Preview: Can Dez Wells, Maryland top UConn?

Preview: Can Dez Wells, Maryland top UConn?
November 8, 2013, 9:15 am
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Terps open season against UConn

(Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

VITALS

Date: 8 November 2013

Time: 6:30 p.m. ET

Location: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Television: ESPN2

Spread: Connecticut (-9.0)

FASTBREAK PREVIEW

When Maryland took the court at Barclays Center in Brooklyn to begin last season, the aura of a brand new building against the nation's No. 3 team might have been too much for a team with such youth.

Though appearing young, sloppy, or unpolished at times, that 72-69 loss would be Maryland's season in a nutshell. Encouraging, like the 25 wins they ultimately ended last season with, but still disappointing, as it took the Terrapins an NIT run to reach that final win total.

But 2013 brings a new season and a new look, without No. 5 overall pick Alex Len but a year older by default. A preseason injury to starting point guard Seth Allen has forced Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon to shuffle his deck at the last minute, leaving junior leader Dez Wells to take over the point guard duties.

And Wells' trial by fire at point guard begins against one of the nation's strongest backcourt duos in Connecticut's Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier.

Can Maryland beat the odds as a nine-point underdog and start the season out with a victory?

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Dez Wells vs. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright

Wells took just four shots--though he made three of them--in Maryland's blowout exhibition win over Catholic on Sunday. Turgeon said after the game that Wells would need take more than just four shots per game if Maryland wants to be successful this season.

But that brings up the next question. What will the balance be? How much will Turgeon essentially tell Wells to make himself the center of the offense and how often will he be asked to facilitate? 

There are positives and negatives to both. Wells is Maryland's most dynamic all-around scorer, but if asked to do too much can be prone to turnovers. Meanwhile if he focuses too much on trying to create for others, the offense could be stagnant without another (as of now) proven, big-time point scorer.

Against the defensive pressure that Boatright and Napier will bring, Wells should use his size to bully his way into the paint in hopes of getting to the line. The more he draws fouls, the more he forces Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie to utilize his bench.

The same goes the opposite way, though.

With new hand-checking rules being a focus of this year's referees, Wells will himself have to stay out of foul trouble against the quick Connecticut duo. That will likely mean more help on the perimeter defensively from some of the longer players on the roster, including junior Nick Faust. 

Also keep an eye on how freshman point guard Roddy Peters handles the Connecticut pressure, as he'll be asked to shoulder a good deal of the playcalling duties from the lead guard spot on Friday. Turgeon said last week that Peters will likely have to "play through mistakes" because of the lack of depth in the backcourt.

MARYLAND PLAYER TO WATCH

Jake Layman, forward

After an up-and-down freshman season, Layman has been everything Maryland could have asked for in the preseason. With more confidence and a more consistent shot from the outside, he could very well be Maryland's second-best offensive weapon alongside Wells.

What makes Layman so important offensively is his versatility. He can hit shots from the outside--he ripped off 11 straight points in Maryland's exhibition win over Catholic on Sunday--but can also drive to the basket or run with the guards in transition.

Keep an eye on his in that transition game especially. As a trailer with Wells leading the break, Layman has a tendency to find open spots on the perimeter when guards can find him in rhythm.

CONNECTICUT PLAYER TO WATCH

DeAndre Daniels, forward

Maryland's greatest asset against the guard-dominant Huskies will be the size the Terrapins bring on the front line. Daniels, an athletic 6-9 junior, will be taxed in part with containing and neutralizing that advantage.

After a disappointing freshman season, Daniels emerged during his sophomore campaign by averaging 12.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks. Even more will be expected of him in 2013-14.

His length allows him to block shots, which could help to combat the bulk Maryland will bring with the combination of Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare in the paint. Also look for Daniels to get time defending Layman and fellow Maryland forward Evan Smotrycz.

INTANGIBLE TO CONSIDER

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon has harped on it throughout the preseason and it has been a worry of coaches around the country. New officiating regulations that discourage hand-checking by defenders will likely result in more fouls and could force coaches to dig farther into their benches.

Against the speedy Napier and Boatright, Maryland's already-thin backcourt will need to defend aggressively without fouling. Does that mean less pressing and trapping defense? Does that mean we could see larger lineups that use three forwards on the floor along with Wells? All possibilities are on the table.

We could even see meaningful minutes from D-III transfer Varun Ram, who was integral to Maryland's preparation for Friday's game, simulating the quickness and pressure defense of Napier and Boatright.