Acclimating to the post-Mark Turgeon era while also finding offensive consistency has proven to be an enormous challenge for Maryland men’s basketball.
But the college basketball world moves fast and Maryland will have to adapt on the go. The first of the Terps’ many ranked opponents certainly won’t wait either.
No. 20 Florida, the Terps’ competition in New York for the Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational on Sunday, has similar aspirations as Maryland; a competitive conference record, lengthy NCAA tournament run and potentially some individual achievements to go along with the wins. The Gators, of course, are considerably closer to reaching their peak, but interim head coach Danny Manning has used his seven days at his new post to direct his team towards a more favorable future.
“For us, besides making some different looks offensively and defensively, moving guys around to some different spots based on matchups,” Manning said. “Just general well-being of the guys, making sure that we’re in a good place and making sure that we step out in the court we are locked in and focused in on what we’re trying to do.”
Manning has provided plenty for his players to cope with the turnover, offering emotional outlets and emphasizing an empathetic approach to his new position, but his work adjusting the on-court product will begin to reveal itself on Sunday. And the Terps’ new leader has already implemented some changes with point guard Ian Martinez’ head injury knocking the transfer guard out of the rotation. Without Martinez, the Terps lose their sixth man and 15 serviceable minutes of two-way basketball.
“He is slowly getting back to where we need him to be,” Manning said. “And hopefully after the break, he’ll be ready to go, but a lot of that depends on how he progresses each day.”
The injury also welcomes noticeable rotational movement. Marcus Dockery is expected to see a boost in minutes, but Hakim Hart will be taking on backup point guard duties along with primary ball-handling responsibilities. Hart spent the majority of last season at point guard and took care of the ball well.
Fatts Russell, consequently, will take on more of an off-ball role that will allow him to focus more on scoring — an area where the star guard has struggled. Russell has shot an uninspired 36% from the field and 26% from three, and has let up 20 turnovers in just nine games. Hart amassed 29 turnovers total last year.
For a team that is in desperate need of some offensive rejuvenation, this alteration has some fortuitous potential. The Terps will need some of the good fortune that has seemingly been in short supply this season as they face a team eager to supplant its second Big Ten opponent. Florida is still looking to pair its pestering defense with an equally proficient offense and bolster its image after a convincing loss to Texas Southern, a struggling mid-major.
The Gators offensive attack is led by 6-foot-11 forward Colin Castleton, who has all of the low-post traits the Terps were designed to defend.
“[They’ve] got a big guy that’s really talented. He can play inside and outside,” Manning said of Castleton. “[They’ve] got some junkyard dogs across that front line and go out through balls. And so for us, we’ve got to make sure that when we’re out there playing we play from great intensity. And we also [have to] know personnel and know matchups.”
Indeed, Florida is intimidating on paper and on film and Maryland is still finding itself. But there’s also enough madness to go around in December, with March well over 100 days away. Several No. 1 teams have been toppled and numerous teams have exceeded expectations or profoundly underwhelmed.
There’s no longer a chance to play under the coach that the Terps began the season with, but there’s always a chance to win.
“It’s been a lot of adversity and a lot of guys have been going through a lot of stuff,” Russell said, “but you know, we just been trying to get our rhythm back and, you know, start trying to stay confident. Just keep the main goal which is at the end, we want to be holding up a trophy … We all feel like we can do that. Our goal’s not gonna change.”