It's no secret that Maryland has played an exceedingly weak nonconference slate to begin its 2012-13 campaign. That's the only explanation for an 11-1 team, with its lone loss suffered against Kentucky, to remain unranked.
Stiffer competition is looming ahead. In a two-week stretch from January 5th to January 19th, Maryland faces off against Virginia Tech, Miami, NC State, Florida State and North Carolina.
An unintimidating early-season schedule means the Terps won't be very prepared for these tougher foes. Included in that package of five games will be meetings with Erick Green, Durand Scott, CJ Leslie, Michael Snaer and James Michael McAdoo—a level of talent that Maryland hasn't seen since Kentucky.
Mark Turgeon and his staff will have to make some adjustments, and here are five that I believe are essential for Maryland to succeed in its second to last season in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Maryland's uber-talented center Alex Len has fallen a bit off of the national radar ever since his breakout showing against Kentucky, as his services have been far less necessary against a string of low-major foes.
Len's production hit its ultimate low-point when he scored just six points and grabbed two rebounds against Delaware State. While Len certainly had an off-game, he only logged about half of the minutes (seventeen) he should expect to receive come conference play.
The 7'1'' mammoth, but uniquely skilled pro-prospect Len will be integral when Maryland faces off against players like Duke's Mason Plumlee and Miami's Reggie Johnson. Len needs to be ready to play nearly the entire game against those players, so his endurance needs to be tested in the coming weeks.
Turnovers have been Maryland's Achilles' heel throughout the entire season thus far. The issue hasn't caused any major concern, considering Maryland's 11-game win streak, but committing 15 turnovers per game isn't going to fly against conference opponents.
Dez Wells leads the charge with 30 turnovers, which presents itself as a strikingly alarming total once you take into account he only has 31 assists. Seth Allen isn't far behind with 23 giveaways.
The ACC carries teams with abundantly more quickness and offensive awareness than that of Maryland's recent opponents. Teams like Duke and North Carolina, in particular, will take full advantage of Maryland's lingering turnover woes and translate those takeaways into fast-break buckets.
Would criticizing the nation's fourth-best rebounding team for its hustle on the boards be categorized as "cruel and unusual punishment?"
Probably. But I'm willing to make that criticism after repeatedly witnessing a major disparity between the energy of freshman Charles Mitchell and the energy of the rest of Maryland's frontcourt players.
If Shaquille Cleare, Jake Layman and James Padgett rebounded with the tenacity that Mitchell gives every game, Maryland would rank first in rebounds by a longshot. League opponents have the personnel to outmuscle Maryland's uninspired rebounding efforts, which makes a hustle adjustment more than urgent.
Believe it or not, Maryland finally has some outside shooters. That means no more reliance on power forwards like Dave Neal (yes, this Dave Neal) to knock down treys. What a relief.
Newcomers Jake Layman and Logan Aronhalt are weapons from beyond the perimeter, but they don't have the athleticism to create their own shot. It's time for the coaching staff to implement some wheel patterns and off-ball screens to free up Layman and Aronhalt for open trifectas.
Against bigger and stronger teams, pounding the ball inside won't always work. Three-point shooting can just as effectively win ballgames, and Maryland should materialize that idea.
We could sit here all day and argue whether Dez Wells or Alex Len is truly Maryland's best player, but you'd be silly to argue that Wells isn't the team's best offensive player.
He's clearly got adequate ball skills, and he can create his own shot better than anyone else. So I beg the question to Mark Turgeon, why isn't Dez Wells playing on the ball more often?
Pe'Shon Howard has been a terrific game manager, but Wells would provide a much-needed spark that would baffle opposing defenses, even during conference play.