By Jon Rothstein
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FIVE OBSERVATIONS FROM MARYLAND
1. LETHAL LEN
What a difference a year makes. Maryland sophomore center Alex Len is noticeably smoother on the low block than he was a season ago, and he should make a big jump in his second season of college basketball. The 7-foot-1 Len looked very comfortable going over both shoulders in the post on Tuesday morning’s practice at the Comcast Center in College Park, and he should give the Terps a legitimate threat in the paint. Last season as a freshman, Len averaged six points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Expect those numbers to go up significantly this season.
2. TEAM BALANCE
Maryland has a lot of very good players, but maybe no great ones except for possibly Len. Still, the Terps added four quality freshmen in Seth Allen, Jake Layman, Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare. They all figure to log major minutes, as well as a fifth-year transfer and former Albany guard Logan Aronhalt. With Len and Pe’Shon Howard stabilizing things at center and point guard, Mark Turgeon figures to have a slew of options to work with at the other three spots on the floor, and there a number of different people who could lead this team in scoring on a given night. Unlike last season when Terrell Stoglin dominated the ball and regularly forced bad shots, this squad will be more in the mold of Turgeon’s groups at Wichita State and Texas A & M, which shared the ball and took high-percentage shots while guarding on each possession with a purpose.
“You can’t force chemistry,” Turgeon said. “But we’ve got it.”
3. EVAN’S EXTRA ELEMENT
You can tell in a matter of seconds how much the Maryland staff loves Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz. The 6-foot-9 forward won’t be able to play this season, but he’ll be an impact newcomer when he takes the floor for the Terps in the fall of 2013. Smooth, confident and sporting a high basketball IQ, Smotrycz will be a valuable piece as Turgeon leads this program back into the ACC’s elite. A terrific outside shooter, Smotrycz shot over 40 percent from three-point range last season in Ann Arbor.
4. THE DEZ FACTOR
Turgeon said he’s hoping to hear in the next week whether or not the NCAA will allow Xavier transfer Dez Wells to play this season. If Maryland adds the burly wing, than the Terps become a completely different basketball team. With Wells, Howard and Len, Maryland solidifies three positions on the floor and also adds instant toughness. Without Wells, Turgeon has a team that should make the postseason and could push for an NCAA bid. With Wells, there’s no chance this team doesn’t reach the field of 68.
5. JAKE THE SNAKE
Jake Layman may not look much like of a basketball player, but don’t let that fool you. This kid can play and play at a high level. The 6-foot-8 freshman wing makes everything look effortless in between the lines, and he could be a sleeper to start for this team at small forward if Wells doesn’t get cleared by the NCAA. A terrific shooter who will be at his best when the game speeds up, Layman is in the mold of current Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons — a skilled, lanky wing that makes everything look easy.
It’s easy to see the progress that this program has made in just one year under Turgeon. Maryland is deeper, bigger and savvier than they were at this time last year, and that will only be enhanced if Wells is allowed to play this season. It will be difficult for this team to crack the top five of the ACC, but barring something unforeseen the Terps are destined for the postseason. Whether it’s the NIT or the NCAAs is still to be determined.
Do you see Maryland making some noise in the ACC this season? Let us know in the comments section below…