COLLEGE PARK – Maryland football picked up a couple of verbal commitments the weekend of Jan. 25-26 – a much-needed cornerback and late-blooming linebacker.
Maryland had been looking to land a cornerback after top target Jalen Tabor chose Florida on Jan. 9. All things considered, Daniel Ezeagwu of Colonial Forge (Va.) High was a decent replacement. The 6-2, 200-pounder, who reportedly runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, chose the Terrapins over border rival Virginia.
Nnamdi Egbuaba of St. Frances Academy in Baltimore was a relatively unknown prospect who had not been mentioned as a Maryland target until recently. The 6-2, 218-pounder saw his stock rise after a phenomenal senior season in which he recorded 105 tackles and 17 sacks while being named first team All-MIAA A Conference. He chose Maryland over offers from Virginia and Connecticut.
It was a shrewd move by the coaching staff to have Ezeagwu and Egbuaba take their official visits to the College Park campus on the same weekend. Egbuaba was born and raised in Nigeria, only coming to the United States for high school. Ezeagwu is the son of Nigerian immigrants, and the two developed a strong bond during their visit.
“You know, Nnamdi is from Nigeria like me, and just talking to him, yeah, he was a big factor. I’d never met him before, but I already know we’re going to be best friends,” Ezeagwu said. “Nnamdi, he’s actually from Nigeria, so he was talking to my parents in their language and all that. They were talking about having him over for Thanksgiving already (laughs). So we’re going to be roommates.”
Added Egbuaba: “It was fate that Daniel and I met. It was like we were meant to be on the visit together. Even though he was born here and I was born in Nigeria, we connected based on our shared heritage. I can tell we’re going to be great friends, and it feels like we’re almost like family already.”
Maryland is still trying to regain the services of McDonogh (Owings Mills, Md.) offensive lineman Jared Cohen, who decommitted in December after receiving a scholarship offer from Penn State. It appeared the four-star prospect was ready to give the Nittany Lions a verbal, but then head coach Bill O’Brien left to take over the Houston Texans.
Cohen still has a scholarship offer from Penn State, but new head coach James Franklin doesn’t seem to be pushing as hard for the youngster. The 6-4, 290-pounder also visited North Carolina and has said he is still very interested in Maryland. The firing of veteran offensive line coach Tom Brattan, with whom Cohen had grown close, probably didn’t help the Terps.
In a side note, Randy Edsall hired Dave DeGuglielmo as offensive line coach, and his tenure at Maryland lasted all of a week. DeGuglielmo didn’t even have a chance to contact the team’s offensive line recruits before bolting back to the NFL and the New England Patriots on Jan. 24.
Edsall recovered quickly by hiring Greg Studrawa, who was fired earlier this month after seven seasons at LSU. Studrawa was the longest-tenured assistant under head coach Les Miles and was both offensive line coach and offensive coordinator when LSU captured the national championship in 2011.
Maryland can only hope the addition of an offensive line coach of that stature will help woo Cohen and Damian Prince, a five-star prospect who is the top target still on the program’s recruiting board. Prince, an Under Armour All-American, has narrowed his choices to Florida, Maryland and South Carolina – declining to visit Penn State after Franklin made a strong push.
Chemistry Troubles On Court
Barring a dramatic turnaround, this is shaping up as a disappointing season for the Maryland men’s basketball program. Year Three of the Mark Turgeon era was supposed to be a breakthrough one in which the Terrapins made it back to the NCAA Tournament. That probably isn’t going to happen unless the Terps can somehow fashion a late-season surge that includes several upsets.
As of late January, Maryland had just completed a damaging week that featured bad losses to N.C. State and Pittsburgh. The Terps were beating a Wolfpack squad that was without top player T.J. Warren and found a way to blow a double-digit lead and lose on the road. The Panthers, who should probably be ranked a lot higher than No. 20, simply outclassed the Terps on their home floor – disappointing the largest crowd of the season at Comcast Center, which had hoped to see a signature upset that would turn things in the right direction.
Those two losses left Maryland with a mediocre 11-9 overall record and 3-4 in the ACC. The Terrapins will be hard-pressed to finish .500, both overall and in the league, which probably wouldn’t even warrant a bid to the NIT. That signifies a step backward for the program under Turgeon, who has improved the talent level but has not been able to find a winning formula.
Bottom line, Turgeon has recruited at a higher level than predecessor Gary Williams, but he certainly has not coached better than the future Hall of Famer. Players always showed yearly improvement under Williams, who was noted for his ability to teach the game. Some fans complained about the flex offense that Williams stubbornly stuck with, but at least the Terps had a clearly defined system the players could learn.
Players do not seem to be improving as much under Turgeon, and the team does not seem to have any sort of offensive identity. Truth be told, the collective basketball IQ of the Terrapins is woeful, causing observers to repeat the old Casey Stengel refrain of “can’t anyone here play this game?”
For example, offensive fouls for illegal screens has been a big problem this season. Maryland was whistled for five illegal screens in the loss to Pitt, and they probably average two or three per game. The inability to set a proper screen shows a severe lack of basic fundamentals, and numerous players have been responsible for the mistake.
Maryland also does not communicate well on defense, a problem that has led to repeated breakdowns and open shots for the opposition. Players don’t talk on screens and as a result switches are not properly executed.
“We just make so many mistakes on defense,” Turgeon said. “We’re better in practice than we were a month ago at understanding being in the right spot, but it’s not translating to games,”
Chris Knoche, longtime color commentator for the Maryland radio broadcast, said during an interview with a Baltimore radio station that this year’s team has “some knuckleheads.” Leadership has clearly been an issue for the Terrapins, with junior swingman Dez Wells the only player demonstrating any of the characteristics required.
On paper, Turgeon and staff have brought in highly rated recruits, but the parts just don’t see to be meshing well. Clearly, the lack of a true point guard that can run the offense properly and distribute the ball is a critical problem. Not having an effective post player that can consistently score down low and force the defense to collapse is another major issue for the offense.
Wide-body forwards Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell aren’t any better as sophomores than they were as freshmen. Neither player has a reliable post move to speak of, and combined, they contribute less than 11 points per game. Because opponents don’t have to respect Maryland’s inside game, they can press out on the perimeter against three-point shooters Jake Layman and Evan Smotrycz.
Cleare has started 18 of 20 games, and beat writers have been left scratching their heads as to why. The 6-9, 265-pounder, who was Turgeon’s first prized recruit, averages a measly 3.8 points and 2.5 rebounds. That a player with that type of size and strength can’t even grab three rebounds per game is truly pathetic.
Layman and Smotrycz looked like one of the country’s best pair of forwards in terms of long-range shooting for a while this season. Opponents, however, have figured out they are both fairly one-dimensional on offense, and the result is that both are getting fewer open looks from three-point range.
Frankly, both Layman and Smotrycz are somewhat soft, a term that could apply to the team as a whole.