Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fordham/Maryland Preview

Dez Wells and his 22.5 points per game are next hurdles for Fordham to overcome as Rams face Maryland Thursday night. (Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Sun)

Fordham's second of two straight games against Big Ten opponents comes Thursday, when the Rams visit College Park to take on a 2-0 Maryland team that has dominated their first two opponents in Wagner and Central Connecticut State to the tune of 82-48 and 93-57 victories, respectively.

Much has been made of the Terrapins' maiden voyage in the Big Ten this season, including the speculation that head coach Mark Turgeon, now in his fourth season of following Hall of Famer Gary Williams, may be on the hot seat if Maryland fails to return to the NCAA Tournament once more. Regardless, the Terps have started the 2014-15 campaign with a torrid 55 percent shooting effort from the field and a 46 percent clip from three-point range, holding opponents to 31 percent from the field, and just 21 from beyond the arc.

Dez Wells, whose arrival from Xavier was clouded by eligibility concerns, has blossomed into the Terps' best scoring threat since Greivis Vasquez, scoring 45 points in his first two contests to complement a blistering 17-for-26 (65 percent) shooting start. Second-leading scorer Jake Layman (15 points, 6.5 rebounds per game) is just as efficient, missing only four of the 14 shots he has attempted thus far.

Across the court, after setting a Fordham record with 31 points in his debut, Eric Paschall was limited to only seven on Sunday against Penn State, who also held Jon Severe to a scoreless, 0-for-5 outing in just 11 minutes of action. Ryan Rhoomes has been a pleasant surprise, though, averaging 10 points and 10.5 rebounds in the Rams' win over NYIT and 73-54 loss to the Nittany Lions.

Regardless, Fordham will have their hands full against Maryland's front line of 7-1 Michal Cekovsky, 6-11 Damonte Dodd, and the aforementioned Layman, who stands 6-9. The size up front is only augmented by a strong transition game, which was one of the key points highlighted in our question and answer session, which; for this game at least, comes full circle. 

Joining us to provide background information on Maryland is Daniel Martin, who once upon a time followed yours truly as the sports director and lead play-by-play voice of St. John's Red Storm basketball for WSJU Radio before launching a successful print media career that has now taken him to his current line of work as a writer and web producer at Comcast SportsNet after a stint as a national college basketball writer for NBC Sports. Here is Daniel's insight on the Terps, and what to expect from them both against Fordham and moving forward into the rest of the season:

Jaden Daly: Through their first two regular season games, what have been the strongest impressions Maryland has made? 

Daniel Martin: This is a completely different team than the one we saw last season. The obvious reason for that is because there was so much personnel turnover with five transfers leaving and five new players entering the program. But the feel is different, too.

Yes, they’re young and perimeter-heavy, but this team moves the ball well, can shoot from the outside, and genuinely seems to enjoy playing together. They will have their deficiencies -- namely a lack of rebounding -- but they’re going to run-and-gun and catch a few teams by surprise in the Big Ten.

JD: The injury to Evan Smotrycz has left the Terps with one senior in Dez Wells to shoulder not just most of the load, but also the bulk of the team leadership responsibility among the regulars in Mark Turgeon's rotation. Until Smotrycz returns, who else should fans count on to take on more of the initiative alongside Wells and Jake Layman?

DM: Aside from the stars, the most important player to me in this rotation is Richaud Pack. A fifth-year graduate transfer, Pack has a little bit of everything that Maryland lacked last season. He’s an efficient scorer who can defend and can eat minutes at either guard spot as a backup or start within Maryland’s three-guard lineups.

He’ll be a stabilizing force for this team as the season progresses because with so many freshmen in key spots, there are bound to be games plagued with turnovers and poor shooting. That’s where Pack comes in. He understands the game as well as or better than anyone else on this roster and Turgeon isn’t afraid to use him in any one of a number of capacities.

JD: At 7-1, Michal Cekovsky's size jumps out right away when looking at the roster. Have the Alex Len comparisons started already based on that alone, or will Maryland be looking at a completely different player once he acclimates himself to the speed of the Division I game?

DM: Obviously the first connection people will make with an international seven-footer on Maryland’s roster is Alex Len, but Turgeon has been adamantly denying that Cekovsky is a carbon copy of Len and through two games, he’s right. The freshman is much more of an international stretch-four than he is a traditional center.

Despite his size, Cekovsky is not the natural rim protector that Len was. He is still acclimating himself to the American game and -- by Turgeon’s own admission -- is still a half-second late on defense at times.

Where his promise shines through is on the offensive end. He passes well out of the post and with time will be able to stretch the defense out to about 15 feet and attack the basket by putting the ball on the floor. Check back in on him in mid-February and I’m convinced we’ll see a much more well-rounded, comfortable player.

JD: Wells against Eric Paschall looks to be, for all intents and purposes, a must-watch matchup on both ends based on how Paschall has started his young career, but just how critical will the Terps' game plan for the Fordham backcourt be; especially after the exceptional start to their defensive efforts beyond the three-point line, not to mention having to prepare for a returning Jon Severe?

DM: From a game planning perspective, Maryland is actually much more prepared to handle an overload of guard than it is a crop of size in the paint. Depth in the backcourt should allow Maryland to try different types of pressure against Fordham, swapping in Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley, Jared Nickens, Richaud Pack, and Dez Wells as average-to-above-average defenders to contain the firepower the Rams have.

On the other side, Fordham can’t let Maryland get out and run. With its lack of rebounding and interior size, Maryland wants to force turnovers and push the ball as often as possible. If the Rams let the Terrapins run, it’ll be tough for them to dig out of a hole.

JD: Where does Maryland rank in the Big Ten, and is a postseason appearance a realistic expectation? Also, will their style of play catch some of their new opponents off guard, similar to Syracuse's first season in the ACC?

DM: If you had asked me four months ago the chances that this team would make the NCAA tournament, I would have said it was nearly non-existent. Too many things had to go right. Now, I’d say there’s at least a chance at the Big Dance and they have a solid shot at the NIT.

The reason for that change of heart is because what looked like just a collection of pieces has come together and found an identity -- an identity that some teams in the conference won’t be ready for.

Maryland isn’t afraid to push the ball and play small. They will also live by the three-point ball. If those two things come together on a particular night, they’ll be difficult to be. The question is really just the frequency of those hot-shooting nights and how well they can patch up their deficiencies on the interior.

JD: Finally, to follow up on that last question, how far away is Mark Turgeon from getting off the proverbial "hot seat," so to speak, and how close is he to turning the corner in College Park?

DM: Turgeon has preemptively embraced the notion that he’s on the hot seat. When I talked with him this spring, he said he knows his seat is “on fire” after failing to make an NCAA tournament so far during his tenure.

Squeezing an NCAA tournament appearance out of this squad would change some people’s minds about him, I think. After the mass exodus this spring, expectations were lower and there were questions raised about the state of the program. Going dancing would prove that it just took time for the grand plan to come together.

1 comment:

  1. Jaden, good article, but you are doing Paschall a disservice by pumping up his performance against D2 NYIT. 30 points against a weak team like simply isn't relevant.