Maryland no longer able to think big

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy,Terps,University of Maryland

Cleare's back spasms mean he will not start

So much for Maryland's big plans.

The Terrapins were going to pair Alex Len and Shaquille Cleare in the frontcourt for the first time this season Sunday night at Miami, but back spasms sidelined Cleare in practice Saturday. Cleare is still expected to play but will not start, the team announced.

For the first two months of the season, Len and Cleare had been either-or at center in Maryland's lineup. While Maryland coach Mark Turgeon had billed the move as a promotion for Cleare, a 6-foot-9, 270-pound freshman, it might have been more about Len, a 7-1, 250-pound sophomore who has struggled in recent games.

Up next
Maryland at Miami
When » Sunday, 8 p.m.
Where » BankUnited Center,
Coral Gables, Fla.
TV » ESPNU

"Our expectations for [Len] are pretty high, and they might be unfair," Turgeon said. "He's the focal point of everybody when they prepare for us. They think about stopping Alex."

If Cleare eventually takes over the five spot and Len moves to the four, it would give the Ukraine native a better chance to use his shooting range and passing skills. It also should relieve Len of some of the physical pounding he has taken in the low post.

"Alex can play the four," Turgeon said. "Alex is a good shooter. Hopefully if they start playing together a lot, we can get Alex spacing the floor. We couldn't space the floor the other night. They just didn't guard Charles [Mitchell]. They didn't guard James [Padgett]."

Len has gained 32 pounds since arriving in College Park, becoming more physically equipped for heavy-duty work in the lane. But the pounding underneath has exacted a toll. Len scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Wednesday's 65-62 loss to Florida State, but he became less of a factor as the game progressed. In the second half the Seminoles dominated inside, collecting more rebounds (28-16) and blocking more shots (9-1). Four of the six shots Len missed were swatted.

"Alex was really playing with a toughness early in the year. He's not doing that quite as much right now," Turgeon said. "He's not shot-blocking and rebounding the way he was."

Maryland (13-2, 1-1) will face a Miami team that has physical presence even with 6-10, 290-pound Reggie Johnson sidelined with a broken thumb. The Hurricanes (11-3, 2-0) start 6-11 Kenny Kadji (12.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and 6-10 Julian Gamble, who has averaged 9.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game since moving into the starting lineup for Johnson. Both are fifth-year seniors.

"We're playing pups sometimes against grown men," Turgeon said. "If you look at the game the other night, the guys that made plays for Florida State were veteran guys."

One change that Turgeon hinted at Friday that could take place is at point guard. He is considering starting freshman Seth Allen, a more explosive scorer, ahead of junior Pe'Shon Howard, the superior playmaker.

"I don't know what our best lineup is," Turgeon said. "I'm still trying to figure it out."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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