Alex Len's disappearing act hurting the Terps

Maryland needs much more production from 7-1 sophomore center

  • Alex Len is defended by Virginia's Akil Mitchell, left, and Justin Anderson.
Alex Len is defended by Virginia's Akil Mitchell, left,… (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy…)
February 10, 2013|Kevin Cowherd

COLLEGE PARK — — This one was ugly, an 80-69 beatdown at the hands of Virginia that made that patch of gray in Mark Turgeon's hair practically double in size. A few more losses like this and he'll need the Just for Men even more than I do.

The big question for Maryland on Sunday was this: where was Alex Len?

The big sophomore center finished with nine points, but four came in the last 1:18 when Comcast Center was emptying and the cleaning crew was getting the mops and brooms ready.

OK, Len finished with seven boards and blocked a few shots. But basically he was a non-factor. And when your 7-foot-1, 255-pound big man is a non-factor in a big game like this, it becomes a major cause of concern.

Or at least it should be.

"Well, I don't think he was very good the first half, or the start of the second half," Turgeon said of Len. "The physicality got to him a little bit. He had to chase around Justin Anderson (17 points) and that really wasn't fair to him.

"... They did a good job on him. They doubled him, made it tough. I just kept telling him he's got to get to the boards and get second chance points. ... He has to be a little more physical. It wasn't his best day."

No, it wasn't. And now Maryland's record drops to 17-7 and 5-6 in the ACC, and the window for getting into the NCAA tournament closes a little more.

Not that the Terps' chances to get into the Big Dance were that great to begin with. Not with their lack of impressive wins over quality opponents. And not with all the weak sisters — LIU Brooklyn, Georgia Southern, UMES, Monmouth, the list goes on — in their non-conference schedule.

To be fair, you don't lay all the blame for this loss on Len's shoulders. None of the Terps played well in a game they had pointed to for days, which is baffling in itself.

Three or four times in his post-game presser, Turgeon mentioned that the Terps seemed a step slow from the beginning and a "little lethargic" all game long.

Give Virginia credit, too, for making life miserable for Len inside. Every time he touched the ball, two defenders were in his face and he struggled to kick it back out to an open man.

And when he wasn't drawing a double-team, he was too far away from the basket to be effective, which has happened too often this season.

It's all a little mystifying, though, because Len was projected by many to be a lottery pick in the June NBA draft.

As recently as last month, Seth Greenberg, the ESPN analyst and former Virginia Tech coach, was talking about Len like he was the second coming of Pau Gasol.

"I think they've got a legitimate low-post presence and a skilled 7-footer and not that many teams can say that," Greenberg told The Baltimore Sun's Don Markus.

"Alex Len is a difference maker. He's got great hands, he runs the floor, he's gotten stronger, he understands what the scheme is all about, yet he has the skillset of a European player. I think he in himself is unique."

Well, maybe.

But the fact is, he hasn't made the kind of progress with his game that Greenberg — and a lot of us — thought he would.

Sure, he was Maryland's leading scorer going into the Virginia game, with a 12.6 average. But there have been too many times recently when he's been a virtual no-show on offense.

In the Terps' 73-71 loss at Florida State two weeks ago, he was held to just four points and five rebounds and outplayed by the Seminoles' 7-3 big man, Boris Bojanovsky.

And when Maryland was blown out 84-64 by Duke at Cameron Indoor the week before, Len scored just eight points and was schooled by Mason Plumlee, the Blue Devils' big.

Turgeon is right about Len: when you're 7-1 and built along the lines of the Washington Monument, you need to get to the basket for tip-ins and put-backs when you're being double-teamed.

Look, no one is writing off Len or denying his enormous potential. The kid plays hard and doesn't seem intimidated by the bright lights and the wide bodies in the ACC.

But he needs a lot of work on his game, especially on his post-up moves and sealing off the defender so he can get an entry pass.

And the Terps have to figure out a way to get him the ball on the block where he can be effective.

Otherwise there will be more games like this, where a 7-foot-1 big man disappears, just when his team needs him the most.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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