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2020-’21 Maryland Terrapins Basketball Season Preview

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BTPowerhouse previews the upcoming season for the Maryland Terrapins and what fans should expect from the program heading into the 2020-’21 season.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020-’21 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview’ series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2020-’21 ‘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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Heading into last season, Mark Turgeon and the Maryland Terrapins were at a crossroads. The program had achieved success, but couldn’t seem to break through to that next level of success. The Terps had figured out how to elevate themselves into a respectable Big Ten program and had four recent NCAA Tournaments and a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2016. However, Maryland had also repeatedly fallen just short of flipping narratives and cementing the program as an elite contender nationally.

Here’s what I wrote at the time:

Maybe this is a bit nuanced, but Turgeon’s run has reminded me a lot of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure with Michigan football a few states over. Generally speaking, Harbaugh’s teams have performed quite well. The Wolverines have had a pretty solid record and perform well at home. However, Harbaugh’s teams also haven’t had the moment to change perception.

The Terps enter this season in the same dilemmia. The team wins and plays well at home, but can’t seem to get over the hump. While this might sound oversimplified, fans haven’t had an accomplishment they’ve really been able to brag about. Turgeon isn’t putting up banners and bringing home trophies.

Just think about the frustration this way. Maryland went 55-16 over two seasons and the team had two wins over top 10 KenPom opponents, both coming in the regular season. That doesn’t make those seasons any worse. It just makes them feel a bit empty.

But one has to wonder whether that criticism will end this year. With so much talent coming back in players like Anthony Cowan, Darryl Morsell, and Jalen Smith and a talented 2019 recruiting class, hopes are high for the Terps. On paper, this figures to be the most talented and balanced roster Maryland has had since the 2014-’15 season, when Maryland went 27-9 and made the Sweet 16.

And because of that, it felt like Maryland entered the 2019-’20 season with Turgeon’s job on the line. Again, not because Turgeon had performed poorly, but because he had become a victim of his own success. Terp fans were no longer going to be satisfied with a modest number of wins or a postseason appearance. Maryland needed to put everything together, win at an elite level, and bring home some hardwood.

Fortunately for Turgeon and fans, that’s exactly what happened.

We’ll never know what Maryland might have accomplished in March had the postseason been played, but there’s no denying the team’s success before that point. The Terps went 24-7 overall, 14-6 in Big Ten play, and won a share of the program’s first ever Big Ten title. Maryland also had two impressive win streaks during the season, reaching 10-0 to start the season and winning nine-in-a-row later in conference play. By any ordinary measure, it was a banner year in College Park and one that will be remembered for years to come.

So, what comes next?

Last season might have been a special one for Turgeon, players, and fans, but it’s over now. And with some key players in flux, things could be even tougher this time around. Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith are gone and the team also lost some depth transfers as well. The roster still has talent, it’s just hard to tell how it will fit together without Cowan and Smith leading things. Both came up huge in a number of key games last season.

So, how will everything go down? Let’s take a look.

1. 2019-’20 Season Performance

  • Record: 24-7 (14-6)
  • KenPom Team Rating: #11
  • NET Rating: #18
  • Postseason Appearance: N/A (Cancelled)

It’s hard to complain much about Maryland’s accomplishments last season. The Terps raced out to a 10-0 start and really didn’t look back from there. Yes, the team had some missteps, but that’s to be expected over a 30+ game season. Maryland made it through a brutal slate (13th nationally in strength of schedule) with only six losses and none of them came against a team ranked outside the top 30 on KenPom. That’s really hard to do.

And the most impressive parts of last season were the two lengthy win streaks. As noted above, Maryland jumped out to a 10-0 start and while some of those wins came against weak opponents, Maryland still beat six top 115 opponents and four top 65 teams in that stretch. Some of those wins also came by significant margins as well, including a 21-point win over a solid Marquette team on a neutral court.

But Maryland didn’t stop there, either.

After taking a few lumps in December and January, the Terps reeled off another win streak between January 18th and February 18th. Maryland won nine straight during the run, including four on the road, six against top 35 opponents, and wins over Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan State. The road win against the Spartans on February 15th also particularly stands out as an impressive victory. Most teams never get close to a nine-game winning streak. To think Maryland did it twice in a single (shortened) season speaks volumes.

Maryland also showed a lot of grit down the stretch. With teams like Illinois, Michigan State, and Wisconsin getting hot in February, there was a scenario where the Terps blew the team’s fast start and faded in the Big Ten standings. Instead, Maryland found a way to get the job done. The team knocked off Michigan State on the road in February and followed it up with key wins against Minnesota and Michigan later on as well. It was the kind of grit Maryland has been missing for quite some time.

From a highlights perspective, it’s hard to pick out just a game or two. The win over Marquette early on turned a lot of heads and the regular season sweep of Illinois also significantly boosted the team’s resume. The road wins over Iowa, Michigan State, and Minnesota also stand out. Conversely, the losses to Penn State, Rutgers, and Seton Hall will be ones fans hope to forget moving forward.

Individual statistical leaders were Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith. Cowan led the team in minutes, points, assists, and steals. Smith led the team in rebounds, blocks, and total win shares.

2. Offseason Exits

Few Big Ten teams got hit harder with attrition this year than Maryland. While the Terps still return a lot of talent, the team lost many key pieces from last year’s Big Ten championship squad. In total, the team is losing nine players in Will Clark, Anthony Cowan, Ricky Lindo, Makhei Mitchell, Mahki Mitchell, Jalen Smith, Serrel Smith, Joshua Tomaic, and Travis Valmon. That’s a massive hunk of a roster leaving in a single offseason.

The biggest departures are Cowan and Jalen Smith. The two were Maryland’s best players last season and finished that way at least in total win shares. Smith finished with 6.0 win shares and Cowan came in at 5.2, while nobody else on the roster even topped 2.4. And while win shares don’t tell us everything, it puts into perspective what these two did for the Terps last season. They combined to average about 31 points, 14 rebounds, and five assists per game. That’s a huge amount of contributors walking out the door.

Cowan’s primary contributions were on the offensive end. He was a dynamite player in transition and did a great job at initiating things offensively. Meanwhile, Jalen Smith had a more diverse game, but did a ton in his own right. He could hit the boards, could connect from deep, and was super efficient. He was also a solid defender. It’s going to take a committee to replace these two.

Outside of Cowan and Smith, the team is also losing four bench options in Lindo, the Mitchell brothers, and Serrel Smith. None of the four were massive contributors, but they all played. And importantly, all four were younger, meaning they were in line to grow into roles down the line. Perhaps the most significant long-term losses were the Mitchell’s. They were true freshmen last year and decided to transfer. Their decision to leave will leave a big void on the wing for at least a year or so on the depth chart.

The final departures had limited contributions. Clark, Tomaic, and Valmon combined for less than 100 total minutes last season. They may have helped off the court, but their departures won’t mean much on the hardwood. All told, Maryland will have quite a lot to replace this year. The most difficult players to replace will be Cowan and Smith.

3. New Additions

This season, the Terps will be adding three new recruits, two walk-ons, and two transfers. The recruits are Marcus Dockery, Arnaud Revaz, and Aquan Smart. Dockery and Smart are rated as three-star prospects and combo guards by 247Sports. Revaz is an international prospect and is presently unrated by 247Sports. The walk-ons are Jade Brahmbhatt, Aidan McCool, Connor Odom.

Dockery is probably the incoming recruit receiving the most attention. He’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds and is highly regarded as an outside shooter and a passer. 247Sports rates him 215th nationally, which suggests he might need another year to get his feet under him. Don’t be surprised if he can contribute early. Revaz and Smart are rawer prospects who might need additional time to mature. Revaz is a Swiss prospect and a late pickup. However, he does have the size and length to play upfront at 6-foot-10. He will likely get a shot to play some real minutes upfront with Jalen Smith’s departure.

The two transfers are Jairus Hamilton and Galin Smith. Hamilton comes out of Boston College and Smith arrives from Alabama. Here’s what I wrote about Hamilton:

During his two seasons with Boston College, Hamilton played in 54 games and averaged 9.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game in his final year with the Eagles. And while Boston College struggled on the court the last two years, he was relatively decent inside, highlighted by a 54.5 two-point percentage.

Hamilton will now join a Maryland roster set to lose a number of key contributors from last season. Anthony Cowan graduated and a few other players will likely exit as well. Obviously, the hope for Terp fans will be that Hamilton can take a key role from day one and replace some of the team’s lost production.

And while nobody knows what Hamilton will end up doing this season for Maryland, it seems he will likely end up being a rotational and depth piece for the Terps. He was a decent contributor at Boston College and will be on a much more talented roster now. Either way, fans have to be excited about picking up a player like this.

And here’s what BTPowerhouse wrote about Smith:

Maryland took steps to add frontcourt depth earlier this week with the addition of 6-foot-9 Alabama transfer Galin Smith.

Smith will have one year of eligibility this coming season. At Alabama last season Smith averaged 3.1 points and 2.5 rebounds in 13 minutes of play. He shot nearly 56 percent from the field.

While the numbers are not eye-popping, Smith brings an important physical presence Maryland desperately needed for its frontcourt next season. With the transfers of the Mitchell twins, Anthony Lindo Jr., and Jalen Smith off to the NBA draft, Maryland was left with just Donta Scott as the only returning frontcourt player that played meaningful minutes last season. Here’s head coach Mark Turgeon describing the importance of adding Smith next season.

Both Hamilton and Smith are eligible to play this season. As such, expect them both to get some serious playing time. This is a decent incoming group for the Terps. There aren’t any marquee five-star type of prospects, but there is plenty of talent here.

4. Points of Optimism

There are a lot of things to be excited about for the Terps this season. But if you had to circle one thing above the rest, it’s the return of the team’s deep and talented wing group. Ayala, Morsell, Scott, and Wiggins all started games for the Terps last year, put up decent numbers, and are now set to return. And considering players like Scott are still young, it’s reasonable to think these guys could take substantial steps forward this time around.

It’s also important to put the contributions of these four in context. They were role players on last year’s team, mixing and matching around Cowan and Smith. And this explains some of their varying contributions. None of these four were expected to carry the team, so you’re not going to see insane numbers. However, that will be different this time around and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think all four could take significant steps forward. Ayala, Scott, and Wiggins were underclassmen last season and Morsell showed plenty of promise.

Scott also stands out as a player with tremendous promise. He shot onto the scene last season and finished with a 115.7 offensive rating by season’s end. He played smart basketball, shot decently from three-point range, and did work on the defensive boards. A few improvements and Scott could be an All-Big Ten sleeper. And again, he’s just one of four returners who figure to be marquee contributors this season. Maryland also has some depth options like Hakim Hart and Chol Marial who are a year older and more experienced.

The Terps also have a number of newcomers who could provide a boost as well. To start, Maryland is adding two transfers in Hamilton and Smith who should play immediately and contribute in positions of need. Hamilton can offer the team a boost down low and Smith is a pretty good offensive rebounder as well. And while Maryland was a solid rebounding team last season, the centerpiece of that was Smith. These two newcomers should help make up the deficit from Smith’s departure.

All of these pieces should give Turgeon and his staff plenty to work with this season. The team figures to be a really good defensive unit once again and a group with plenty of offensive promise. A lot will depend on how much those four key returners improve from last season. If they hit the ground running, there’s plenty of upside here.

5. Points of Concern

While Maryland may have a really nice core of returning players, we can’t undersell the two-headed monster leaving town in Cowan and Smith. The two dominated the team’s offensive possessions last season and were only two of three major contributors on the team to finish with offensive ratings above 100. And those stats doesn’t even include all the things Cowan and Smith opened up for their teammates elsewhere. A huge part of the team’s production is walking out the door with these two.

And even though plenty of pieces return, there is no clear star on Maryland’s roster entering this season. College basketball often comes down to which team has the better player and it’s uncertain who will manage that role for the Terps this time around. Scott and others have potential, but nobody is a proven commodity. The Terps are going to need someone to take a significant step forward and we can’t assume that will happen. It takes a lot to improve from a role player into a star contributor.

Maryland also has a huge hole in its frontcourt entering this season. Smith dominated the team’s minutes at the five and there isn’t a clear replacement on the roster. Marial played some last season, but the only other player to receive real playing time there last season was Joshua Tomaic and he’s gone. The Mitchell brothers are also gone, who likely would have provided some useful depth upfront.

The frontcourt will now rest on Marial, the two transfers, and true freshman Revaz. And while things could be worse, that’s a pretty uncertain group. Marial was pretty underwhelming last season, neither of the transfers are natural fits at the five, and Revaz is a true freshman. Barring something pretty surprising, center is probably going to be a problem spot for the Terps all season. And it could roll over to other positions as well, if some of the team’s better fits at the four are forced to slide over and play significant minutes at the five.

Turgeon and his staff have enough to overcome these challenges. However, it’s going to take some fortunate bounces and some young players stepping up. We’ll have to wait and see if that ends up happening.

6. Top Player

With the departures of Cowan and Smith, there’s a lot of uncertainty in this section for the Terps. Maryland had two top-tier players on its roster last year, but they’re gone now and there really aren’t any clear replacements. Maryland may end up having a few stars, we just don’t know yet. It’s going to be a work in progress.

The most likely breakout player in Scott. While his overall numbers weren’t incredibly impressive, he really showed a lot of potential down the stretch and grew in his freshman season within the program. Scott scored double-digits in four of the team’s final six games and had huge performances in the team’s late season wins over Michigan State and Minnesota. It seems reasonable to think he could take a huge step forward this year, especially with more playing time.

Ayala, Morsell, and Wiggins are also expected to have big roles this season. They all saw key minutes as role players last season and should be primed for improvement. However, all three struggled with inconsistency and will need to improve there. For example, Ayala had a 19-point explosion in the team’s final game against Michigan, but failed to score double-digits in five of the team’s six games before that. Morsell similarly only averaged 8.5 points per game and Wiggins struggled with efficiency, finishing with a 97.9 offensive rating. Wiggins is probably the best bet of this three because of his extensive playing time last season, but it’s hard to see any of these three having a real leg up on anybody else.

Two other dark horses here are Hamilton and Smith. Both arrive as transfers with plenty of excitement and are immediately eligible to play.. As noted above in the “New Additions” section, neither was otherworldly at their prior schools. However, a change of scenery can shake things up. It would be pretty surprising if either of these two ended up being Maryland’s best player, but they could get in the mix if they take some big steps forward. Marial is another player who will receive some serious time to keep an eye on.

It’s hard to make any predictions about Maryland’s best player this season. There are a number of decent options and no clear standout. Scott is my pick based on his exciting freshman debut. However, he still has a long way to go. Ayala, Morsell, and Wiggins should be right there as well.

7. 2020-’21 Schedule Breakdown

  • 11/25 - Old Dominion
  • 11/27 - Navy
  • 11/29 - Mount St. Mary’s
  • 12/4 - George Mason
  • 12/9 - at Clemson
  • 12/22 - La Salle
  • TBA - Unknown

Normally, I would use this space to dive into Maryland’s schedule, the biggest games on the slate this year, and some expectations for how the team should perform. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the erratic scheduling changes, we don’t know much about the schedule at the moment. In fact, we only have a handful of games officially schedule now. Of course, that makes it pretty hard to give many thoughts on the slate.

Based on what we do know, the non-conference slate looks manageable. Maryland should be a clear favorite in at least five of its non-conference games, with the exception of the road trip to face Clemson in early December. The Tigers are ranked 40th in KenPom’s preseason rankings, which is 11 spots higher than Maryland. As such, it’s hard to chalk that up as a win right now. But with no fans in the stands, don’t be surprised if the Terps win.

We also know Big Ten play will be pretty bizarre with reduced capacity in arenas, if anyone is able to attend at all. That’s going to be particularly apparent in the Big Ten, which has led the nation for years in fan attendance. Expect road games against teams like Indiana, Michigan State, and Wisconsin to be much easier this time around.

As for Maryland, expect a number of huge games in February and early March. The team will likely be somewhere close to the bubble, so every game will be crucial.

8. Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG: Eric Ayala (Jr.) - 90%
  • SG: Aaron Wiggins (Jr.) - 75%
  • SF: Darryl Morsell (Sr.) - 55%
  • PF: Galin Smith (Sr.) - 55%
  • C: Chol Marial (So.) - 95%

(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)

Maryland enters this season with plenty of questions regarding its starting lineup. Multiple spots are open and Turgeon is going to have to figure things out. The good news is Maryland has more than enough to fill the options out effectively. The Terps return a handful of players with starting experience, add two starting quality transfers, and have a few more depth options who could earn their way into the starting lineup as well. It’s not a bad spot to be heading into a season.

In the backcourt, Ayala should lock down the point guard position. He was the team’s primary depth option there last season and should now move into the starting role with Cowan’s departure. Ayala needs to improve as a shooter, but otherwise appears ready for an expanded role this year. Incoming freshmen Dockery and Smart will provide relief here.

The bigger question will be who starts alongside Ayala. Maryland has a plethora of options on the wing this season. The Terps return three players with starting experience here in Morsell, Scott, and Wiggins and also has a few more depth options in players like Hakim Hart as well. There’s more than enough capable options here.

At this point, I’m projecting Wiggins to start at the two and Morsell to start alongside him at the three. However, expect a lot of rotation. When one of those two hit the bench, don’t be surprised to see the other slide over and provide relief minutes. Ayala could also see time at the two and Scott could see time at the three as well. Those four will probably play 20 to 25 minutes a game. Hart will also likely get 10 minutes or so off the bench.

Most of the minutes at the four project to be split between the two incoming transfers in Hamilton and Smith. They both have the size and strength to play down low if needed. Smith seems like the safer projection, but both are going to see significant time here. Expect Scott to play here as well, especially if one (or both) of the transfers struggle.

Upfront, Marial is really the only legitimate big man on the roster. He played sparingly last season and is arguably the team’s biggest question mark this season. Marial has the raw skillset to play quality minutes. It’s just an unknown right now. We’ll have to wait and see what he can do. Behind him, expect true freshman Revaz to see 10 to 15 minutes a game. Hamilton and Smith could also see a few minutes here if someone gets into foul trouble.

Overall, Maryland has more than enough to work with this season to put a quality squad on the court. A lot will depend on how well the newcomers hit the ground running and whether Marial can deliver down low. If those players can perform well, Maryland could finish near the top of the league.

9. Outside Perspective From Wesley Brown of Testudo Times

“Maryland men’s basketball is in for an interesting year in 2020-21, after losing the two faces of its program in Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith. The Terps do return some depth, but put in work to add transfers along with freshmen Marcus Dockery and Aquan Smith.

Aaron Wiggins is primed to step into a key role this season, while Chol Marial is so close to being 100 percent. Jairus Hamilton and Galin Smith transferring in will add much needed reinforcement to the front court, where the Terps need to find stability.” - Wesley Brown.

10. Overall Season Outlook

Maryland had arguably the program’s best season in well over a decade last year. The Terps played at an extremely high level, delivered in big games, and won a championship as a result. However, the team now loses its two best players and a plethora of depth options behind them. As such, there are more than a few question marks heading into this season.

The good news is Maryland has more than enough to make some noise this time around as well. Maryland returns a handful of proven players, adds a few potential instant impact transfers, and has a number of talented pieces rising up behind them. If the Terps can just get a player or two to take the next step, the roster doesn’t look half bad.

Unfortunately, there are just too many question marks to feel confident in Maryland finishing near the top of the Big Ten this season, especially considering the depth and talent elsewhere in the league. Maryland needs (at minimum) a handful of players to take sizable steps forward, and that’s just to stay in the NCAA Tournament hunt. Expecting even more to stay in the Big Ten title hunt seems pretty unrealistic. We’ll see what happens, but as of now, expect a significant step back this season.

Big Ten Prediction: 9th Place