The 2021-’22 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview’ series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2021-’22 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.
After winning the 2020 Big Ten title, Maryland entered last season with mixed expectations. The program appeared to have enough pieces to get back to the NCAA Tournament and do some damage, but few believed it was a serious title contender. It felt like a rebuilding year after the success of the 2019-’20 season.
Ultimately, those projections were pretty accurate. The season was incredibly messy for the Terps as the team looked exceptional for hunks of the year and underwhelming at other points. For example, Maryland had a five-game stretch in February when the team scored convincing victories over teams like Michigan State and Rutgers, but also blew games to Clemson and Northwestern and had trouble protecting home court against a tough league slate. The team eventually made it back to March Madness with a 17-14 record.
Maryland now enters this season with many similar questions. The talent is there and there’s enough experience to believe this team can do some damage. But is there enough to contend at the top of the Big Ten? It’s largely going to come down to a handful of new additions, who Terp fans hope will transition nicely into key roles.
So, can the Terps get back to the top of the Big Ten? Let’s take a look.
1. 2020-’21 Season Performance
- Record: 17-14 (9-11)
- KenPom Team Rating: #35
- NET Rating: #38
- Postseason Appearance: NCAA Tournament (R32)
Some of this was mentioned in the intro, but Maryland put together an unusual resume last season. While the Terps had some incredible highlights, the team also had some crushing missteps. That inconsistency left Maryland sitting at 16-13 on Selection Sunday, which ultimately felt about right. Maryland wasn’t great, but it was a good team capable of playing great on any given night. It’s how the Terps knocked off Illinois and Wisconsin on the road, yet lost to Northwestern and Penn State to close out the regular season.
That inconsistency carried over to the postseason as well. Maryland knocked off Michigan State to open the Big Ten Tournament, but fell flat against Michigan the next day. And the Terps repeated that in the Big Dance, beating what many believed was an underseeded UConn team before falling to Alabama in the Round of 32. By all measures, it was a pretty solid season, just not one that will turn many heads nationally.
The highlights of the season included the wins over Illinois and Wisconsin in conference play and the win over UConn to open up the NCAA Tournament. Low points of the season included tough losses to Clemson in non-conference play and losses to Indiana, Northwestern, and Penn State in league play. The losses in the postseason were also tough, though they came against quality opponents.
Individual statistical leaders were Eric Ayala, Darryl Morsell, Donta Scott, and Aaron Wiggins. Ayala led the team in total win shares. Morsell led the team in assists. Scott led the team in rebounds and blocks. Wiggins led the team in minutes, points, and steals.
2. Offseason Exits
Maryland got hit pretty hard this offseason with departures. The Terps lost eight players from last year’s team, including two starters and three key depth options. The players were Jade Brahmbhatt, Jairus Hamilton, Chol Marial, Reese Mona, Darryl Morsell, Aquan Smart, Galin Smith, and Aaron Wiggins.
The most significant departures were Morsell and Wiggins. These two were easily among Maryland’s best players last season and Wiggins was likely the team’s best player. Wiggins led the team in scoring and usage, Morsell was an effective passer and player inside the paint. Both also offered defensive contributions. Both were consistent starters all season and will take a decent hunk of Maryland’s production with them.
The other notable departures are Hamilton, Marial, and Smith. While Maryland’s frontcourt was a moving target last season, Hamilton played starting minutes and Marial and Smith provided depth behind him. To be clear, none of these three were elite players. In fact, Hamilton saw some of his playing time fade as the season continued and Marial and Smith were effectively done much earlier. The only aspect of concern is all three leave from the same position group, meaning there will once again be a void upfront entering the season.
Finally, Brahmbhatt, Mona, and Smart were deeper roster options. Smart averaged 7.3 minutes per game and was the most productive of the bunch. None of these departures should impact the Terps moving forward. They simply add on to what was already a decent hunk of losses for the program this offseason.
3. New Additions
This season, the Terps will be adding two new recruits, six transfers, and a walk-on. The recruits are Ike Cornish and Julian Reese. Both are rated as four-star and top 155 prospects. According to 247Sports, Cornish is a small forward and Reese is a power forward. Brett Karkus joins the team as a walk-on.
While Reese is the more highly regarded prospect, both arrive on campus with plenty of excitement. Reese is listed at 6-foot-9 and should be able to provide additional depth in the frontcourt, which is desperately needed after so many departures this offseason. Cornish is 6-foot-6 and likely a year away from grabbing a big role.
Maryland is also adding six transfers in Pavlo Dziuba, Xavier Green, Ian Martinez, Fatts Russell, Qudus Wahab, and Simon Wright. Dziuba arrives from Arizona State, Green from Old Dominion, Martinez from Utah, Russell from Rhode Island, Wahab from Georgetown, and Wright from Elon. That’s a huge group of additions and most of them have the chance to contribute early this season.
Of the incoming transfers, Green, Russell, and Wahab appear to be the most significant as all three should compete for starting roles. Green played a ton of minutes at Old Dominion and was a guy who could attack the basket from the wing. Much the same goes for Russell and Wahab. In fact, here’s what I wrote about Russell and Wahab when they committed:
Wahab is listed at 6-foot-11 and 237 pounds and put together a monster season for the Hoyas last year. He averaged 12.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per game during his final season with Georgetown and was a monster on the boards. Wahab was also a key piece in the team’s run in the Big East Tournament, scoring double-digits in the team’s final seven games of the season.
Russell is also a significant addition. He’s listed at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds and averaged 14.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game for the Rams last season. Russell was one of the best facilitators in the Atlantic 10 last season, rankings third in the league in assist rate. He also ranked first in the conference in free throw rate.
There’s still a lot to iron out about Maryland’s roster for next season, but both players could be in line for starting roles. Russell can likely play alongside Eric Ayala in the backcourt and the Terps were a mess at center last season, so Wahab should be able to lock down the spot. The team is going to need to find some shooting to go around those three (neither Russell or Wahab are great outside shooters), but that’s a nice core to start with.
The other three look more like depth pieces. Dziuba is listed at 6-foot-8 and was originally a four-star recruit in the 2020 recruiting class. He only played 33 minutes last season, likely setting the base for his transfer from Arizona State. Martinez has some upside, but was battling an injury this offseason, so there could be a recovery period. Meanwhile, Wright is technically a walk-on. Look for him to provide leadership.
Overall, this is an exciting group of additions. Maryland added a ton of pieces that could play early and at positions of need as well. Not everybody is going to hit, but if they can at least get two or three starters out of this group, the Terps should be in pretty good position.
4. Points of Optimism
Maryland enters this season with plenty of reasons to be excited. The Terps aren’t going to be picked to win the league or make the Final Four, but this team has a chance to win plenty of games and make some noise in March. There’s talent, experience, and enough upside for Maryland to take off this season.
Let’s begin with the roster overall. The Terps bring back plenty of pieces from a team that won its fair share last season. Ayala returns in the backcourt after an All-Big Ten performance, Hakim Hart and Donta Scott return after starting games last season, and young prospects like Marcus Dockery and James Graham are back after filling reserve roles last year. There’s enough of a core there to prevent a full rebuild, even before you get to the new additions.
Additionally, and as noted above, Maryland’s offseason additions were substantial. This isn’t a year where Maryland is adding a guy here or there who might contribute in a few years. These are immediate impact additions. And there are a lot of them. Green, Russell, and Wahab are good enough to start from day one and that’s not even to mention two four-star prospects arriving as well. Maryland could probably field a functional team solely with these additions, which is a pretty significant statement when you consider they join returners like Ayala, Hart, and Scott.
There’s also a lot of upside left on these roster. As mentioned, you have returners like Dockery and Graham who didn’t get a full opportunity last year because of the depth in front of them and newcomers like Cornish and Reese, who are ranked in the top 115 and are still being overlooked. If even one or two of those guys hit, watch out.
5. Points of Concern
Unlike many teams, Maryland doesn’t enter this season with an obvious weakness. This isn’t a team devoid of a big man or a turnover prone point guard. There’s no clear black hole here. However, with all of that said, there are a few weaker spots, with the biggest coming in the frontcourt and other challenges in the backcourt.
While the offseason additions should help the Terps improve the team’s frontcourt substantially from last season, the position remains a spot of concern. Wahab has the natural size to play the five and figures to be the starter and Scott and Reese should provide depth behind him. However, Wahab played plenty for the Hoyas last year and wasn’t exactly an unstoppable force. His general numbers were solid, but being productive on a 13-13 team and doing it against Big Ten competition is another thing entirely. His age also suggests he probably doesn’t bring a ton of upside to the table. He likely is what he is at this point. Likewise, the depth is uncertain. Scott is undersized for the five spot and Reese is a true freshman.
Similar things can be said for the other additions. Most are expecting Russell to grab a starting spot and achieve some big things for the Terps this season. And his numbers are Rhode Island suggest that. He was a production monster for the Rams. However, can his transition from an insane usage rate into Maryland’s lineup? His shooting woes (23.5 percent from three) are also concerning. Sorting out those roles will take some time.
We also have to wonder who might emerge as a top-tier contributor for the Terps this season. We’ve seen teams win a lot of games without a nationally elite player, but it doesn’t happen very often. And most of those teams fail to come home with any hardware when all’s said and done. Maryland has some players who could breakout this season, but it enters this fall without a proven top-tier contribution. There are a lot of solid and good players on this roster. We just need to see somebody take that next step. And whether it happens could tell us a lot about this Terp squad.
6. Top Player
Maryland enters this season without a clearly designated top player. There are plenty of candidates, but nobody who has done enough to be the obvious pick. The most likely candidates of the returners are Ayala, Hart, and Scott. Ayala led last year’s team in minutes and scoring, Hart was an incredibly efficient shooter, and Scott was really productive from outside. All three could be poised for remarkable seasons.
The newcomers also boast a handful of potential breakout options. Russell and Wahab were productive at their former schools and Maryland is also adding two talented freshmen. All four will have a shot at contributing this season and Russell and Wahab should have a decent shot at starting. It’s unlikely these four actually pass players like Ayala, but the potential is on the table.
Ayala seems like the safest bet to lead Maryland this season. We’ll simply have to see whether anyone can push him for that spot. There are plenty of contenders on the table.
7. 2021-’22 Schedule Breakdown
- 11/5 - Fayetteville State (Ex.)
- 11/9 - Quinnipiac
- 11/11 - George Washington
- 11/13 - Vermont
- 11/17 - George Mason
- 11/19 - Hofstra
- 11/25 - Richmond (Nassau, Bahamas)
- 11/27 - Louisville/Mississippi State (Nassau, Bahamas)
- 12/1 - Virginia Tech
- 12/5 - Northwestern
- 12/12 - Florida (New York City, NY)
- 12/28 - Loyola
- 12/30 - Brown
- 1/3 - at Iowa
- 1/6 - at Illinois
- 1/9 - Wisconsin
- 1/12 - at Northwestern
- 1/15 - Rutgers
- 1/18 - at Michigan
- 1/21 - Illinois
- 1/25 - at Rutgers
- 1/29 - Indiana
- 2/1 - Michigan State
- 2/6 - at Ohio State
- 2/10 - Iowa
- 2/13 - at Purdue
- 2/18 - at Nebraska
- 2/21 - Penn State
- 2/24 - at Indiana
- 2/27 - Ohio State
- 3/2 - Minnesota
- 3/6 - at Michigan State
This is a pretty manageable slate for the Terps. Non-conference play features a handful of solid opponents, but nobody unbeatable. Teams like George Washington and Virginia Tech would be nice wins. However, Maryland will probably be favored against both. It seems reasonable to think the Terps could finish non-conference play undefeated or close to it.
Conference play is about what you would expect. Perhaps the most interesting stretch will come in late January to early February:
- 1/18 - at Michigan
- 1/21 - Illinois
- 1/25 - at Rutgers
- 1/29 - Indiana
- 2/1 - Michigan State
- 2/6 - at Ohio State
All six of those games look tricky. Everyone but Indiana there made the NCAAs last year and the Hoosiers should be improved this season. If things go right for Maryland, it could determine whether the Terps have a shot at the Big Ten title this season.
8. Projected Starting Lineup
- PG: Fatts Russell (Rs. Sr.) - 75%
- SG: Eric Ayala (Sr.) - 95%
- SF: Hakim Hart (Jr.) - 70%
- PF: Donta Scott (Jr.) - 90%
- C: Qudus Wahab (Jr.) - 90%
(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)
Maryland enters this season with a relatively proven lineup. The team returns three starters from last year’s team and adds a handful of key additions who are more than capable of earning a starting role themselves, including upperclassmen like Russell and Wahab. Turgeon and his staff will have plenty of options to work with this year.
In the backcourt, expect Russell and Ayala to grab the starting roles. Russell put up impressive numbers at Rhode Island and is more than capable of initiating an offense. Alongside him, Ayala is arguably the team’s best and most proven returner. Both are high usage players, so there’s going to be a learning curve about how they play together. However, these two should take most of the minutes.
Other backcourt options are Dockery, Green, and Martinez. All three are new to the program and arrive with their own strengths and weaknesses. Dockery has plenty of upside, but is a true freshman, Green has experience, but fits better at the three, and Martinez is coming off an injury. Expect some combination of these three to fill the limited reserve minutes available behind Russell and Ayala.
On the wing, Hart and Scott look like the safest bets. They both started last season and are back with even more experience. Neither was otherworldly, but they were solid and complimentary pieces who can play alongside guys like Ayala.
The reserve minutes on the wing will likely go to Green, Martinez, and returners like James Graham. And like the backcourt, expect some players to fill multiple spots and mitigate the need for too many bench minutes. The wing is the group that could really develop if some of these bench options hit.
Upfront, Wahab projects as the obvious starter. And not only because he’s a solid option, but because there is little proven behind him. Maryland was already a bit thin upfront and is even thinner after the offseason departures. It’s going to be up to young players like Arnaud Revaz and Reese to fill the reserve minutes.
Overall, this is a pretty solid lineup. There are some serious questions about how Russell and Ayala will fit together and the team’s frontcourt depth, but having this many upperclassmen in the lineup should go a long way.
9. Realistic Team Goals
Maryland’s primary goal this season should be getting back to the NCAA Tournament and doing some damage once it gets there. This roster is more than good enough to make the cut. Failing to get there would be quite an underachievement.
Additionally, Maryland has an outside shot at earning its second Big Ten title in three years. The Terps will need to hit on some of the newcomers to get there, but there are pieces and no clearly dominant team in the conference. If Maryland can pull off a few upsets, it’s possible.
10. Overall Season Outlook
It’s been an odd tenure for Turgeon at Maryland. Talk to one person and he’s been a good hire, getting Maryland back to relevance and consistent appearances in March. However, talk to another and you’ll hear about how badly he’s underachieved. And what’s so unusual is neither side is necessary wrong. It’s been a mix under Turgeon. There have been some great moments, but some disappointing seasons as well.
This all brings us to this year. Calling it a “make or break” season for Turgeon would be a bit hyperbolic. After all, he’s made the last two NCAA Tournaments and won a Big Ten title in the COVID-shortened season. However, it’s certainly and important year for him and the program. The roster has talent and enough to make some noise in March. This is the kind of year where a coach can elevate a solid roster to noteworthy marks.
Maryland should be in the national picture this year. The Terps are probably a step behind the best teams in the Big Ten, but this looks like an NCAA Tournament team and one more than capable of a Sweet 16 run. We’ll have to see what happens.