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B1G 2018: Maryland Basketball Should Return To The Top

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Even with Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson departing for the NBA, Maryland basketball should return to the top of the conference this season.

Anthony Cowan
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

You guys really didn’t think you were going to go all week without a basketball article, right?

Maryland basketball finished last season in a pretty disappointing fashion, going so far as to miss the NIT as well as the NCAA, something Maryland fans are not accustomed to. Injuries led to a small bench and a crater at the PF position, which really handicapped Maryland as they entered league play. Try as hard as they could, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter were not enough to overcome an otherwise inexperienced team that lacked consistent perimeter play outside of Huerter, who was at times very streaky himself.

Who is departing?

The big departure from the 2017-18 Maryland team is Kevin Huerter, who took his 19.4 points per game to the NBA. Also leaving College Park is Justin Jackson (NOT the ball carrier), who sat out a lot of the 2017-18 season after suffering a torn labrum in his right shoulder in late December. Reserve perimeter player Dion Wiley is also not returning, transferring to the University of Saint Louis. And finishing out the departures are 2017-18 seniors Michal Cekovsky, Jared Nickens, and Sean Obi.

Kevin Huerter’s departure will have the biggest impact upon Maryland. He was a consistent scorer in Mark Turgeon’s perimeter-oriented offense and emerged as a team leader after Justin Jackson’s injury. Speaking of Jackson, he will be missed for this upcoming season as well; although Maryland got a (rather bitter) taste of what things will be like without him for the last 23 of last season. These are the 2 biggest departures; as the other players were either minor contributors or - in the case of Cekovsky - consistently inconsistent.

Roster turnover is nothing new for Mark Turgeon during his Maryland tenure. 2018-19 is setting up as another season where Mark Turgeon will have yet another (mostly) blank canvas to work with.

Who is returning?

Maryland fans breathed a huge sigh of relief when Bruno Fernando turned down NBA overtures and decided to return for his sophomore season. Bruno turned in a very solid 10.3 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game last season. With Michal Cekovsky’s departure, Bruno appears set to be the featured post player in Mark Turgeon’s 4 out/1 in offensive attack.

Bruno Fernando
AP Photo/Nick Wass

Also returning is point guard Anthony Cowan. The junior is coming off of a 2017-18 season averaging 15.8 points per game and 5.1 assists per game. Mark Turgeon asks a lot of his point guards, specifically running his high ball screen ball isolation offense through the point guard through the point guard. While not quite the pure scorer as Melo Trimble, Cowan appears to be a good fit in Turgeon’s scheme.

Ivan Bender’s return provides Maryland some front-court depth. Bender only got into 15 games last season due to injury, and has been inconsistent during his tenure in College Park. But at 6’9” Bender provides size on the front-line, most likely in a backup role for either Bruno Fernando or incoming freshman Jalen “Stix” Smith (see below).

Sophomore guard Darryl Morsell can help offset the loss of Kevin Huerter’s offensive production. The 6’4” guard saw on average just above 28 minutes per game (due in part to Jackson’s injury) and contributed with a solid 8.7 points per game. While not quite having Kevin Huerter’s size or 3 point shooting, Morsell will be expected to contribute; either as a starter or backing up incoming freshman Aaron Wiggins (see below).

The final returnee who will contribute during 2018-19 is redshirt sophomore Joshua Tomiac. After redshirting for the 2016-17 season, Tomiac averaged just under 9 minutes per game.

Who is arriving?

Another season, another crop of incoming players that both show promise and have high expectations for Maryland. The 2 prize freshmen are wing Aaron Wiggins and forward Jalen ‘Stix’ Smith.

Aaron Wiggins arrives as a highly rated recruit out of ACC country in Greensboro, North Carolina (which makes sense with Wiggins playing for an ACC school, right?). Wiggins has opportunities for immediate playing due to Kevin Huerter’s departure; with one of the starting wing positions (either the 2 or the 3) his for the taking. The 6’6’ Wiggins arrives at Maryland after considering offers from (among others) Kansas, Arizona, Virginia, Florida, Florida State, and Rutgers.

Maryland fans are very excited about Jalen “Stix” Smith’s arrival in College Park. The 6’10” center and former 5-star recruit from Baltimore (via Mount Saint Joseph’s High School) is expected to step into the starting front-court (most likely the 4) and immediately contribute. “Stix” was the #1 recruit in the state of Maryland, and not surprisingly arrives at Maryland with high expectations (and a fair dose of hype). “Stix” committed to Maryland after turning down offers from Villanova, Arizona, Florida, and Syracuse.

Both Wiggins and “Stix” appear to find their way into the starting lineup either from the get-go, or at some point during the 2018-19 season.

What’s on tap?

In conference play Maryland again has a challenging schedule. The Terps have home-and-away match-ups against Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, and Wisconsin. Maryland has road games against Iowa, Michigan State, and Rutgers; and home games against Indiana and Northwestern. Finishing out Maryland’s 2018-19 conference schedule is a ‘home’ game against Illinois at Madison Square Garden; part of the Big Ten’s “Super Saturday – College Hoops & Hockey” doubleheader (which is ironic as Maryland doesn’t have a hockey team).

So far, Maryland’s non-conference schedule is - in a word - soft.... again! On Maryland’s non-conference schedule are Delaware, Navy, Loyola of Maryland, Hofstra, Marshall, and Mount Saint Mary’s. Maryland also has Seton Hall out of the Big East and Virginia at home as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. This is shaping up to be another relatively soft non-conference offering for 2018-19.

What’s all of this mean?

2018-19 is shaping up to be another season where Maryland’s basketball success hinges on another crop of new players; particularly ‘Stix’ and Wiggins. Cowan and Bruno need to pick up where they left off last season; and some other player such as Darryl Morsell and/or Andrew Terrell need to contribute right away. The talent is certainly in-place in College Park to earn a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament and get a favorable seeing in the NCAA Tournament.

But, as we all know, the games are played on the court: not in 247 recruiting rankings or Ken Pomeroy’s analytics equations. For the past 2 seasons Maryland has, quite honestly, underachieved. Mark Turgeon is starting to feel the heat from an increasingly disappointed fan base. The past 2 seasons have renewed calls questioning Turgeon’s deliberate offensive pace (and refusal to push tempo), over-reliance on the high ball screen ball isolation offense (at seemingly too many times leads to a deep 3 attempted with 1 second remaining on the shot clock), and seeming exclusive use of man-to-man defense.

Mark Turgeon
Mike Carter/USA Today Photos

Mark Turgeon is signed to a long-term contract extension, through the end of the 2022-23 season. It would cost the University of Maryland a $10 million buyout to part company with Mark Turgeon at the end of the 2018-19 season (with 50% of that due as a lump sum payment at the time of termination). 2018-19 is shaping up as another season where highly rated newcomers (Wiggins and “Stix”) will be counted on to get Maryland back into the national spotlight and the Big Ten’s upper tier.

Given the talent and schedule Maryland, on paper - and perhaps in KenPom rankings (you didn’t think there would be a Maryland basketball article without mentioning KenPom, did you?) - Maryland should return to the top. Specifically, Maryland should be an NCAA Tournament lock and get a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. We’ll see how this plays out during the season, both on the court and in the KenPom rankings.

Poll

How will Maryland’s basketball do this upcoming season?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Win the B1G Regular Season and/or Tournament Championship.
    (36 votes)
  • 29%
    Get a double-bye to the B1G Tournament and roll into the NCAA Tournament.
    (111 votes)
  • 38%
    Be on the bubble most of the season, but slip into the Big Dance.
    (147 votes)
  • 7%
    NIT, NIT, NIT!
    (29 votes)
  • 11%
    Maryland might need to cough up $10 million to buy out Mark Turgeon after another season without postseason play.
    (44 votes)
  • 3%
    All that really matters are KenPom rankings.
    (12 votes)
379 votes total Vote Now