Thanks to a new NCAA rule, college basketball teams can open practice two weeks earlier than in past years. So whether you’re ready for it or not, the Terrapins men’s basketball team will officially begin practice today.
Coach Mark Turgeon will have 42 days to prepare before the Terps’ season opener against Connecticut at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Nov. 8 and is allowed to hold a total of 30 team practices during that span. So here are four questions that may be answered in the team’s six weeks of preseason practice:
How does Evan Smotrycz fit in?
Turgeon conceded the Terps often struggled to spread the floor with outside shooters last season, allowing opposing defenses to clog the middle of the floor. That probably left the third-year coach rather frustrated, considering a viable solution was often on the bench in street clothes.
But after sitting out for a season, Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz — who shot 43.5 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore — is now eligible to suit up for the Terps, and Turgeon isn’t shy about the added dimension the 6-foot-8 forward brings to the offense.
“He opens things up, he spreads the floor, which isn’t something we were able to do last year,” Turgeon said on the ESPNU College Basketball podcast with Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg. “We’ll be able to open things up for center Shaq Cleare and forward Charles Mitchell.”
Smotrycz is a known as stretch-four, a valuable commodity because he has the size to guard power forwards while on defense, but spread the floor with a potent 3-point jump shot on offense. And Turgeon made sure to point out this week that the Reading, Mass., native can be effective inside the arc, too.
As a sophomore at Michigan, Smotrycz averaged 7.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.
“He’s a very intelligent player. He plays from the neck up,” Turgeon said. “He’s a great shooter at 6-8, 6-9, which helps spread the floor, but he can also post up, which is exciting for me.”
There’s little doubt Smotrycz can help, but exactly how he fits into the rotation isn’t clear. The Terps have two sophomore big men, Cleare and Mitchell, who are expected to see increased playing time this season, and Jake Layman can also play power forward.
Still, Smotrycz seems a likely choice to start for the Terps, and whatever his role, he has the tools to make an immediate impact.
“Evan’s a great weapon,” Turgeon said. “He played pretty well in the Bahamas [on the Terps’ summer tour], but really he’s been great in practice. We’re expecting Evan to have a tremendous year for us.”
Can the Terps cut back on turnovers?
The Terps’ 15 turnovers per game last season ranked 294th in the country and were a key reason the team struggled to string together ACC wins. Needless to say, the man at the program’s helm would like to fix that.
“We’ve worked really hard since the season ended,” Turgeon said. “Really it’s just decision-making and trying to help them, watch more film, when we get started here we’re going to watch a lot of practice. A lot of film during our 20 hours as we move forward.”
Much of the mistake-prone offense last season can be credited to shaky point guard play. Then-junior Pe’Shon Howard was inconsistent, Nick Faust proved he’s more suited to play off the ball and then-freshman Seth Allen struggled to make quality decisions with the ball.
Howard transferred to USC in the offseason, and Faust is likely to remain a wing player, so Allen slides in as the probable starting point guard. When the Terps upset Duke, 83-81, at Comcast Center in February, Allen started in place of the suspended Howard and tallied 16 points, but he also committed eight turnovers.
Highly-touted freshman Roddy Peters will serve as Allen’s backup. Turgeon said this summer that Peters was impressive in practice and had the ability to play major minutes as a freshman.
During the Terps’ preseason practice, Turgeon will get a look at how Allen and Peters run the offense. He’ll also see if the team as a whole can take care of the ball.
“Hopefully just by being a little bit older — we still don’t have a [scholarship] senior on our team, but being a little bit older — hopefully we’ll take care of the ball a little bit better.”
How will the big man battle shake out?
In Cleare, Mitchell and freshman Damonte Dodd, the Terps have three formidable big men on their roster. Cleare and Mitchell both showed flashes of talent last season, though neither could produce on a consistent basis, while Dodd earned praise from Turgeon after the team’s preparation for a foreign tour in the Bahamas.
Turgeon said on the ESPN radio show that improvement from Cleare, who averaged 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds as a freshman, and Mitchell, who averaged 5.5 points and 5.4 rebounds, would be crucial this year as the team looks to replace NBA lottery pick Alex Len.
“I’m high on those two guys,” Turgeon said. “Those two guys are real important to us and to our success and, you know, a lot of times last year I played them when they weren’t quite ready to play, to be honest with you. But I knew how important they were going to be for us this year.”
Cleare has dealing with a back injury throughout the offseason, and Turgeon may hold him out of practice at first. The Bahamas native is expected to be back at some point before the season to compete with Mitchell for the starting center spot, though Turgeon said he would also play the two big men together.
Dodd’s presence provides even more depth, and Turgeon can rotate the three big men in to keep a fresh post presence in the game. But no matter how the rotation looks come Nov. 8, the Terps will rely on one of the three bigs to provide rebounding and solid post defense.
What can we expect from Dez Wells?
It’s hard to forget the performance forward Dez Wells turned in against the Blue Devils in the Terps’ 83-74 ACC quarterfinals win last season. He scored 30 points, snagged six rebounds and dished out three assists as the Terps again upset their rivals.
Most pundits perceived Wells as the Terps’ top perimeter player before that outburst, but his dominance in Greensboro, N.C., cemented that status.
“Dez is a player that I like to have the ball in his hands,” Turgeon said. “He was one of the biggest culprits of turning the ball over, over 100 turnovers last year. We talked about that, but he also has a lot of assists too, so I expect Dez to have a great year.”
Still, there appears to be plenty of room for Wells to improve. His 13.1 points per game led the Terps, but were by no means staggering, and despite a solid campaign, he wasn’t named to the All-ACC team.
Wells might be the Terps’ best player, but he is still in the process of proving he can be one of the better players in the league.
Regardless of his numbers, though, Turgeon said Wells is the team’s leader. And for a group that enters the season without a single scholarship senior, coming through in that role may be just as important as the stats he puts up.
“We have some good players, guys how have grown up, and Dez doesn’t have to do it all,” Turgeon said. “He has to be a leader and take better care of the basketball for us.”