Tis still the season
While the start of the season has been a giant lump of coal, many Maryland fans feel like the holidays came early after the resignation of Mark Turgeon. Since last week shockwaves shook College Park and interim coach Danny Manning will now guide Maryland’s sleigh for the remainder of the season.
Maryland started the season on the “nice” list as a preseason top twenty team that had real potential to compete with the best of the Big 10 and, if were really behaved ourselves, a chance at a Sweet 16. However, after a 5 – 4 start and shooting a grinch like 309th in the NCAA three-point percentage Maryland finds itself on the wrong side of the naughty list.
Where do we go with this season? Obviously, at the top of everyone’s wish list is finding its next head coach. But with more than half the season remaining, we still have a season of basketball and here are some alternate storylines
Hear those magic reindeer swish
Maryland is one of the most talented teams in the country, but the lack of three-point shooting has been the Achilles heel of this team since day one. When you shoot this poorly, there is more than one adjustment to be made. Maryland does not rotate the basketball well, nor do they find their shooters in rhythm, but our shooting has been poor even when opportunities are available.
Turgeon continually addressed the shooting woes and said if we knew what was wrong, they would have it fixed. Now with a different voice leading practice, we will look to see how it resonates with the players. Ball rotation must get better, and players must start making the most of the open looks. This comes from practice, and it might take some time to adjust, but this team is talented enough to make a difference.
Eric Ayala, All I want for Christmas is you
Ayala was Maryland’s leading scorer and had a real opportunity to enter the NBA last season. Most fans felt that he would return, but we waited anxiously until it was official. He was the leading scorer last season and while he continues to lead the team with approximately thirteen points per game, he is not as efficient as he has been. He looks uncomfortable in his new role and with professional aspirations in mind, I cannot help but wonder if he is forcing his hand to pad his stats.
Personally, I would consider adjusting Ayala’s role, including giving him opportunities to run the point with Russell getting rest or even bringing him off the bench to run with Julian Reese. Allow them to run the pick and roll and give scoring punch to the bench, and Fatts Russell a chance to rest his legs. Will this happen? No, but Ayala’s play needs to be addressed.
Danny Manning, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?
There is a very real chance that Manning is the next head coach for Maryland. Maryland fans might not want to hear this, but money is tight in College Park. There is a lot of pressure on Damon Evans to make the right move here from every stakeholder. We all want a dream scenario of a Hall of Fame level coach to come into College Park and lead us to the top of the ranks of college basketball, but I do not know how realistic that happens.
There will be countless articles indicating who their next head coach will be and I will write my top options by the end of the season as the story progresses, but if Manning can find a way to win and sell himself to the fans, Evans would gladly remove the interim title and get their new head coach at a bargain.
Playing Reindeer games
We complained about the style of play, and we will have an opportunity to see change. Like it or not, style of play matters at Maryland. Manning has stated that he is an old school basketball coach who prefers to work inside out on offense. He believes that ball rotation leads to more open opportunities to drive the lane or shoot from distance. With the season expectations loosening, Manning will have some time to make any changes to the team that he deems necessary. I am fine with Manning wanting to work inside out, but I pray we see a more exciting brand of basketball.
Maryland’s next game is on Sunday against #20 Florida. While we were hopeful for a win against Northwestern, fans were understanding of the loss on short notice. A competitive game on national television will go a long way to showing progress, giving fans some much needed inquiry and hope to the remainder of the season.
I’ll be home for Christmas
I have touched on the issue a few times, but Maryland fans are needed now more than ever. Sponsors, players, and coaches are watching to see how the fans react. Maryland fans were a part of the greatness in the program’s history. Currently, we are what we are, which is a team with a mediocre record combined with a mediocre attendance rate, Maryland currently falls into the same category. Want to be appealing to some of those top coaches in your dream scenario? Show up.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Christmas Eve
Turn the volume up. Blast this holiday gem and instead of wrapping gifts, wrap your mind around the fact this team can still win. The team has talent. It is also important to note this team is loaded with veteran leadership. Eric Ayala, Donta Scott, Fatts Russell, Hakim Hart, Xavier Green, and Simon Wright have all had several years of experience playing meaningful minutes in the NCAA including in March.
While nobody has stepped up into the leadership role, with a new voice and some gameplan adjustments, Manning has options. The fact is, Maryland is quietly still playing for this season. Manning did not make any promises to these players. He knows his job status is unknown. The players have talent. They have veteran leadership. Now they are underdogs. For all these reasons, it makes Maryland a dangerous team this season. That would be a gift worth waiting for.