November 7, 2013

Terrapins prep for No. 18 UConn

Most injuries tend to have a trickle down effect. No Seth Allen means Dez Wells slides to point guard, turning the Terps' front line into a height contest between Jake Layman, Evan Smotrycz and Shaquille Cleare. Sounds good, right?

Maybe… but maybe not with a primetime opener against UConn and their guards. The backcourt of the Huskies features two six-foot terrors in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright and has UConn ranked No. 18 in the AP's preseason poll. In short, Maryland's makeshift backcourt will undergo a baptism by fire on Friday night in front of the entire nation.

"Personally, I think UConn is a little undervalued," Mark Turgeon said after Thursday's practice. "I think with guards like that, they should be ranked a little higher. It will be a great test for us to see where we are nationally."

At 6-foot-5, Dez Wells will be the shortest Terp on the Barclays Center floor at tipoff on Friday. Nick Faust (6-foot-6) will start off the ball and freshman Roddy Peters, 6-foot-3 and this roster's only pure poing guard, is sure to see big minutes, especially if the UConn pressure is overwhelming in the game's early minutes.

This week, Varun Ram and Maryland's scout team has tried to simulate the pressure the Husky guards are likely to bring on Friday night in Brooklyn. A former walk-on, the 5-foot-9 Ram was offered a scholarship by the university before this year. Since then, he has transformed himself into the team's resident pest.

"[Ram] gets after our guys a lot and pisses them off and does a good job simulating the pressure those two little guys will show tomorrow," said Smotrycz, who will make his official debut for Maryland tomorrow night.

Added Turgeon, "Varun is pretty good now. He gets in you. So that has really helped us. He is a little like Boatright, in that he never lets up. Boatright can go for 80 minutes it looks like, watching him on film."

For Turgeon, Connecticut is the ultimate litmus test - not only for his backcourt, but also as a measuring stick for how far his team has come. Turgeon now sees a smarter Maryland team. A year ago, a younger group fell to Kentucky on the same floor they play on tomorrow.

Smotrycz had to watch in the locker room. He said the Terps looked young. On the court, Shaquille Cleare got a closer look. He said they didn't bring their "A" game. A year later, perhaps no one has improved more than sophomore Jake Layman.

"We're a totally different team this year," said Layman, who dropped 23 in the team's exhibition on Sunday. "We've got a lot of guys that have that year under their belt, and they're ready for this stage."

Despite their uncertainty in the backcourt, the Terps should have the size advantage tomorrow night. Outside of the starting front line, Turgeon will employ Charles Mitchell, Damonte Dodd and maybe even the newly eligible Jonathan Graham off the bench, all of who are over 6-foot-8.

It's an advantage this group is used to a year after 7-foot-1 Alex Len patrolled the paint for the Terps. Cleare and Mitchell are tasked with filling Len's shoes in the middle -- a role Cleare confessed has come with a lot of added pressure this preseason.

"This is a big role for me and Charles," Cleare said. "We're two of the most physical and biggest guys on this team. We're going to come out and rebound, and just play our game. We're not going to go out of our comfort zone."

If the Terps weren't already clear-cut underdogs going into tomorrow night, Allen's injury has ensured it. No matter, Layman says Maryland's length will outweigh UConn's quickness, also claiming the Terps "owe Barclays Center one" after they fell to Kentucky in Brooklyn last November.

"I would rather play a ranked team every night," Layman said, exuding a confidence shared by the majority of his teammates.

His coach couldn't agree more.

"The exposure will be great for us," Turgeon said. "That's what we want. We don't want to limp into a season, especially when you think you have a good team."

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