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Maryland's Cocoon of Defensive Horror

The Terps' young guns have earned all the ink this season, but it's the team's defense that is hyper elite.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the season, the "known" for Maryland was the team's defense:

There aren't going to be 10 teams that are better defensively than Maryland. Given the fact that the Terrapins lose two stalwart defensive hammers in Bernhardt and Carr, that says a lot about what Maryland is returning to Byrd Stadium and the structure in which these players perform. There were questions in 2013 as to whether the Terps would take a step back after the departure of former defensive coordinator Kevin Warne to Georgetown, but Maryland remained a defensive machine under Kevin Conry, holding the line as one of the most productive defenses in the nation (the team ranked 12th in adjusted defensive efficiency) while dragging the Terps' struggling offense into the NCAA Tournament.

The Terps' defense has delivered: With Niko Amato anchoring the net, a consistent close defense that hasn't changed faces through nine games (Casey Ikeda, Matt Dunn, and Goran Murray), and Michael Ehrhardt running through the box, Maryland has dominated their opponents this year in a way that has somehow been subordinated behind the team's offensive concerns. Maryland's defense is the kind of nightmare that constantly stalks its victim, a balanced and experienced unit that has the luxury of playing few -- relative to their peers at the other end of the field -- defensive possessions per game but not necessarily needing that possession imbalance to increase their productivity. In short, Maryland has absolutely decimated opposing offenses this season without mitigation or empathy.

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 24.67 6
Strength of Schedule: Opposing Offenses Faced 33.10 11
Shots per Defensive Opportunity 1.17 52
Shots on Goal per Defensive Opportunity 0.66 39
Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Defensive Opportunity 56.82% 22
Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 22.73% 4
Raw Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 40.00% 4
Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 39.82 10
Team Save Percentage 60.00% 4
Defensive Assist Rate 15.04 15
Ride Percentage 20.45% 6
Man-Down Postures per 100 Defensive Opportunities 10.18 24
Man-Down Posture Reliance 16.67% 55
Man-Down Posture Conversion Rate 43.48% 57
Opponent Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities 52.21 8
Opponent Unforced Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities 21.24 51
Turnover Margin +12.35 2
Caused Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities 30.97 3
"Run-of-Play" Groundballs per 100 Total Opportunities 42.58 1
"Run-of-Play" Groundballs Margin per 100 Total Opportunities +19.92 1

Some brief thoughts on this:

  • The one weakness that has appeared in Maryland's defensive profile has been the team's performance in man-down situations. The Terps have struggled to keep opponents from scoring in those postures -- in fact, opponents are relying fairly heavily on the personnel imbalance to actually score against Maryland, generating about a sixth of their tallies against the Terps with the extra attacker in their favor -- but that fact doesn't exist in a vacuum. The Terrapins have done a decent job at staying out of man-down situations throughout the year, playing in those postures at a rate that ranks right around the national average (the Terps' rate is actually slightly lower than the national mean). If Maryland either (1) reduces their penalty rate, or (2) increases their efficiency in man-down play, the team's lone defensive black mark erodes into nothingness. This isn't an Achilles’ Heel for the Terrapins, but it is something that stands as somewhat concerning (not unlike Duke in 2013).
  • Only 10 teams have played a schedule featuring more difficult opponents in terms of opposing offenses faced and only five teams nationally have put together more efficient defensive performances. That's incredible and probably merits Kevin Conry a party at the petting zoo of his choice. Against team's currently ranked in the top 10 in adjusted offensive efficiency -- North Carolina (fourth), Syracuse (sixth), Duke (10th), and Virginia (12th) -- the Terps' defensive excellence was notable: Maryland held the Orange, Devils, and Cavaliers well below their usual offensive production (Syracuse was held to 82 percent of their average adjusted offensive efficiency; Duke was held to 53 percent of their average adjusted offensive efficiency; and Virginia was held to 81 percent of their average adjusted offensive efficiency); the only team that blitzed the Terps' defense in this group was Carolina, and the 'Heels have hammered everyone this season. If the Terrapins are able to accomplish what they have against the nation's best, the team's overall ceiling remains incredibly high.
  • The characterization of Maryland's defense in terms of defensive shooting competence looks something like this: (1) The Terps are willing to yield shots but a low ratio are actually on goal, partly due to the fact that the team's field defense is keeping their head on a swivel and partly due to the fact that the team's field defense has limited preferable shooting looks; (2) There is a trust that Amato will corral whatever actually comes on goal, and Amato has delivered on that trust. If you can force poor looks and have a keeper that will chew up everything thrown at him, you can create static in defensive possessions. Maryland has used that formula to great success in 2014.
  • This is what is especially deadly about Maryland's defense: They're aggressive but not to the point where they're lost in chaos. Look at the team's ride and caused turnover rate: The Terps are abusing the opposition and killing defensive postures in the most disheartening way possible. The rate that Maryland is dispossessing opponents is unreal, and a lot of that has to do with the Terrapins' focus on winning run-of-play groundballs -- no team is doing it better than Maryland so far this year. There's a care here that has significantly benefitted the Terps, creating advantageous situations and maximizing opportunities to kill defensive possessions.