Seniority doesn't necessarily translate to superiority.
Maryland junior Pe'Shon Howard is on the verge of discovering that the hard way, as his starting point guard job may be in jeopardy to an upstart freshman.
Contradictorily, the Terps' lowest ranked high school recruit from the 2012 freshman class holds the highest chance of starting the soonest.
His name is Seth Allen.
Howard is from Los Angeles, California, but attended high school at the local basketball powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. Howard sat out of Maryland's first nine games last season following preseason foot surgery, but handled starting point guard duties once he returned.
Howard has started Maryland's first two contests, including their late-game thriller against Kentucky. While the 6'3'' junior hasn't necessarily disappointed, he hasn't done enough to cement his role as a starter.
Allen has looked impressive thus far, and his promising play begs the question:
Should Howard or Allen be Mark Turgeon's floor general for the remainder of this season?
Let's make a case for both.
Pros: Howard's improvement as a facilitator from Maryland's opener against Kentucky to its second game against Morehead State is encouraging. It seemed he realized he produced a subpar performance against Kentucky, and was determined to rebound.
Leading the halfcourt offense, Howard's experience is evident. He understood how to deal with pressure from opposing point guards, and he knew when to get rid of the ball if he was in trouble. He often made the smart play instead of the flashy play, which is to be expected from an upperclassman.
Howard leads the team in assists with six per game. Against Kentucky he totaled five, while against Morehead State he dished out seven. While the sample size is certainly small, that number is substantially higher than his career average 3.5.
Lastly, Howard is promisingly logging more than 25 minutes per game over Maryland's first two outings. Not only did he miss the first month of his sophomore season with a foot injury, but he was also sidelined for the last month or so with an ACL injury. It's definitely encouraging to see Howard able to stay on the court for large amounts of time.
Cons: Speaking of his leg injury, Howard is noticeably slower than he was before his ACL surgery. The minutes may be there, but the mobility isn't. He constantly struggled to gain a first step on either Kentucky's Jarrod Polson or Morehead State's Devon Atkinson.
Howard has traditionally been a weak outside shooter for a perimeter player. His shot form hasn't really improved this year, which is expected because he has been busy rehabbing his knee. Nevertheless, guards should be able to consistently knock down open jumpers, and I'm not so sure Howard is capable of that.
I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge Howard's putrid late-game management in the Kentucky game. After receiving the inbounds pass with seven ticks remaining after two Kentucky free throws, and his team down three, Howard advanced the ball down the court.
Instead of kicking it out to either of his open teammates, Jake Layman or Logan Aronhalt, Howard inexplicably forced a two-pointer after the buzzer.
Howard is averaging just one point per night. He shot one for eight from the floor against Kentucky, and didn't attempt a shot against Morehead State. That gives him an abysmal shooting percentage of 12.5 percent.
Howard's 12:5 assist-to-turnover ratio isn't awful, considering that ratio was near even last season, but I wouldn't call it spectacular either. Turnovers have plagued Howard in the past, and a resurfacing of the issue would be costly.
Pros: As Mark Turgeon stated, Allen is close to a "world-class athlete." So far, he appears to be Maryland's fastest player by a large margin. That speed will prove to be even more advantageous if Allen is responsible for bringing the ball down the court.
Allen is a high-volume scorer. While a point guard doesn't have to be a top scoring option, star point guards such as Lehigh's CJ McCollum and Michigan's Trey Burke have shown that having a scorer as a primarily ball handler can lead to success.
Three-point shooting has been a major issue for Maryland this season, but not Allen. The 6'1'' freshman has hit two out Maryland's six three balls.
Allen might be Maryland's best playmaker. His ability to create points is showcased in this play, when he blows by Kentucky freshman Archie Goodwin and finds Alex Len in the post.
He is Maryland's fifth leading scorer with six points per contest. Allen provides a huge spark whenever he is on the court, and can score from anywhere within 25 feet.
Cons: Players as explosive as Allen often find themselves out of control on the dribble. There's no exception here. Against Morehead State, he was called for a blatant charge because he couldn't control himself.
Allen doesn't have much experience playing against top-level players. While Howard played high school ball at Oak Hill, Allen played at Frederickburg Christian, where the skill level of their opponents is far weaker than at Oak Hill. Also, Allen is, of course, just a freshman.
As a high school recruit, Allen was listed as a shooting guard. While he is certainly capable of assuming point guard duties, that isn't his true position. Allen isn't a remarkable passer, and may prosper playing off the ball rather than on.
Howard has two inches on Allen. While Howard stands 6'3'', Allen is a smaller 6'1''. That shouldn't give him too many problems on offense, but may limit his versatility as a defender as Maryland will face bigger and stronger guards during conference play.
Verdict: I'm not surprised to see Howard is currently the starter, but Allen is the better player right now. Howard's lack of mobility following his knee surgery is so evident, opposing teams' guards will begin to exploit it regularly.
Allen has blow-by speed that's hard to come across. While he may be slightly immature at this stage of his college career, he gives Maryland their best opportunity to win ballgames.
It won't be easy for Mark Turgeon to substitute his junior leader for a lowly ranked freshman, but he may need to once ACC guards begin to arrive in College Park.
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