So Far, A Hot Mess: Maryland entered the season with an uneven roster. Jahmire Young, Julian Reese, and Donta Scott are three talented players with a lot of experience who were expected to form the foundation of a Terps squad that was incorporating a lot of new pieces. True freshmen DeShawn Harris-Smith and Jamie Kaiser, Jr along with IU transfer Jordan Geronimo were expected to meld with the veteran group to from the core players. That is basically what happened but, early on, it was ugly.
Aftert starting the season with a pedestrian trouncing of an overmatched Mt. St. Mary’s squad, Maryland went on the road to a neutral court and lost to Davidson 64-61 and UAB 66-63 to then travel to Villanova and get trounced by Villanova 57-40. In all of these losses Maryland looked horrible on offense.
HC Kevin Willard openly complained about this schedule which he had no control of, having already been set up by his predecessor, Mark Turgeon. Granted, he was being a bit of a whiny bitch but, he wasn’t wrong. A power-5 team shouldn’t be playing their first three out of four games on the road. It cuts into practice time, which is especially important when trying to incorporate so many new players that will be critical to the rotation, especially in the current era of transfers and NIL.
One factor that Willard didn’t, and for all practical purposes can’t mention is that he lost THREE coaches from last years’ staff who left to take HC positions at other schools. Even though this speaks highly of the unexpected success Willard and his staff had last year, the costs have revealed themselves early this season.
The new coaching staff combined with the travel-heavy early season schedule left Maryland at 1-3, mostly because of an anemic and dysfunctional offense that was brutal to watch. It is remarkable how one week with three losses in mid-November (Nov. 10-17) can literally jettison NCAA tournament hopes in March. After that horrid week that included three straight losses, Maryland has essentially righted itself and, more or less, looked like a decent mid-tier Big Ten team dispatching a not very good UCLA team on the road and beating Penn State at home, while losing to Indiana on the road, all results you’d expect from a decent Big Ten team.
Maryland currently sits at 9-4 with a KenPom ranking of #74, sitting below #63 Michigan and above #80 Minnesota. This is NOT a record worthy of an NCAA tournament bid. Not even close. Ju Ju Reese’s game has improved but too often he has been horrible at the free throw line. Donta Scott was simply not a factor early on but seems to have stepped up recently and become a leader. Jahmir Young has been phenomenal. But he can’t do it alone. The offensive games of the freshmen DeShawn Harris-Smith and Jamie Kaiser, Jr. along with Jordan Geronimo have shown glimpses of promise but have been mostly mediocre. Off the bench, reserve Jahari Long has shown significant improvement from last year as has reserve big man Caelum Swanton-Roger. Even during that mid-November three game swoon, Maryland was still sporting a top-25 defense. It’s just that the offense was that bad, at one point ranking in the #300s in three-point shooting.
To make the tournament Maryland will have to continue its excellent Big Ten Play at home, not having lost at home to a Big Ten team since the 2021-2022 season as well as grinding out a few Big Ten wins on the road. Big Ten road wins have been in short supply since Willard took over last year. This makes Maryland’s upcoming home game against #2 Purdue on January 2 a huge game. Win and they get a huge boost in NET, KenPom, and confidence. Lose and they most likely don’t dig themselves out of this hole to make the NCAA tournament.
Prediction: I think Ju Ju sorts out, for the most part, his horrible free throw issues and Donta Scott continues to lead the team along with Jahmir Young and Ju Ju. The freshmen continue to improve, as does Jordan Geronimo. You can be a decent Big Ten team if you play top-25 defense, which is what Maryland does. I think they lose to Purdue on Tuesday but continue to improve through January and February and work themselves onto the bubble. If they make the tournament, they can win a game because they will be better than their resume but they still have serious offensive flaws that will prevent them from making it out of the first weekend.
I think the coaching staff turnover has taken its toll on Willard’s renknown reputation of player development. And I don’t see them developing the swagger to knock off a decent Big Ten team on the road. It’s just as likely, if not more so, they don’t make the tournament at all, which would be a sucky way for Jahmir Young to end his career at Maryland.
Maryland is very solid defensively. But watch Maryland at your own risk. The offense can be an assault to your eyes, especially away from the comfy, loud confines of Maryland’s home court.