This is the Maryland feature in which we address the three most important questions that each team must answer heading into the 2019-20 season.
1. Will the stars live up to their expectations?
Maryland enters the season with high expectations, mostly due to the return of Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith. Both were named to the Preseason All-Big Ten teams which were released last week at Big Ten Media Day. Cowan earned All-Big Ten honors last season after averaging 15.6 points and 4.4 assists per game. The floor general is widely considered the second-best guard in the conference, behind Cassius Winston. Meanwhile, Jalen Smith is coming off a year where he averaged 11.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Smith’s rebounding totals ranked 15th in the conference, despite battling his own teammate, Bruno Fernando (10.5 rpg) for boards.
It seems as though Cowan is poised for another All-Big Ten caliber year. It’s possible he could even upset Cassius Winston for Big Ten Player of the Year by year’s end. However, the question remains if Jalen Smith is ready to handle the pressure of being opposing bigs’ focus. The sophomore big man put on a ton of weight this offseason. Cowan said of Smith’s greatest growth from last year: “Definitely on the lower block. Definitely just in his confidence in general. I think when he dedicated himself to the weight room, I think that showed that he can really bump with the bigs.” This development will be huge as he takes over for Bruno Fernando on the block.
2. Will the Mitchell brothers be able to provide quality minutes?
Mark Turgeon scored big when both Makhi and Makhel Mitchell announced their commitment to the Terps. Makhi is the more highly-rated brother, ranked 69th in the class according to 247Sports. However, Makhel is not to be ignored, either. Both brothers are listed at 6-foot-9 and come with a college-ready build. They may not be the most athletic or lengthy big men, but they are composed with the basketball and know how to use their bodies to gain positioning. Turgeon hopes that the brothers can adequately replace the minutes left behind by Bruno Fernando. While it will be hard to replace the production of an NBA Draft pick, the Terps don’t need the freshmen to be superstars. Maryland just needs them to be strong in the paint and avoid the stereotypical freshmen mistakes.
The biggest difference between the brothers, and why Makhi is considered the better prospect, is because of his comfortability outside of the paint. Makhi has shown more potential in his shooting ability. While this may not be absolutely necessary, it can’t hurt to have a big man that can step out to open up the paint for a slashing Anthony Cowan. Jalen Smith came to College Park known for his unusual shooting ability for a young big. However, he shot only 26% from three last season. If Makhi Mitchell can help in this department, the Terps may be off to the races.
3. Can Aaron Wiggins match last year’s efficiency while given a bigger role?
Aaron Wiggins was lethal from beyond the arc last year. He shot 41% from three, making the second-most threes by a Maryland freshmen in school history (behind Kevin Huerter). With Bruno Fernando off to the NBA, Wiggins will likely be given more of an opportunity on offense to let it fly. Confidence and aggressiveness on the offensive end was where Wiggins was most lacking last year.
It is foreseeable that Wiggins takes that sophomore leap that Huerter took, propelling him into the NBA Draft conversation. As it is, Wiggins is projected to go late in the first round of the 2020 Draft because of his three-and-D potential. If Wiggins can still shoot near 40% from three while taking a a couple more threes a game, Wiggins may be looking at a late lottery selection. Not only will Wiggins be in line for a huge payday if he takes that next step, Maryland may be in the conversation for a run in the NCAA Tournament.