Maryland rumbled through nearly a dozen basketball games before Christmas (Saturday’s date with Delaware State represents game No. 12) with the same expansive rotation it began the season with.
Ten players have found their way into every game. Only 10 times has a regular failed to crack 10 minutes. This is not faux depth, not in the slightest.
On many levels, it makes sense for the early stages of a season —- and this season in particular. The Terrapins (10-1) added four freshmen and two transfers. There are countless combinations to try out, and several players to assess in game conditions. A relatively tame schedule only increased the opportunities to tinker.
Yet now Maryland sits a little more than a week from conference play, and it’s worth wondering just how long a 10-man rotation will remain feasible.
“I think it’s going to change,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “I’m not ready to lock it in because we have such a young team and so many guys that are improving. If we had a really close game tonight, I know who I’d feel comfortable with playing in that close game.”
While some things seem near-certain (Maryland’s long-term fortunes are strongly tied to the play of center Alex Len and wings Nick Faust and Dez Wells), it’s tougher to figure out where some of the freshmen fit in.
Guard Seth Allen thrived as steadily as any reserve in nonconference play, a sloppy game against Monmouth notwithstanding. Charles Mitchell’s rebounds per 40 minutes (17.39 over the first eight games) have dipped over the last three contests (12 rebounds/40 minutes) along with his playing time. Center Shaquille Cleare has gradually improved, while forward Jake Layman has mostly struggled to date.
Yet they all offer something, and Turgeon doesn’t seem inclined to write off the possibility of any member of his expanded rotation contributing down the road.
“They know there’s a lot of season left and a lot of opportunities left,” Turgeon said.
He’s said as much, if not to the team as a whole then in individual meetings. And during a conference call with reporters Friday, Turgeon dropped a few observations to suggest how things looked in the final pre-Christmas games might not entirely reflect how the coming weeks will unfold.
Mitchell’s decline in playing time coincided with getting a bit out of shape, an issue he’s apparently rectified over the last two weeks. Layman, who logged only four minutes against Stony Brook on Dec. 21, is spending additional time in the weight room now that classes and exams are done.
Turgeon’s overriding point, even if he didn’t say so explicitly, was teams and players generally don’t make linear progressions. That, in turn, ties in with who he opts to play moving forward.
“Our rotation will change based on who we’re playing and where we’re playing and how guys are playing,” Turgeon said. “I have 10 guys and I have 10 guys who are all improving.”
In short, the rotation question is probably not going to disappear entirely as the season unfolds. It could, however, evolve into a question of what about an opponent led to a bump or decline in playing time as opposed to something entirely related to the player himself.
If nothing else, it will provide a study in how Turgeon doles out playing time, something that wasn’t really possible a year ago with a limited roster.
“Every game is going to be different,” Turgeon said. “I don’t like going into a game saying ‘I’m going to play seven or eight games,’ because what happens if three or four struggle? The good thing is I have choices this year.”
—- Patrick Stevens