It’s hard to blame coach Mark Turgeon for the reluctant chuckle he gave last week when assessing the Terrapins men’s basketball team’s point guard play since he took over the program in 2011.
“We’ve had some bad luck,” he said.
Injuries, suspensions, a transfer and overall inconsistency have combined for a lack of stability at point guard over the past three seasons. Though Turgeon is confident play at the vital position will improve with the maturation of freshman Roddy Peters, the Terps have been visibly hampered in recent years by the absence of a steady option as the primary ball handler.
Kenpom.com, a basketball analytics website, ranked the Terps outside of the country’s top 100 teams in both assist-to-field goal ratio and turnover percentage in the past two seasons. This season, the Terps have the 260th-best turnover percentage in the country and the 308th-best assist-to-field goal ratio in the country.
The team, meanwhile, has missed the past two NCAA tournaments and is off to an underwhelming 7-4 start this season. Forward Jake Layman believes that finding a clear-cut starting point guard would alleviate some of the Terps’ issues.
“We need point guards to not turn the ball over so much,” Layman said last week. “It’s been a big problem for us.”
But it’s an issue the Terps have had since Turgeon, a former point guard at Kansas, took over in College Park.
The Terps’ primary ball handlers over the past three seasons also provided inconsistent play. There was Terrell Stoglin, a natural scorer best suited to play shooting guard who was suspended and entered the NBA draft after his sophomore year, and injury-prone Pe’Shon Howard, who transferred to Southern California in the offseason after a spotty run with the Terps.
Current Terps Nick Faust and Dez Wells have tried their hand at the position, but neither is a natural point guard and they have both struggled when tasked with ballhandling duties.
Seth Allen was supposed to be the answer this season, but he broke his foot 10 days before the season started and hasn’t returned to the court since. As a result, Wells, Peters and former walk-on Varun Ram have manned the point.
Ram started once, Peters started four times and Wells started six games at point guard in the Terps’ first 11 games. According to kenpom.com, Peters and Ram have the two highest turnover rates on the team, but the two players are also the only healthy natural point guards.
“It’s not where we want it now,” Turgeon said. “But our point guard play is going to be good in the future.”
Though Peters and Ram have struggled as steady options, the Terps don’t want to turn to Wells as the primary ball handler because it takes away from his ability to score.
Wells’ field goal percent and effective field goal percentage — a stat that takes into account the value of 3-pointers while still measuring shots inside the arc — are both down significantly this season while he’s been tasked with playing point guard.
Turgeon even said that it feels like the team “loses half of Dez” when he takes over the point guard role.
“He’s tremendously more confident [on the wing],” Ram said. “He’s scoring layups at will pretty much off the ball. It’s tough to do that as a point guard because you want to get everybody involved and run the offense.”
The problem with moving Wells off the ball, however, is that a team’s success correlates heavily with its point guard play. The three teams kenpom.com rates as the best in the country — Louisville, Ohio State and Oklahoma State — all have primary ball handlers with offensive efficiency ratings of more than 111.
By comparison, Ram has an offensive efficiency rating of 73.2 and Peters’ is 95.1.The Terps haven’t had a single point guard with an offensive efficiency rating of more than 100 since Stoglin’s 110.4 rating in 2011, but he spent time off the ball while Faust handled the point in his freshman campaign to the tune of an 86.8 offensive efficiency rating.
Turgeon has hope, though, because Allen is likely to return from injury sometime in the next month, Peters appears to be improving, and the team will bring in a guard-heavy top-10 recruiting class next season.
“We got some guards coming in, we got some pretty good guards in the program. One’s hurt; he’ll be back soon,” Turgeon said. “I know everybody thinks the world is coming to an end if you’re a Terp basketball fan, but I’m really positive about the future and what lies ahead for us.”
Last season, Allen was third on the team in assist rate — a stat that measures assists against teammates’ field goal percentages — but also turned the ball over at the third highest rate. In other words, he has the tools to be a pure point guard but has struggled taking care of the ball.
For now, Turgeon’s “clear-cut” best option at point guard is Peters. The freshman leads the team with a 29.9 assist rate, which ranks 115th in the nation. That means Peters is a more than serviceable passer, someone who can run the Terps offense effectively.
The issue has been Peters’ 33.7 percent turnover rate, which is second-worst on the team, and Turgeon has been upset with his defensive performance.
According to kenpom.com, though, Peters’ stats are similar to that of Louisville guard Peyton Siva’s freshman year. Siva led the Cardinals to the national title as a senior last season.
Plus, Turgeon and his players believe Peters will only improve, considering he’s playing significant minutes as a freshman.
“Roddy’s playing big,” Wells said after the Terps beat Boston College on Thursday. “He’s getting his confidence up. That’s what we need from him. He’s going to be lights out once he finally really gets it and starts to think the game a little more at the college level. He’s going to be unbelievable.”
There’s certainly promise for the Terps at the point guard position. Peters appears capable of filling the role and the team brings in Melo Trimble, a highly ranked point guard prospect, next season.
At this point, though, Peters is still prone to mistakes. That leaves the Terps’ point guard situation somewhat in flux, just as it’s been since Turgeon took over the program.
It remains to be seen just how well the Terps’ point guards will be in the future, but Turgeon has made one thing clear: He wants his ball handlers to be better than they have been during the first few years of his tenure in College Park.
“We got good players,” Turgeon said. “It’s no fun right now, but we got a great opportunity.”