3 healthy centers, 3 different strengths constitute a puzzle
Mark Turgeon likes to say about his Maryland men’s basketball team what college coaches have been saying about their teams for a long time: It doesn’t matter who starts, but who finishes.
While it seems that Turgeon has settled on four of his starters — junior guard Melo Trimble along with three freshmen in guard Anthony Cowan, wing Kevin Huerter and forward Justin Jackson — the center spot is undetermined.
Turgeon used redshirt sophomore forward Ivan Bender at the position when senior Damonte Dodd suffered a concussion against Towson and the status of junior Michal Cekovsky was still in question because of a sprained foot.
Now all three appear healthy and Cekovsky is coming off his best performance as a Terp: a 16-point, eight-rebound effort against Kansas State in Saturday night’s 69-68 championship win at the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn. Will Turgeon make a change?
Turgeon is the superstitious type, to the point that the smallest changes in routine can throw him off. With Maryland 7-0 going into Tuesday’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge game at Xfinity Center against Pittsburgh, there likely won’t be any immediate moves.
Here’s another reason Turgeon might not make a change: As long as the opposing team doesn’t have a dominant, back-to-the-basket big man, the 6-foot-9, 235-pound Bender has enough size to compete in the post defensively and he’s a better passer out of the low post than either Cekovsky or Dodd.
And here’s one more reason it might be better to bring Cekovsky off the bench: The 7-foot Slovakian is the team’s best offensive big man, and with backups such as Jared Nickens, Dion Wiley and L.G. Gill struggling to score consistently, Cekovsky could be a huge boost to the second unit.
So where does that leave Dodd? It will be interesting to see what Turgeon does with the 6-11 senior, who has been a solid defender the past couple of years and, when he doesn’t move on his screens on offense (or the guards allow him to set them), is good at doing some of the little things that Turgeon so appreciates. Big Ten/ACC Challenge Tuesday, 7 p.m. TV: ESPN2 Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM Maryland’s Michal Cekovsky, right, puts back a dunk against Kansas State on Saturday night. Cekovsky’s 16 points and eight rebounds were his best performance as a Terp.
Turgeon credited Dodd with setting the screen that freed Trimble to score the winning basket Saturday. Dodd played well in a limited role at both ends. Coming off the bench could also help Dodd stay out of very early foul trouble.
Tuesday’s game against Pittsburgh will present an interesting matchup for the Terps. The Panthers were picked to finish in the bottom half of the Atlantic Coast Conference, but they are beefy and similar to some of the physical teams — Kansas State, Georgetown and even Towson — that have caused problems defensively for Maryland this season.
Pittsburgh’s Michael Young, a 6-9, 235pound senior forward, will be difficult to handle, as Kansas State’s D.J. Johnson was in scoring a career-high 26 points against the Terps on Saturday. Young is averaging 23.3 points, and the Terps will likely use their depth up front to try to wear him down.
It would be surprising to see Turgeon change his starting lineup, even at center, until after the Terps lose their first game. Maryland’s three-headed center combined for 26 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots (three by Dodd) against the Wildcats.
That’s a pretty good stat line — one that any coach on any level will take, no matter who starts and who finishes.