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2018-’19 Maryland Terrapins Basketball Season Preview

BTPowerhouse previews the upcoming season for the Maryland Terrapins and what fans should expect from the program heading into the 2018-’19 season.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018-’19 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview’ series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2018-’19 season with analysis on each program’s previous season, offseason departures, new additions, strengths, weakness, top player, and top storylines. Each post will also include predictions on each team’s starting lineup, season performance and commentary from a local “insider” who covers said team.

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Meh.

And with that, we’ve comprehensively recapped Maryland’s 2017-’18 basketball season.

What’s that? You want more? But, like, why?

I mean, it seems a wee bit masochistic, but fine, let’s dive in deeper.

1. 2017-’18 Season Performance

  • Record: 19-13 (8-10)
  • KenPom Team Rating: #39
  • RPI Rating: #66
  • Postseason Appearance: None

I know we already wrapped up last season with the word ‘meh’, but if you find yourself playing a game of Maryland basketball word association, you wouldn’t be wrong to correlate the 2018-’19 campaign with the word ‘disappointing’.

Despite featuring three players who racked up a bevy of postseason recognitions, not to mention one of whom went on to be a first round selection in June’s NBA Draft, the Terps more or less sleepwalked its way to a sub-.500 conference record for the first time since 2012-’13.

Maryland also missed the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in seven years under head coach Mark Turgeon; undoubtedly a frustrating footnote for a university that became accustomed to a certain level of postseason consistency under legendary coach Gary Williams.

“We were disappointed in last season. It didn’t go the way we wanted,” said Turgeon at Maryland’s recent media day. “Since that season has ended, we’ve done everything we can do to get back to the way we were the three years before that, which were terrific years.”

So how close is Maryland to returning to glory?

Let’s get in to all the good, bad, and ugly in an effort to find out!

2. Offseason Exits

While the Terps lost a decent chunk of its depth and rotation with the graduations of center Michal Cekovsky and forward Jared Nickens (not to mention the early departures of the transferring Dion Wiley and G-League-bound Justin Jackson), Maryland’s biggest offseason exit starts and ends with Kevin Huerter.

The 6-foot-6 former four-star recruit was a little bit of an underestimated enigma during his two years in College Park, often lost in the shuffle behind players like Melo Trimble, Anthony Cowan, and Bruno Fernando.

It’s because of his perpetual sidekick role that Huerter’s rise up NBA Draft boards left college folks scratching their collective heads, despite Huerter projecting as an ideal fit for the professional ranks continued evolution to a 3-and-D game.

A marksmen’s marksmen, Huerter shot better than 50-precent from the field, including a 41-percent clip from three, during his sophomore season in College Park. On top of that, he more-or-less avoided the streakiness that can often plague a young shooter, scoring in double-figures in all but three of Maryland’s games last year.

And while Huerter still has some developing left to do, his 19th overall selection by the Hawks, not to mention getting playing time in all of Atlanta’s games this year, proves he made the right decision.

Luckily for coach Turgeon and the Terps, reinforcements are on the way.

3. New Additions

You might be wondering how a coach with such a mixed bag of results as Mark Turgeon manages to keep his job following yet another meh season of mediocrity?

He recruits like a bad mother [CENSORED], that’s how!

Since his first year at the helm for Maryland, Turgeon’s recruiting classes rank national as follows:

  • 2011 - 100
  • 2012 — 13
  • 2013 — 45
  • 2014 — 13
  • 2015 — 55
  • 2016 — 13
  • 2017 — 53
  • 2018 — 7

Say what you want about the man’s X’s and O’s skills, but he brings in talent to College Park. And no group looks to be as talented as his incoming 2018 recruiting class.

Composed of six players, including the program’s second-ever five-star recruit and two top-75 four-star guards, Turgeon brings in more than enough talent to offset any aforementioned losses.

We’ll get to the Terps projected starting lineup below, however, spoiler alert: It’ll feature two supremely talented freshmen in forward Jalen Smith and guard Aaron Wiggins.

And if Smith and Wiggins’ performance in Maryland’s preseason exhibition game against Lynn University is any indication, the two look more than ready to contribute right away.

In a little less than 37 minutes of total game time, the duo went 13-for-19 from the field, scored 36 points, hit 4-of-8 shots from three, grabbed 11 rebounds, and totaled a plus-52 rating for the game.

Hot damnnnnn.

4. Points of Optimism

Take everything I wrote about Smith and Wiggins, add in two helpings of Anthony Cowan and Bruno Fernando (plus a dash of the egregiously overlooked Darryl Morsell) and you’ve got the makings of the most dynamic, if not the outright best, starting five in the Big Ten.

According to the ever-reliable KenPom, Maryland is expected to make marked improvements in both of its efficiency rankings from last year, with an offense improvement from 45 to 26 and a defense jump from 67 to 37.

So to recap: Maryland welcomes its most talented recruiting class in recent memory, brings back two distinguished players from last year’s team, projects to improve significantly on both sides of the ball, and are playing with a huge chip on its collective shoulder.

You can point to my Big Ten blinders or my East Coast bias, but how a team this talented managed only a spot in the ‘Others Receiving Votes’ section of the AP Top 25 is a travesty.

Be optimistic, Terps Nation, be very optimistic.

5. Team Weaknesses

As has been stated, there’s a lot to love about the 2018-’19 Maryland Terrapins. However, if there’s two things that can often sink a once-promising season it’s youth and depth.

And, unfortunately, the Terps could have issues with both.

It’s fair to expect great things from Maryland’s freshmen class (I mean, it’s pretty clear that I do) but even the highest of five-star recruits are going to have some semblance of a learning curve as they adjust to the collegiate game.

Coach Turgeon will have to hope any hiccups and learning opportunities occur at non-critical intervals for his freshmen and that they utilize some softball non-conference games to gain confidence heading into Big Ten play.

As for depth, well, it weirdly intersects with the Terps youth as well.

It remains unclear how Maryland’s rotation is setting up for 2018-’19 season, but the only players with any prior experience are redshirt sophomore forward Joshua Tomaic and senior forward Ivan Bender.

Tomaic played sparingly for Turgeon last year, averaging 2.2 points and 8.8 minutes over 26 games, while Bender took a step backwards thanks to an injury-plagued season that saw him miss over half of Maryland’s contests.

All-in-all, the Terps will be relying on a ragtag team of less-heralded freshmen, little used upperclassmen, and a group of former walk-ons to spell its starting five.

If things get ugly they’ll do so fast down in Crab Cake Country.

6. Top Player

Can I say Brulen Fernamith? Or Jano Sminando?

I can’t? I have to pick either Bruno or Jalen? Fine.

Bruno Fernando it is.

Before you say anything, however, I wholeheartedly understand the case to be made for Anthony Cowan in this spot. After all, the junior guard was both All-Defensive and Third Team Big Ten last year, and followed that up with a preseason All-Big Ten selection for this upcoming season.

But my pick of Fernando has less to do with the play of last year and more so with his raw talent and overall ceiling.

At 6-foot-10 and a year removed from a highlight filled season, my expectation is that the Angolan Assassin takes a big step forward this year. He’ll have another talented big in Jalen Smith to ease some of the pressure of carrying Maryland’s frontcourt, and can focus on developing his game to what he hopes to be an NBA-level.

Keep in mind that this is a man who had some truly dominating performances in his freshmen year (like going for 18 points and 16 boards against Rutgers or his double-double at Purdue) and, if you take Mark Turgeon at his word, only got bigger and stronger in the offseason.

“I don’t know if anyone has worked harder than Bruno,” Turgeon said. “He’s become much more skilled and a much better low block scorer. He’s learned how to get out of fifth gear. I’m really proud of what Bruno’s done and the improvements he’s made. He’ll be a huge part of our success this year.”

Considering yourself warned Big Ten opponents; this dude got even better over the summer:

7. 2018-’19 Schedule Breakdown

  • 11/6 - Delaware
  • 11/9 - at Navy
  • 11/12 - North Carolina A&T
  • 11/16 - Hofstra
  • 11/18 - Mount St. Mary’s (Md.)
  • 11/23 - Marshall
  • 11/28 - Virginia
  • 12/1 - Penn State
  • 12/6 - at Purdue
  • 12/8 - Loyola Chicago (Baltimore, Md.)
  • 12/11 - Loyola Maryland
  • 12/22 - Seton Hall
  • 12/29 - Radford
  • 1/2 - Nebraska
  • 1/5 - at Rutgers
  • 1/8 - at Minnesota
  • 1/11 - Indiana
  • 1/14 - Wisconsin
  • 1/18 - at Ohio State
  • 1/21 - at Michigan State
  • 1/26 - Illinois
  • 1/29 - Northwestern
  • 2/1 - at Wisconsin
  • 2/6 - at Nebraska
  • 2/12 - Purdue
  • 2/16 - at Michigan
  • 2/19 - at Iowa
  • 2/23 - Ohio State
  • 2/27 - at Penn State
  • 3/3 - Michigan
  • 3/8 - Minnesota

As far as non-conference schedules go, there’s a lot of little things I like about Maryland’s 2018-’19 slate and one big glaring thing I don’t.

Let’s start with the latter.

The Terps aren’t exactly challenging itself with any meaningful games away from College Park. In fact, all 13 of Maryland’s non-conference games are taking place in the state of Maryland with only an away game at Navy and barely a neutral site game in Baltimore against Loyola (Chicago) being played away from the friendly confines of the Xfinity Center.

What that means is despite some interesting match ups (remember those little things I said I liked about Maryland’s non-con schedule?) against Marshall, Seton Hall, Virginia, and Loyola (Chicago) the venues for those games severely limit their relevance come quadrant time.

Using KenPom as a rough guide, the Terps have only a single Quadrant 1 game on its schedule (Viriginia) and two Quadrant 2 games (Marshall and Loyola Chicago). On top of that, they have an astonishingly high six Quadrant 4 games (Delaware, Navy, North Carolina A&T, Mount Saint Mary’s, Loyola Maryland, Radford) meaning it very well could find itself on the bubble come tournament time thanks to a heaping serving of cupcakes in November and December.

8. Projected Starting Lineup

PG: Anthony Cowan (Jr.) - 100%

SG: Aaron Wiggins (Fr) - 75%

SF: Darryl Morsell (So.) - 90%

PF: Jalen Smith (Fr.) - 100%

C: Bruno Fernando (So.) - 100%

(Percentage likelihood of starting.)

And yet even with that disappointingly constructed non-conference schedule, I look at coach Turgeon’s projected starting five and shutter with excitement.

Between the raw, unadulterated talent of Jalen Smith and Aaron Wiggins (or Eric Ayala if he happens to be Turgeon’s freshmen guard of choice), to the continued development of my man crush Bruno Fernando, to the somehow forgotten Anthony Cowan and Darryl Morsell, this is a must see TV lineup if I’ve ever seen one.

And it’s because of this starting five, that despite questions about youth and depth and the non-conference schedule that I remain high on Maryland’s potential for this upcoming season.

Jalen Smith gives the Terps the ability to roll with four players capable of stretching the floor, causing matchup nightmares across the board for opposing coaches. Anthony Cowan should quietly (sensing a trend yet?) find himself in contention for First Team All-Big Ten honors, while Wiggins and Morsell have more than enough talent to surprise anyone not paying close enough attention to Maryland entering 2018-’19.

I can’t stress this enough — this is a really, really good group.

9. Team Perspective From Thomas Beindit

“It’s same crazy to think that Mark Turgeon is already preparing to enter his eighth season as the head coach of Maryland’s program. His tenure has largely been defined by mixed results. The team has won 24 games or more four times, but failed to hit the 20-win mark in the remaining three seasons. The swings make it hard to rank Turgeon as a coach.

Heading into this year, expectations are high once again. Maryland returns Anthony Cowan and Bruno Fernando and adds a fantastic 2018 recruiting class. Throw in a few other young returners like Darryl Morsell and Joshua Tomaic and it’s easy to get excited about what’s to come for the Terps this season.

The scary part, though, is that we’ve seen this picture before. Turgeon has had talent and failed to finish the job earlier during his tenure. As such, it’s hard to fully buy into the concept that Turgeon and the Terps are going to get things done this year. It will leave the program and coaching staff with plenty of pressure heading into what should be a big season for the Terps.” - Thomas Beindit.

10. Overall Season Outlook

Erasing any lingering ghosts from last year’s disappointing season should be, on paper, easy for Maryland, albeit with a very little margin for error.

The Big Ten is shaping up to be a league that’s got Michigan State at the top, and then anywhere up to 10 teams with a case to be made for finishing second in the conference.

Maryland certainly fails into that cluster of contention based on talent alone, and if it can find some reliable role players to come off the bench while developing Smith, Wiggins, and Fernando, it’ll have a better than most shot at a top four finish and a double-bye at March’s Big Ten Tournament.

If, however, that doesn’t come to pass and the Terps fail to capitalize on what might be a one year Jalen Smith window of opportunity, we might just be writing about a Maryland coaching search and program autopsy come early April.

Big Ten Prediction: 4th Place

(Please note: Final Big Ten predictions come from Thomas Beindit.)