Maryland returns to Barclays vs. UConn, now one year older

Maryland returns to Barclays vs. UConn, now one year older
November 7, 2013, 3:00 pm
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Terps open season against UConn

COLLEGE PARK--Maryland looks back at old game film of last year’s 72-69 season-opening loss to Kentucky at Barclay Center in Brooklyn in a certain way.

It’s the kind of way you’ve probably examined old pictures from high school, like that time you grew out a mullet for senior prom or thought back on how you were convinced that a mustache would actually be an asset to you during your first job interview out of college.

On the eve of the Terrapins’ return to Brooklyn to face No. 18 Connecticut to open the 2013-14 season, the reaction is the same.

“We were...young,” Turgeon told the media on Thursday. “I think you’re going to see a much higher quality basketball game even though that felt like it because the atmosphere was so great.”

One year older and one year wiser, though without the NBA’s No. 5 overall pick Alex Len, a retooled Maryland team led by guard Dez Wells travels to Barclays to meet a guard-heavy Connecticut squad on Friday evening.

Forward Evan Smotrycz didn’t even make the trip to Brooklyn last season while sitting out a year after transferring from Michigan. He stayed behind in College Park and watched the game from the locker room at Comcast Center.

“I thought we looked really young at first,” Smotrycz recalled about his feelings while watching last season’s game. “Guys were really excited and kind of putting shots off the backboard.

“I think we’re a little more mature now. Guys have played in enough big games that they’ll kind of come out more composed.”

Among those who have taken significant strides in the offseason and are expected to contribute this year is sophomore Jake Layman. Layman played 11 minutes in the opener against Kentucky last season and was 1-of-3 from the field for three points. He also picked up three fouls.

In the offseason, Turgeon has praised the Massachusetts native for developing a new mindset, one that has left him more focused and confident. The progress has showed so far, including a 23-point outing against Catholic University on Sunday in the team’s lone exhibition.

“We’re a totally different team this year,” Layman said on Thursday. “We have a lot of guys who have that year under their belt and they’re ready for this stage.”

Despite Maryland’s insistence that this team is more seasoned and mature than the one it fielded a season ago, it is still relatively young.

What is turning out to be Turgeon’s regular eight-or-nine man rotation features no seniors and, injuries aside, four sophomores and freshman guard Roddy Peters. Another freshman, center Damonte Dodd, could see time if injuries thin the frontcourt.

So much, then, falls on the shoulders of the junior guard Wells who will likely start at point guard on Friday.

Not only will he be taxed with taking over the reins of the offense, but he will also be doing it against one of the nation’s best backcourt tandems in guards Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier.

“Personally, I think UConn is a little undervalued,” Turgeon said. “With guards like that, they should be ranked a little bit higher.”

Part of the focus will be handling the defensive pressure that Boatright and Napier can bring. Early in Maryland’s exhibition against Catholic, the Terrapins had turned the ball over on four of their first six possessions.

The task of simulating that pressure fell to former D-III guard Varun Ram, a 5-9, 150-pound junior.

“Varun is pretty good now. Varun gets in you,” Turgeon said. “That’s really helped us. Varun is a little bit like Boatright. He never lets up. Boatright can go for like 80 minutes watching him on film.”

Smotrycz agreed.

“Varun...gets after our guards like crazy,” he said with a smirk. “He pisses them off.”

Maryland tips off against Connecticut at 6:30 p.m. on Friday.