pointer. Though Turgeon said the matchup didn't warrant Peters playing more minutes, it was fairly obvious the head coach wasn't exactly thrilled with the freshman.
"By no means have we given up on Roddy. We need him to play well to be successful," Turgeon said.
But with Peters all but absent, Turgeon basically went with a seven-man rotation, something the Terps won't get away with against a deeper UVA squad. Virginia, which is coming off a 64-45 victory against Georgia Tech Feb. 8, goes about nine deep and distributes its minutes fairly evenly with not one player averaging 30 a night. Maryland, on the other hand, has two guys who see more than 30 minutes, and Seth Allen just played 35 minutes against FSU.
"We have to be a deeper team [against UVA] than on [Feb. 8]. We got really tired at the end, and it showed in the way we played," Turgeon said. "We have to have more depth to be successful, but I do like our rotation with seven guys and maybe a couple more."
Although UVA also played Feb. 8, it doesn't help Maryland's chances that they have to go on the road less than 48 hours after the FSU game. Turgeon said it's a little easier to turn around from a two-games-in-three-days stretch when the second bout is at home.
Either way, the Terps didn't have a ton of time to get ready for the Cavaliers.
"We had to play so many guys so many minutes [against FSU], and we didn't have a lot of time to prepare [for UVA]," Turgeon said. "Even if we had a week to prepare, when a team runs motion you really can't simulate it. It's more talking; we'll try to get our guys prepared that way."
Virginia doesn't rank among the conference's best offensive teams, averaging just 66.5 points per game (12th), while shooting 44.6 percent from the field (ninth), 66.4 percent from the line (12th) and 35.7 percent from deep (fifth), but the offense can give unsuspecting foes problems. The Cavaliers are unselfish, smart and typically take high-percentage shots, even if they don't always fall.
"Virginia runs really good motion," Allen said. "They use all 35 seconds, and they're really patient. You can't really simulate a guy like Joe Harris, [Justin] Anderson or [Malcolm Brogdon]. Our scout team can simulate the motion, but not the length and ability to score and get to the rim."
UVA's scoring is spread out between the entire rotation, with no single player dominating the stat books. Sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon leads the way with 12.1 points and 2.4 assists, while senior guard Joe Harris averages 11.3 and 2.2. No other ‘Hoo scores in double figures, though sophomore wing Justin Anderson is at 9.5 a night. Senior forward Akil Mitchell averages 6.8 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds, while sophomore center Mike Tobey is at 7.0 and 4.3.
"Virginia is playing faster, and they're playing faster because they're deeper. They're running more; they execute at a high level," Turgeon said. "They're more complete. When you have good players who want to win, they give up part of their game. And I think both Harris and Mitchell have given up their games for the betterment of the team."
Defense, however, is the main reason UVA is 10-1 in the ACC and beat their foes by double digits in nine of those 10 victories. The Wahoos have allowed just 54 points per game in conference play (best in the ACC), and have yet to allow an ACC squad to drop 70 on them, even in their lone loss against Duke (69-65).
"[UVA] is playing at an unbelievably high level," Turgeon said. "They're so good defensively it's hard to get a good shot up against them. I do think this is the best defensive team we'll play to this point. Pittsburgh was really good, but they don't have the depth Virginia has. They will really challenge us."
They're even better in Charlottesville, where three of their five ACC home victories have been by 20 points.
"John Paul Arena is a hard place to play," Allen said. "We have to take and make great shots; we can't take quick ones because they'll make you pay. They really guard, and they double the post, so it's hard for bigs to do well against Virginia."
It's a difficult task for sure, and it's the first of several to close out the regular season. After the UVA meeting, Maryland takes on No. 11 Duke, No. 1 Syracuse and a tough Clemson squad before closing with Virginia once again.
"You look at our schedule, it's tough the rest of the way," Turgeon said. "We better play with a sense of urgency if we want to be successful."
Terps Have Tall Task At No. 20 UVA
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