Maryland Preview: Buy or Shell the Terps
Maryland looks to start it season November 9th and fans tempestuously await to watch their beloved Terrapins. Say what you want about Mark Turgeon who enters his 11th season as the head coach, but the coach can assemble a roster. While many fans were conflicted with Darryl Morsell and Andrew Wiggins departures, Turgeon still has the talent and experience in College Park to be ranked as a top 25 team in all the preseason polls. However, the Terps faithful have seen this storyline before, and a reasonable amount of apprehension surrounds this coaching staff despite its talented roster. Maryland’s play on the court has been as predictable as a lottery ticket, but let us take a look at this years team and try to predict just exactly what we are looking for this season.
Reasons for Skepticism:
The Offense: Over the last few seasons, the offense has looked shakier than a two-dollar ladder. The missed opportunities, the turnovers, and the inconsistency from the three-point line is enough to make the fan base be the cause of a drywall shortage in the DMV area. Fans clamored last season that they saw more movement from a three toed sloth on Benadryl. This “Style of play” is unlikely to change this season under Mark Turgeon. You can expect the same offense with similar faces while also losing the most athletic scoring option in Wiggins. While Morsell was not the same scoring threat, the Terps needed to rely on Darryl Morsell and his intense defense to keep opposing teams best scoring options in check, and Morsell is now playing for Marquette. In short, Maryland loses its top scoring option and the Big 10 defensive player of the year. This team already got shell shocked in the second round of the NCAA tournament, why should things change this year?
Turgeon: “Frankly, I thought (Enter opponents name) played terrific tonight. We need to find a better way to react on defense. We had a couple of good possessions, but also had several missed opportunities from our guys, but hats off to (opponent), they were great tonight.” –Mark Turgeon at every losing post-game press conference.
This canned post game presentation to the media has been told over and over, but sadly the repetition of the rhetoric is correct. No matter how talented the roster has been, Maryland seems to struggle to meet expectations. While nobody is predicting Maryland to be a final four contender in a top-heavy NCAA, they should firmly sit in the top 25 poll for most of the season. They SHOULD also see the second weekend of March Madness, but why would this year be any different? Does it even matter? We can predict an early round exit with all the data we have collected over the last decade. Enjoy the first game, then be prepared for an epic heartbreak within 48 hours. Turgeon’s offense is humiliatingly basic, the team sprays and prays that the three-point shots will fall with no dynamic shooting option from distance. Watching other teams over the past few seasons, it is shocking that Maryland has had the success it has had.
The Big 10 is loaded yet again: The Terps are ranked 21 to start the season, but still have four other Big 10 schools (Michigan 6, Purdue 7, Illinois 11, and Ohio State 17) ranked ahead of them. Teams like Indiana and Minnesota brought in new head coaches, so it is unsure how their programs will turn around, and teams like Penn State and Northwestern have given Maryland consistent trouble despite the separation in talent. Once Maryland gets through a non-conference schedule that is easier than hitting a beach ball with a tennis racquet, Maryland will need to tighten up their scutes for another battle tested season of Big 10 play.
Despite these concerns, there is plenty of reason for optimism for the Terps program. Here are three reasons to be excited.
Identity of the team is not in question: Part of Maryland’s struggles last year was simply the fact they did not know who the offense was running through. Wiggins was the most talented, Morsell wanted it more, and Donta Scott was an underclassman playing out of position. Eric Ayala attempted to be the distributor and did not have a proper pick and roll running mate with Galin Smith.
Maryland also could not be the defensive team they planned on because they could not stop a nosebleed near the rim. Galin Smith put up a valiant effort against future NBA players each night, but Maryland found more success when they abandoned protecting the rim in the half court, but instead relied on double teams of a smaller and quicker roster hoping to trade a two for three on the other end of the floor. While that strategy was enough to work on some nights, it was draining over the course of a season and ultimately team chemistry could not compete with the physics of each night out.
However, this year is different. Enter Fatts Russell and Qudus Wahab. Fatts Russell was teammates with Donta Scott and that connection was one of the main reasons the Rhode Island transfer to picked Maryland. He will immediately fill in the need for Maryland at guard and will remind some fans of Anthony Cowan with his ability to fluster opposing guards, averaging 1.9 steals per game last season and leaves Rhode Island as their all-time leader in steals. Not only that, but Fatts also scored 14.7 points per game for the Rams and should have no problem being the offense spark plug that Maryland will need at times. I would not be surprised to see Ayala and Russell split point guard duties like Melo Trimble and Anthony Cowan did in previous seasons allowing Ayala to be more of scoring threat based on matchups.
Wahab brings Maryland a significant upgrade in the post. As mentioned, Maryland was forced to transition last season to a smaller lineup with an undersized Donta Scott battling the likes of Luke Garza, Kofi Cockburn, and Hunter Dickinson. While Scott was the ultimate team player and outplayed the expectations, Wahab is already on the 2022 Kareem Abdul Jabbar watch list for top center in the nation and was considered the #3 overall transfer in a year full of players transitioning to new schools. If you remember Georgetown winning the Big East tournament last year, you saw why Maryland fans are excited about Wahab. He gives Maryland a chance to compete with both Cockburn and Dickinson who are returning this season and will be the pick and roll running mate for Ayala while also being the Terps top rim protector this season.
Turgeon. You read that correctly. Mark Turgeon is a reason to be optimistic for this season. I know he has his faults, but the numbers do not lie. According to Maryland’s athletic website, Turgeon has the following statistics.
.662 winning percentage at Maryland is second only to Lefty Driesell (.686)
.574 winning percentage in conference play is second only to H. Burton Shipley (.577) who coached from 1923-1947
.826 winning percentage at home is second only to Lefty Driesell (.829)
Three (3) straight seasons with at least 4 ranked victories which is one of only six (6) teams in the country to do so (Michigan State, Michigan, Kansas, Iowa, Purdue)
Seven (7) NBA Draft selections in last 6 seasons – tied with Michigan for the most in the Big Ten during span.
I recognize he does not have the success in the NCAA tournament that Maryland fans want, but do not forget that Turgeon has found a lot of success in College Park.
The New guys: Don’t forget these names. Ike Cornish, Julian Reese, and the return of James Graham III. All three freshman were four-star recruits. Both Cornish and Reese have played together on the AAU circuit and are both Maryland natives, while JG3 joined Maryland last season after graduating early and saw some playing time when Maryland needed an offensive spark. These three players are all expected to play meaningful minutes and will be the core of Maryland’s future. Do not be surprised if one of these guys forces Mark Turgeon to change his projected starting lineup. They all bring a lot of talent and depending on the team need, could fill in the starting roster or provide depth that Maryland did NOT have the past season.
We will find out very soon, but there have been some early reports that both Donta Scott and Hakim Hart have made a leap this offseason in their play. Not only physically being in better shape but seem to have found the college click moment where they are prepared to be difference makers this season. If Hart developed as much as it has been reported, Maryland very well could be a top 10 team in NCAA. It is wishful thinking, and that kind of jump is rare, but keep an eye out for Hart’s play.
I like this team on paper. The departure of Morsell and Wiggins will hurt. While Morsell frustrated me on the offensive side of the ball with his overly aggressive style of play, he was undoubtedly a difference maker on defense. His ability to lock down any player in the Big 10 was an option that Turgeon will not have this season and the team instead will need to play better as a team to compensate for its lack of an on-ball defender like Morsell.
While Wiggins showed up late in the season and used his athleticism to get himself drafted by the Thunder, Wiggins failed to show up at times when Maryland needed him. Only when he started to attack the rim and embrace the pressure of being the go-to scoring option, did he find success. While he never returned to the lights out shooter from range, he was his first year, Wiggins was an underrated defender and a consistent matchup problem for opposing team.
However, I believe that Maryland’s roster is ready to take a jump. Scott, Ayala, Russell, Wahab, and Hart have all been starters for multiple seasons and while typically players take time to find chemistry, these guys have played with each other before and should have enough balance on offense to flourish. The addition of Wahab is going to allow Scott to return to his natural position and give Maryland additional length and will allow Maryland to play to the fullest potential. I do worry about the depth at the position if he ever gets in trouble, but Maryland has a deeper roster than they have had in the past.
Besides the players I already mentioned, Maryland will have Xavier Green fill the role that Reese Mona and Varun Ram played for Turgeon in the previous seasons. He is a graduate student who started against Maryland last year for Old Dominion and was an absolute pest on the defense side of the ball. He will not see significant minutes, but he will absolutely be a contributor for this Maryland team throughout the season.
Finally, Eric Ayala is ready to continue in the tradition of being a prominent point guard for Maryland. This team will go as far as Ayala leads them, and there is nothing Ayala has not seen in his time at Maryland. Ayla’s style of play is a perfect balance of seizing mismatch opportunities while still being a distributor on offense. Barring any injuries, Ayala will be mentioned in Big 10 and possibly NCAA point guard honors at the end of the season. He has shown the ability to take games over when needed, and he will have a multitude of options in the starting lineup. He can shoot over most opponents combined with his size has a knack for getting to the free throw line. His size and athleticism baffle opposing defenses. I expect the offense to rotate the ball more than we have seen in years past and Ayala plays one on one late in the shot clock.
Maryland will start most possessions with Wahab receiving the entry pass in the block and distributing the ball around the perimeter to slashing guards who will decide to take it to the rim or find open looks from the corners. Donta Scott, who was the ultimate team player last year, will flourish this season and will command the attention of several NBA scouts after they see his physical transformation and get some tape of him playing at his natural position.
There will undoubtedly be frustrations with the offense. The lack of creativity will tempt me to create a silhouette of my body in my ceiling during Big 10 play but this could be the team we have been waiting for and has a real opportunity to be a sweet 16 team.
Maryland tried to identify with their senior leader Morsell last season but it felt forced. This team’s true character is a quiet intensity that will mirror Ayala and Scott. It may not be as confrontational as last year’s team, but I fully expect there to be a lot more growth and team chemistry. I expect the experience of this team help Maryland battle each night and compete every game.
Strap in Terps fans. This team is going to be fun to watch. They not only make the NCAA tournament as a five seed, but make it the Sweet 16.
Maryland opens the season November 9 against Quinnipiac. Try not to read too much into the early season game, but instead watch for the way this team plays together. Watch the ball movement on offense and watch the freshman get some early minutes as Maryland thunder stomp the Bobcats in College Park.