Maryland were a couple of bounces going the other way from being in the NCAA Tournament last season. They lost by one to # 18 UConn in their first game, lost by two to George Washington, by two at #8 Duke, by two against #4 Syracuse, in double-OT to Clemson, and overtime to #5 Virginia. Win half of those and Maryland is a 20-win team with at least one nice scalp on the mantle. Mixed metaphors be damned, the Terps had a chance last year!
Their season ended unceremoniously in the first round of the ACC Tournament with, wouldn't you know it, a two point loss to Florida State. A game, missed by Maryland's 2014-2015 x-factor, that could have turned out differently. Evan Smotrycz did not play in the Terps' last game of the season due to back spasms, the first game he ever missed due to injury in his college career. He averaged over 11 points per game last season, and as a 6-9 shooter he could have created a matchup problem for Florida State; against whom he, admittedly, struggled last year, but still.
So, with the new college basketball season fast approaching (under two months, you guys!) let me tell you why Evan Smotrycz is the x-factor for Maryland heading into this new year. First reason, and I don't think that this can be understated, is that Smotrycz has already played in the B1G! Unlike all but one (Jonathan Graham transferred from Penn State) of his other teammates Smotrycz has already played in many of the venues that the Terps will be traveling to for the first time. While it is not much of a factor, any veteran advice he can dole out will be worth it. He probably knows if there is a secret menu at Zingerman's and everything.
Secondly, the Terps lost a lot of players since last season ended. Trayvon Reed (who they never really had), Seth Allen, Charles Mitchell, Shaq Cleare, Nick Faust, and Roddy Peters have all left the team for various reasons. This is a team in transition and senior leadership is all the more important for a team like this. Coach Mark Turgeon might be on the hot seat if the team struggles; although that has been the topic of much debate around College Park. Smotrycz is a guy who transferred IN to Maryland, so he obviously wants to be there, and this is the season where he needs to show the rest of the team how to play "Maryland basketball."
Enough with the intangibles that Smotrycz brings to the table, he's also a talented basketball player. He averaged the aforementioned 11 points, 6.0 boards, and 1.7 assists per game last year. He was also active in the passing lanes, averaging almost one steal per game. The preseason starting power forward for the Terps, Smotrycz will probably have to step his rebounding game up. Six boards is a nice number, but he is not really a player that makes his living down low. A lot of those rebounds come from the simple fact that he's taller than a lot of players. Smotrycz will need to at least make a cursory effort down low to help seven-footer, and true freshman, Michal Cekovsky on the glass. He'll also have to improve his three point shooting, which dipped to 36.7% last year. I would imagine his shot total will go up, so too will his "counting stats," but if he doesn't become more efficient, it will be to the detriment of Maryland's Tourney chances.
I like Smotrycz to fill a "Drew Crawford at Northwestern last year" like role for the Terps this year. He'll play a couple different positions. He'll offer senior leadership. He'll score some, pass some, rebound some, and do so that his young teammates can improve. Unlike Northwestern last year, Maryland has some talent on this team and with a guy like Smotrycz filling in the gaps, could find themselves back in the Tournament. He also has a beard. And that's good for team chemistry.