Terps Trio: Maryland's defense, fallout from Harrison twins, other hoops targets

October 05, 2012

Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland  sports.

Maryland's defense is ranked eighth in the nation, giving up 261.2 yards per game. Is the defense really that good?

Jeff Barker: Yes and no. There is no doubt that coordinator Brian Stewart's 3-4 defense is vastly superior to last year's unit before Stewart arrived.

The defense has been particularly strong up front, giving up an average of just 83.5 rushing yards.

If Maryland is to make something of this season, it seems clear the defense will be the anchor.

But there are some issues. Coaches say the defense, stingy as it has been, has not created enough takeaways -- just four fumbles and two interceptions through four games. Maryland's turnover margin is minus-7.

And then there are those big plays -- the ones that coaches call "chunk plays." Against West Virginia, the Terps were prone to surrendering yardage in big gulps.

“I still think we’re a work in progress," Stewart said this week. "We’re giving up way too many big plays, we've got to be better on third down, and we've got to tackle the catch."

But the defense has sure come a long way since 2011, when Maryland lost a 27-point, third quarter lead at N.C. State in the season's final game.

How big a blow to the Maryland basketball program is not getting the Harrison twins, and are there any positives to come from it?

Don Markus: It’s hard to say anything positive is derived from not getting a commitment from two of the best players in the country, players that could have had more of an impact in one season on the Maryland program than any since Steve Francis had after transferring from junior college in 1998-99 or Joe Smith had as the national freshman of the year in 1993-94. The Harrisons would have taken what is likely going to be a much-improved team this season – one that has a chance to make the NCAA tournament – and turn into a legitimate national contender next year.

That said, I wondered during this whole process whether the arrival of the Harrisons would have disrupted the chemistry that the Terps seem to be building with the kind of players Mark Turgeon has brought in as recruits or transfers -- and one in particular, sophomore guard Nick Faust, that he inherited from Gary Williams. What was going to happen to Faust if Andrew and Aaron Harrison put on Maryland uniforms for the 2013-2014 season? What was Turgeon going to tell a kid he had to re-recruit in order to stay in College Park after Williams retired, then turned into a very key player as a freshman and perhaps his most important player as a sophomore. Oh, Nick, we need you to come off the bench for a while?

I also think that athletic director Kevin Anderson and his compliance staff must be breathing a sigh of relief that the Harrisons are not going to be coming. With all the discussion about Under Armour’s possible role in the decision – one that apparently was “way overblown,” according to Scout.com recruiting analyst Evan Daniels – you know the NCAA was going to look into how Maryland beat out Kentucky for the Harrisons. The NCAA typically looks into the recruiting of all upper-echelon high school talent, and it still might want to make sure the Terps were above board even if they finished second in this recruiting battle. But now the NCAA can focus its attention toward Lexington if it so chooses.

Just by the fact that Maryland and Turgeon were mentioned so prominently in the stories about the recruiting of the Harrison twins gives the Terps some street cred when it comes to future recruiting. There aren’t that many schools that have been successful in beating out John Calipari for likely one-and-done players. I think it might have been a different case if there had only been one player, rather than two, since Aaron Harrison Sr. seemed to be favoring the Terps and might have been able to convince one son, rather than two, that Maryland was a better place.

About the only negative right now is the fact that Turgeon and assistant coach Bino Ranson put so much time and energy into recruiting the Harrisons – including making one last-ditch trip to Texas on Wednesday – and that other players currently being recruited by Maryland might feel neglected. Given the current makeup of the roster, the Terps will have two point guards next season, Pe’Shon Howard and Seth Allen, who are certainly capable of playing in the ACC but might not be as talented as a Roddy Peters or Rysheed Jordan, the two high school seniors who are still on Maryland’s radar.

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