2022-2023 Season Summary – Mark Turgeon had been phoning his recruiting efforts since Damon Evans assumed the throne as Maryland’s AD in 2018. As such, for the 2022-2023 season, first-year Maryland Head Coach Kevin Willard’s roster had many serious issues. Consequently, the Big Ten media poll had Maryland finishing 10th, just above Penn State, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Nebraska. Most media weren’t even optimistic about an NIT bid. Contrary to those dour expectations, Maryland finished fifth in the league and advanced into the second round of the NCAA tournament where they were convincingly disposed of by a far more athletic Alabama team.
Maryland finished the season ranked #23 by KenPom. For context, Turge, in his 11 years at the helm at Maryland, only had two teams ranked higher by KenPom [#22 in 2016 and #11 in 2020].
Notable losses from last year’s roster: Don Carey, Ian Martinez, Hakim Hart, and Patrick Emilien. Only Hakim Hart was a starter. The roster changes are projected to be a net positive. Emilien is replaced by the much more athletic and versatile Indiana transfer Jordan Geronimo. Hakim Hart and Don Carey are replaced by two top-50 incoming freshmen, Jamie Kaiser and DeShawn Harris-Smith. These additions will be discussed in more detail below.
2023-2024 Roster Preview -
One of the first things Willard did in response to getting thrashed by Alabama was land uber-athletic Indiana transfer, Jordan Geronimo. Willard likes to switch 1-4 on defense, and Geronimo fits perfectly into this defensive scheme. I anticipate he will be the first guy off the bench and contribute a bunch of minutes. Willard is really high on his potential.
The reason why he isn’t starting is because Maryland’s two highly-touted freshmen, Jamie Kaiser and DeShawn Harris-Smith, are exceeding their already high expectations. Both are very competetive, physical and hustle, allowing them to seamlessly fit into Willard’s aggressive-pressing full court defense and switching 1-4 half-court defense.
By all accounts, Jahmir Young has been an excellent mentor to the two freshmen. Along with Jahmir Young, Donta Scott and Julian Reese have improved significantly, giving Maryland a formidable starting five.
Besides the aforementioned Jordan Geronimo, Jahnathan Lamothe is less-heralded than his classmates Kaiser and Harris-Smith, but apparently has been developing well and is expected to get significant minutes off the bench. Jahari Long, who followed Willard from Seton Hall to Maryland, has a ton of experience, but not a ton of athleticism. Nevertheless, Patrick Emilien showed last year that a smart player with limited athleticism can thrive and contribute minutes off the bench on a Willard-coached team. Long will be, like last year, a reliable backup guard. Guard Noah Batchellor and center Caelum Swanton-Roger return for their sophomore years and are expected to contribute minutes off the bench.
One notable addition is a bit of a wild card. 6’ 11” Frenchman Mady Traore transferred from New Mexico State. He is ultra-athletic but very raw, having started played basketball in high school only after he grew too much to effectively play soccer. His contributions will be based primarily on how quickly he develops.
2023-2024 Season Prediction and Overview
Maryland is currently ranked #22 by Ken Pom, with #1 Purdue, #13 Sparty, #19 Illinois, and #20 Wisconsin ahead of them. Interestingly, the Big Ten media poll has placed Maryland at #3 behind Purdue and Sparty and just barely ahead of Illinois. Basically, Purdue is the clear favorite followed by Sparty as the clear #2. After that, Maryland, Wisconsin and Illinois seem to be interchangeable at 3-5. Looking further out, I would say these three teams are joined by OSU and the Hoosiers as 3-7 being essentially interchangeable, at least until real games start being played. I think Indiana may be undersold here.
Willard has a well-earned reputation for strong player development. All signs out of the program point to Donta Scott and Julian Reese being significantly improved, and the two top-50 freshmen, Kaiser and Harris-Smith, looking better than expected. Maryland appears to have a very formidable starting five. However, there is a noticeable drop-ff once Willard goes to the bench. Put another way, Maryland’s bench is at about the same level as their bench was last year. The improvement is the starting five.
Given its current pre-season KenPom ranking of #22 and considering the improvement over the season that I expect, given Willard’s reputation for player development, I’m looking for this year’s team to climb into the 10-20 range, if the starting five remain healthy. I’ll predict a top-4 finish in the league, with Maryland being one of the 3-7 teams that floats to the top. I’d expect an NCAA tourney bid. There’s always a little luck involved in the tourney, which is what makes it so unpredictable and fun. But I’d say Maryland’s ceiling is a Sweet 16 run. I just don’t see them as a top-10 team.
I’m fully on-board the Willard train. He coaches a very aggressive pressing style of defense, which is fun to watch. And he will regularly says off-beat things, which make him an entertaining interview. More importantly, Maryland’s success last year was largely fueled by an undefeated home in-conference record. Willard has brought energy back into the Maryland fan base, and has brought life and energy back to the crowds at home games.