There’s Luka Garza in Iowa, a candidate for National Player of the Year who has scored more points this season than any other player in Division I. Hunter Dickinson, the former DeMatha star in Michigan, has proven to be one of the best newcomers established the nation. Trayce Jackson-Davis in Indiana, Trevion Williams in Purdue and Kofi Cockburn in Illinois also play in the league and wait to test an opponent’s forecourt and get involved with teams with weaknesses.

The level of play may have stepped up this season, but this is not a new trend. The difference for the Maryland Terrapins is that they don’t have a player on this list after Jalen Smith and Bruno Fernando, both now in the NBA, have flourished over recent seasons. So Maryland (7-6, 2-5) have tried to bypass this blatant weakness, which has become a disappointing start to the team’s league plan.

“It’s not a good year being little,” said coach Mark Turgeon. “And usually we’re tall and long and athletic on the edge. But we’re not this year so that’s what it is. “

Seven games into the conference schedule, Maryland is already grappling with a number of top front court players who took advantage of the Terps’ lack: Dickinson (26 points against Maryland), Garza (24), Jackson-Davis (22) and Cockburn ( 21). Despite the opposing talent in this position, the Terps often relied on smaller lineups without 7-foot-2 center Chol Marial or 6-9 striker Galin Smith.

After turning to Smith or Marial during much of the non-conference schedule, Turgeon increasingly relied on smaller but versatile players like Donta Scott, Jairus Hamilton, and Darryl Morsell to shuffle back and forth between the two positions in the forecourt. Maryland used such groupings about 50 percent of the time during the Big Ten game. The small line-ups have accumulated a difference of minus 16 points, while the line-ups with a traditional center show a difference of minus 33 points in all conference games this season.

“We are who we are and we have to find a way to protect with this line-up,” Turgeon said after Dickinson bullied Maryland over Michigan’s December 31 win. “I will bring the best players to the ground.” and when they are all 6-6 or less we will. “

Marial and Smith started against La Salle in late December and played five Big Ten matchups. They never played a game for more than 20 minutes. That trend changed abruptly on Sunday when the Terps tied Illinois No. 12 on the road. In the 66-63 win, Smith posted a season high of 27 minutes and Marial took that seat for eight, leaving Maryland little time with the smaller lineups that had become common.

Smith played well against Illinois, and Turgeon could rely more on the senior, who moved from Alabama in the off-season. Cockburn scored 21 points in 8v10 but only attempted two shots in the second half. Smith scored two points on a hook shot and missed his other two attempts. Maryland doesn’t need its center to become a successful goalscorer. A solid defensive effort is enough to give this team a boost in conference play.

“He fought and he fought and he fought,” said Turgeon. “He really has a great feeling for our offense. He’s a really good screener. Happy for him. We praised him in the locker room. I thought it was great. “

Smith started alongside Scott and guarded Hakim Hart, Aaron Wiggins and Morsell against the Illinois. After point guard Eric Ayala was out with a groin injury, Hart took over the ball-handling tasks. Ayala leads the team with 14 points per game, but this line-up offered tremendous length of defense. (Morsell is the shortest player at 6: 5.) Morsell’s career height of 19 points and solid offensive games by Scott and Hart have made up for Ayala’s absence. That lineup played together against the Illinois for about 18 minutes and led the Terps to their second conference win.

A slightly different line-up – the same group but with Ayala instead of Morsell – played sizeable minutes against Indiana and Iowa. Morsell missed the Hoosiers game after breaking a bone in his face, and the senior played poorly against Iowa on his return. Maryland lost both games, but those lineups – Ayala, Wiggins, Hart, Scott, and Smith – built a 17-7 lead over Iowa in the first six minutes and pushed Maryland ahead of Michigan early in the second half before the Terps collapsed.

Frequent lineups in Big Ten play

Used mainly against …

Ayala, Wiggins, Hart, Scott, Smith

Ayala, Wiggins, Hart, Morsell, Scott

Hart, Wiggins, Morsell, Scott, Smith

Ayala, Hart, Morsell, Hamilton, Scott

Ayala, Wiggins, Hart, Hamilton, Scott

Ayala, Wiggins, Morsell, Scott, Smith

Marial, the other option at the center, arrived in Maryland prior to the 2019-20 season and needed surgery to repair stress fractures in both legs. Marial joined the Terps as a high-upside player but wasn’t ready for the Big Ten competition – an acceptable profile for a player to get the last scholarship spot on a team. He’s improved at times this season, but Turgeon said Marial isn’t the team’s solution when it comes to low post scoring. Marial has only played 7.8 minutes per game on average, and Maryland is hoping he can eventually develop into a solid rim protector.

This lack of depth in the forecourt has led Turgeon to turn to smaller lineups that have done surprisingly well against some opponents. The best group of Terps – Ayala, Wiggins, Hart, Morsell and Scott – played nearly 10 minutes in the second half as Maryland defeated the then No. 1. 6 Wisconsin. That line-up played the final 7:40 against Purdue, and the Terps finished the score late after starting this stretch eight points behind. The small line-up is only successful if Scott, a 6-7 striker, can compete with opposing big men in color.

“Our strikers fought,” said Ayala after defeating Wisconsin, which saw Scott, Morsell and Hamilton regularly guard Nate Reuvers (6-11) and Micah Potter (6-10). These two finished 6v18 shooting with a total of 12 points. In that game, Smith played 11 minutes and Marial three, but Turgeon mostly used line-ups with smaller strikers.

“You have to have the attitude [that]When you are small, you are already at a disadvantage, ”said Morsell. “When you are at a disadvantage, you have to give more if you want to win.”

Offensive, these line-ups are favorable as slower strikers protect Maryland’s versatile players – like Scott, who leads the team with 23 three-point points – on the edge. But then the terps have to tackle the size disadvantage on the other end.

Smith and Marial would help in this regard, but if they also struggle to defend these big men, it makes sense for Turgeon to get involved with the smaller group with more offensive potential. There is no perfect solution; As a result, Maryland has only won twice in seven conference games. And so, the mixed lineups are likely to continue – with the Terps’ hopes for the season depending on their success.

“We’re trying everything – trust me,” said Turgeon. “We’re not staying in the status quo. We’re trying to find out. “

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