(While the rest of the nation goes the “Pro Combat” style Maryland decided to take the road less traveled with “Sweatpant Jerseys.”
Tomorrow night in Brooklyn, New York at the
sparkling rusty new Barclays Center, Kentucky will tip off the 2012-13 campaign against Mark Turgeon’s Maryland Terrapins. Calipari’s Wildcats who are fresh off the program’s eighth national title look to replicate the successes of last season despite losing seven different players to the NBA Draft and/or graduation. While it would be ideal to play the likes of New Jersey Institute of Technology in the opening game, Kentucky will be forced to play a feisty Terrapin team that is looking to knock off a big name opponent. Despite losing standout guard, Terrell Stoglin, to a transfer after disciplinary issues Maryland returns a handful of talented players in 7’1” Alex Len, 6’8” James Padgett, and 6’3” Pe’Shon Howard. In addition to their returnees; Turgeon’s incoming freshman class was rated 18th overall by ESPN and was headlined by the #30 overall player, Shaquille Cleare, so the Terps may have more talent than their final 15-17 record last season would indicate. The talent level is certainly building in College Park, but given the time of year it’s impossible to know how good a team actually is. So in order to give some clarity on the issue, I went back and researched some of Turgeon’s most recent teams and sifted through historical strengths and weaknesses.
The general assumption through the Blue & White scrimmage and the two exhibition games is that opponents will try and exploit Ryan Harrow’s lack of physicality. This strategy would appear to be effective, at least until Harrow is experienced in running Calipari’s system, but Turgeon’s teams have never ranked above 114th nationally in Turnover Percentage since 2003. Barring drastic change in defensive philosophy this will allow Harrow (and whoever else runs the point) to calmly set up the offense and run the system to Calipari’s liking. Of course, a high turnover game is not out of the realm of possibility given the youth of the team, but Maryland’s defensive philosophy would suggest that to be unlikely. But, this lack of turnovers created is not by accident, Turgeon’s defensive philosophy harps heavily on defensive rebounding. In fact, since 2003, his squads have ranked top-70 nationally in defensive rebounding percentage 9 separate times. This may prove to be problematic for the young Wildcats who only rebounded 34.7% of potential offensive boards against two less than stellar opponents.
A Turgeon coached offense, while rarely bad, has historically never been able to reach the “elite plateau” as he has never coached a top-25 team in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. Looking through his old teams it seems as though one link to the chain is always absent; whether it be effective shooting, ball handling, or offensive rebounding. But, one area where his teams always shine at an elite level is getting to the free throw line. The past four seasons his teams have been top-15 nationally in Free-Throw Rate which is something that could be incredibly flustering for Calipari’s fourth edition of Wildcats. Turgeon runs the famed “Motion Offense” and his variation counts upon schematic mismatches which place defenses out of position, thus creating fouls when recovering. This is obviously concerning because of Kentucky’s questionable depth on the bench. Given that Maryland will attempt to draw contact on the offensive side from a thin Kentucky team that hasn’t had much time together, we’ll likely see a Maryland advantage in this category. While Calipari almost exclusively runs man defense, it may benefit the team to drop in a zone, getting his Freshmen’s feet wet early and preventing silly fouls.
Friday’s match-up will likely not be a high scoring affair as Mark Turgeon’s offense is Tubby-esqe and John Calipari has slowed the tempo in recent years, so it may be difficult for Kentucky to cover the 13-16.5 point line set by various gambling agencies. Even though Maryland has returned many key pieces and added super-Sophomore transfer from Xavier, Dez Wells, they will be thoroughly outclassed talent wise in tomorrow night’s game at the Barclays Center. Even though the gap in talent is noticeable the Terrapins do stand a chance to win this game because of their innate ability to draw fouls and take opponent second chance shots away through effective defensive rebounding.