The knock on Turgeon in recent years has been that the whole of his team has been worse than the sum of its parts. I don't know if that's entirely fair—his preseason Kenpom rankings are usually spot-on the end of the year ranking, but when there has been a difference, the team is actually better than predicted. Still, there's no denying that a fair amount of talent has made its way to College Park over the past few seasons. Last year was no different, and with everyone of note back outside Fernando Bruno, this year will also feature a talent-rich roster.
Still, Terrapin fans are probably expecting more than one second-weekend visit every 5 seasons. This is a program with a couple of Final Fours and a national championship. Since 1980, the team has made the Dance over 60% of the time, with 11 trips to the Sweet 16. And if the Terps fail to reach the second weekend this year, it will not be for lack of talent.
You can probably read all about Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith (who I was surprised did not test the NBA waters after last season) elsewhere. For the purposes of this post, I'm assuming the reader understands both players are not only Maryland's best, but also two of the best in the conference. But the departure of Fernando is going to impact their production.
Maryland's offense is somewhat similar to an offense just down the road at Virginia. Like the Cavs, Maryland runs a fair amount of blocker-mover as well as continuity ball screen. Where they depart is that the Terps also like to run a lot of isolation, particularly for post players (more on that in a bit). When it comes to blocker-mover, no one runs it better than Tony Bennett. This is an unsurprising bit of news, given that his dad brought the scheme to the college game (as far as I know). But where UVA is strict about the partner concept and pins being offset with a flare on the other side, Maryland is not so rigid. (The basics of blocker-mover are explained in this helpful video).
That flexibility can provide more interesting scoring options, but there are also good reasons for some of those "rules." For instance, double pin-down screens have a tendency to really clog up the paint:
Why the emphasis on pin-down screens? My take is that Turgeon understands that the offense is working at its best when Cowan is going downhill (usually curling off a down screen), and his twin towers are in a position to finish at the hoop (which happens as they roll off a pin-down).
Bruno in particular was an excellent finisher for the Terps last season, converting 71 percent of his attempts at the rim. Smith himself wasn't so bad, shooting 67 percent. Thus, I think it's still an open question as to what exactly makes the Terrapin big men so adept at getting great looks at the basket—the offense, their talent, Cowan? Part of that is because it's been so long since Maryland hasn't had a great point guard and a great center around. Before Cowan and Bruno, there was Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone.
In any event, the frequent down screens are likely to continue. But it's not the only action the Terps run. Continuity ball screen offense can generate some of the same looks as well. And then there are the isolations. Maryland did this a fair amount last season, with mixed results. Despite his ability to finish at the hoop, Fernando did not have a heck of a lot of post moves to deploy. If the shot wasn't there immediately, it was not going to get much better.
Where Bruno did excel, however, was passing out of the post. And he didn't need a double team to create chances for teammates, all he needed was the slightest bit of defensive attention.
Adding in his other contributions, Fernando's role as a centerpiece of the Maryland offense is going to be very difficult to replace. Much of the returning talent is in the backcourt, and it's possible Turgeon goes with smaller lineups to reflect that. Things could get very interesting if Smith's 3-point accuracy has improved (27% on 71 attempts last year), which I expect will be the case. But there are a couple of drawbacks to that approach. The first is that with less size on the floor, you have one less finisher to attack the rim when defenses move up to stop Cowan.
Second, Jalen Smith is just as much of a mismatch at the 4 as he is at the 5.
Whether it's better to have Xavier Tillman chasing Smith around the perimeter or Aaron Henry trying to hold position in the post is a good debate that I won't get into here. But it's worth acknowledging that there are drawbacks to either option.
As far as newcomers, the Terps have a 4-man class highlighted by 4-star center Makhi Mitchell. The other incoming freshman are outside the top-100, and might have a more difficult time cracking the rotation.
I haven't talked much about the supporting pieces thus far, though it's likely the season will hinge on their contributions. Of all the rising sophomores, Aaron Wiggins probably provides the most upside, and he and Eric Ayala were dangerous threats from long range last year. That will need to continue this season as defenses are likely to get sucked in on Smith in the post and Cowan's penetration. Frankly, whether the Terps are great or merely just good probably depends on their outside shooting and ability to pick up the slack on the boards from Fernando's departure. This is Cowan's last go-round, and without an immediate successor on the horizon, this might be Turgeon's best opportunity for a while to make some real noise in March.