Maryland vs. Kentucky: 10 Things We Learned from Maryland's Loss in Opener
As I impatiently sat in my Barclays Center seats last night in Brooklyn to watch Maryland face off against No. 3 Kentucky, I heard my first bit of good news in a long while.
After 12 excruciatingly long and painful days, my power had been restored after being taken away by Hurricane Sandy.
At that point, just before tipoff, I knew that the game was going to be a special one. At least for me, I knew that game would continue the trend of spectacular events that Friday night was providing.
Well, I was correct.
Friday's matchup against Kentucky and Maryland at the newly-opened Barclays Center held an atmosphere that one could only imagine. The crowd was truly neutral, split as evenly as possible. The arena was awfully loud, and the energy could be felt by everyone inside.
And the game itself? Outstanding.
While Maryland didn't come away with a victory, it did learn plenty about the makeup of its team.
Here are 10 things that we learned about Mark Turgeon's squad following their narrow loss to the defending champs.
Alex Len Is the Real Deal
It's difficult to find a positive about Maryland's first-half performance against Kentucky, considering they headed to the locker room down 13, but one 7'1'' center really showed he can play with the best players in the land.
Alex Len, the Ukrainian behemoth manning the paint for the Terps, finished the half with 16 points and seven rebounds. Kentucky's highly-touted freshmen Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein looked dumbfounded with their inability to deter Len's rapid production, possession after possession.
Len closed the contest with a total of 23 points and 12 boards. There is no uncertainty that all of the preseason hype surrounding the big fella will translate to reality. Len is the real deal, and his Friday night performance undoubtedly signals a promising winter in College Park.
Shaquille Cleare Is a Project
The only appropriate expression to define Shaquille Cleare's production, or lack thereof, in Maryland's loss to Kentucky is "Wow."
Cleare was a non-factor throughout the entire game. Forget about him dunking on Nerlens Noel in AAU last season. Forget about him being a McDonald's All-American snub. Forget about every preseason indication that Cleare would be dominant as a freshman.
Because Shaquille Cleare is a project.
I'm not saying the Bahamian native will never materialize as a top-tier ACC big man. But it won't happen anytime soon, and maybe not this season, if last night's performance is indicative in the slightest nature of Cleare's future production.
The bottom line: Cleare finished with two points, zero rebounds, zero blocks, two fouls and a turnover as his stat line. He was clearly outmatched by Kentucky's front line of Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein and even Kyle Wiltjer, who isn't known to be a dominant interior presence.
Pe'Shon Howard Will Likely Lose His Job to Seth Allen
If Pe'Shon Howard's performance throughout the majority of the contest didn't scream, "I want to lose my role as the starting point guard of the Maryland Terrapins," then his last-second, potential game-tying shot did.
With under 10 seconds remaining on the game clock and Maryland down by three, Howard successfully pushed the ball down the court and approached the three-point stripe with a few ticks left. Completely smothered by a Kentucky defender, he inexplicably forced an off-balance two-point attempt released after the buzzer.
To make matters worse, he could have passed the ball to either of Maryland's designated sharpshooters in Jake Layman or Logan Aronhalt, who were both open on the wing and corner, respectively.
Howard was indecisive in the half-court offense throughout the game, struggled to initiate an offensive urgency or penetration to the basket and even struggled to keep up with Kentucky's former walk-on point guard Jarrod Polson.
All of these negatives lead to one conclusion—Seth Allen will be Maryland's starting point guard soon.
Allen, an unranked freshman combo guard hailing from Fredericksburg, Virginia, displayed his unique athleticism and pure talent on both the offensive and defensive ends in a big way. He nailed consecutive three-point buckets early in the second half which gave Maryland the lead.
Allen was definitely the better player last night, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Allen begins conference play as Maryland's starting floor general.
3-Point Shooting Is a Major Issue for Maryland
There's no beating around the bush. Shooting 3-of-19, or 15.8 percent, from three-point territory is not only counterproductive, but also simply embarrassing.
Nick Faust "led the way," shooting 0-of-5 from deep. Dez Wells finished 0-of-2. Pe'Shon Howard, Logan Aronhalt and Alex Len each missed their lone three-point attempts.
Even Seth Allen and Jake Layman, Maryland's only players who even made three-point baskets, each shot just 33 percent from deep.
Had Maryland been more successful from beyond the arc, it easily could have upset Kentucky. Three-point shooting is a major issue for the Terrapins going forward.
Charles Mitchell Is an Elite Rebounder
With LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu no longer playing football, it may be appropriate to relay the nickname "Honey Badger" to Maryland forward Charles Mitchell.
Mitchell, who is an undersized power forward at a modest 6'7'', made up for his shortage in size and athleticism with his desire to "take whatever he wanted" off of the glass.
The freshman from Georgia hauled in 10 boards and was relentless and energetic throughout the game despite being physically outmatched by Kentucky's big men Noel, Cauley-Stein, Wiltjer and Alex Poythress.
This impressive output shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to those who followed Maryland's exhibition last week against IUP, in which Mitchell brought down 15 boards. Nevertheless, Mitchell showcased, on a national stage, that he is certainly an elite rebounder for his unfavorable stature.
Nick Faust's Shot Hasn't Really Improved
Last season, no one had any doubts about sophomore Nick Faust's ability to effectively play above the rim. The majority of concerns about Faust involved his lack of consistency from the three-point line.
Considering that was the weakest facet of Faust's game as a freshman, many Maryland fans hoped that his shot form and efficiency would improve with an offseason of practice and repairing.
If the Kentucky game was any indication of Faust's future long-range production, then it is completely just to say that Nick Faust's shot hasn't really improved.
He concluded the contest by making zero three-point shots on five attempts. To make matters worse, a few of his shots didn't even graze iron. His explosiveness attacking the rim was impressive, but it was expected.
Without a doubt, Faust's night from three-point land left more to be desired.
Dez Wells Is a Difference-Maker, Regardless of Stats
A stat line of eight points and four rebounds on 2-of-12 shooting from the field doesn't look pretty, especially when the player who held that line was hyped as one of Maryland's top players, Dez Wells.
But as difficult as it may be to imagine if you weren't watching the game, Wells was terrific in his Maryland debut.
Wells seemed to push the ball up the court with ease and fluidity every time that a fast break was remotely plausible. His teammates always looked to him as a safety valve in the half-court offense when they were in trouble, and once Wells had the ball in his hands, he did a tremendous job of absorbing contact and getting to the free-throw line.
His combination of high energy and intelligence is what Maryland was missing last season. While the execution wasn't entirely there against Kentucky, Dez Wells is a positive difference-maker for Maryland.
Maryland Can Control the Glass Against Anyone
Before the game, if you would have told me that Maryland would win the rebounding battle by 12 against Kentucky, I wouldn't have taken you seriously.
But, of course, that's what happened.
The main reason for this absurd statistic was Maryland's dominance on the offensive glass. It is uncommon that a team totals an equal number of offensive rebounds as it does defensive, and Maryland had 23 of each.
Seven of Alex Len's 12 boards were offensive, while six of Charles Mitchell's 10 were offensive. Nick Faust chipped in four offensive rebounds, while Dez Wells and James Padgett each contributed two.
Holding Kentucky's mammoth tandem of centers, consisting of Noel and Cauley-Stein, to 15 total rebounds was notable as well. Each player is capable of reeling in at least ten on any given night.
While perimeter execution was a reason for concern, rebounding supremacy was the opposite, and Maryland proved that it can control the glass against anyone—even Kentucky.
James Padgett Was a Little Bit Too Excited About His Homecoming
The statement in the slide heading is only referring to one play, but that one play held an abundant load of importance.
Late in the game, with less than two minutes remaining and the score separated by just a single possession, Brooklyn native James Padgett clearly wanted to be the hero.
Guarded by Nerlens Noel, Padgett demanded the ball in the low post. Ball-handler Dez Wells answered his command by feeding Padgett the ball. Realizing a top-notch shot-blocker was on his tail, Padgett returned the ball to Wells.
But Padgett seemingly regained his mindset of wanting to be a hero during his homecoming. He stubbornly requested the ball again. Wells once again fulfilled Padgett's wants.
This time, Noel poked the ball loose and Kentucky recovered the loose ball. In my opinion, this halted Maryland's pursuit of winning the ballgame in regulation.
Desiring to be a hero in your hometown is understandable, but Padgett shouldn't have demanded the ball twice in that crucial of a situation.
As Mark Turgeon Said: "We Didn't Win Tonight, but We're Going to Win."
In his press conference following the loss to Kentucky, Mark Turgeon confidently stated, "We're going to win. We didn't win tonight, but we're going to win."
Nothing could sum up Maryland's performance against Kentucky better than that quote. While moral victories are believed to be worthless by many, Maryland morally came away with a win against UK.
The Terps may have come away with a loss in the record books, but Turgeon's bunch will not be suffering many more of those if they continue to play in such an intense and efficient manner.
Watch out for Maryland this season. A team that loses by three to Kentucky isn't going to lose to many ACC opponents.