Guard duty: Terps go with four on the floor

Smaller lineup is option when forwards struggle

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Nearly every preseason assumption about the Maryland basketball team stemmed from two obvious truths.

There was experience - and even a measure of depth - in the backcourt. And the frontcourt was, at best, filled with wild cards.

It was a foregone conclusion the Terrapins would use four-guard sets simply out of necessity. Only it didn’t work out that way.

“We talked about it a lot before the season started,” guard Pe’Shon Howard said. “Before I got hurt, we worked on it a lot. Then with me getting hurt, I think coach just kind of threw it out the window a little bit.”

Howard’s December return from a broken foot coupled with the forwards’ inconsistency has meant a surge of four-guard looks for the Terrapins (13-7, 3-3 ACC), who visit Miami (12-7, 3-3) on Wednesday.

It is not a full-time situation. Maryland deployed four of its five guards - Howard, Nick Faust, Sean Mosley, Mychal Parker and Terrell Stoglin - nearly 13 minutes in Saturday’s 73-69 defeat of Virginia Tech, the team’s heaviest reliance of a four-guard set in conference play.

“I’ll play four guards more if Mike’s playing well, too, because it gives me a little more depth there,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “I think the four-guard lineup has been good for us. I think we’re getting used to playing it. We’re practicing it more in practice, and we’re playing it more in games. Quite honestly, we were playing it in games but [were] not very good at it.”

Based solely on scoring margin, it probably has not worked as well as Turgeon would have hoped over the past week. Duke held a 22-12 edge over nearly eight minutes against Maryland’s four-guard set, and Virginia Tech outscored the Terps 30-23 when the Terps slid down to one post player.

At the same time, the Terps’ big men frequently struggle to piece together solid games in succession. Freshman Alex Len managed only 13 points over his past six games. Ashton Pankey has scored eight points in back-to-back games for the first time since before Christmas.

Junior James Padgett arguably is the most consistent post option on offense, often sticking close to his average of nine points.

The more interesting situation of the smaller lineup comes on defense, where the 6-foot-4 Mosley might find himself matched against bigger players with some perimeter skills, such as N.C. State’s C.J. Leslie, Wake Forest’s Travis McKie or Duke’s Ryan Kelly.

“I’ve always played some four here and there, and I’ve always played against some bigger guards, 6-7 [guys] who were playing the three position,” Mosley said. “For me, going down and banging with the bigger guys isn’t a problem. I’ll take on any challenge.”

Ultimately, matchups will dictate how much Maryland relies on a more perimeter-based lineup the rest of the season, though it makes sense to use that group while leading in the closing minutes to put the best foul shooters possible on the floor. The Terps went with four guards for the final 3:11 in Saturday’s win.

Howard observed it also was a way for Maryland to improve its chance of generating turnovers and creating transition opportunities. But even if the Terps can’t push the pace, the four-guard combination provides Turgeon an extra option to use during games.

As the past few games illustrate, he’s increasingly more at ease with using it.

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