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‘BTPowerhouse 25’ - No. 9 Eric Ayala

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BTPowerhouse’s staff counts down the best players in the Big Ten heading into the 2021-’22 season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Maryland at Connecticut IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

In the months leading up to the 2021-’22 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing a series called the ‘BTPowerhouse 25,’ which features the Top 25 players in the Big Ten as voted by members of the staff. All players set to be on Big Ten rosters for next season were eligible during the staff vote with their top selection receiving 25 points and their 25th and final selection receiving 1 point.

Today’s edition will take a brief look at Eric Ayala of the Maryland Terrapins, who came in at No. 9 in the rankings. Maryland is looking to make it to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time since the 2016/2017 seasons.

‘BTPowerhouse 25’ - No. 9 Eric Ayala:

  • Eligibility: Senior
  • Career Totals: 94 games, 2823 minutes, 994 points, 313 rebounds, 212 assists, 56 steals
  • 2020-’21 Averages: 33.6 MPG, 15.1 PPG, 2.2 APG, 4.3 RPG, 1.2 SPG
  • Positional Role: Shooting Guard

At one point in February the Terps were sitting at 10-10 and did not look like a team headed to the postseason. A strong close to the season, highlighted by guard Aaron Wiggins, helped Maryland make it to the NCAA Tournament. Now Mark Turgeon will have to replace two of his best players in guards Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell. Luckily for Maryland fans, the team brings in a pair of four star recruits in the 2021 recruiting class and a laundry list of transfers, highlighted by Rhode Island guard Fatts Russell. They also are bringing back their leading scorer from last year, shooting guard Eric Ayala.

Player Strengths

After a breakout season in his third year as a starter, Eric Ayala flirted with the NBA before deciding to return to College Park for his senior season. Ayala has played in 94 games for Maryland, starting 81 of them, and averaged 10.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Ayala posted career highs in points (15.1), rebounds (4.3) and steals (1.2) per game last year, breaking out after a so-so first two seasons.

Ayala can help run the point at times, but the addition of Fatts Russell from Rhode Island will allow him to play the two spot this season. He’s already proved that he can score effectively as he led the team in scoring last year, but his ability to convert inside has been a plus as he shot 55% from two in 2020-21. His versatility around the perimeter on both offense and defense gives Turgeon plenty to do with Ayala, while the addition of a true point guard in Russell should allow Ayala to produce both on and off the ball.

“He’s probably disappointed with the way the NBA stuff went for him,” Turgeon said when talking about the offseason. “He’s got a nice chip on his shoulder.”

Areas for Improvement

One of the biggest areas for improvement for Ayala is improving his three point shot. In his freshman season he hit 40.6% from beyond the arc, but that number dipped to 27.4% in his sophomore season. It rebounded last year, but only to 33.7%. If Ayala is going to shoot almost six three pointers per game he needs to be more efficient, especially as he no longer has Wiggins and Morsell in the backcourt. The team does return Donta Scott, but Maryland would benefit considerably if Ayala can get back towards 40% from deep.

Player Projection

Ayala flirted with the NBA this offseason but didn’t get the results he wanted so he returned for his senior year and will look to improve his resume. The guard has shown the ability to score, but needs to improve from three. He could also dish the ball a bit more effectively, but with Russell joining the roster Ayala won’t have to moonlight as a point guard as much.

If Ayala can replicate last years success and improve his jumper he’s set for an even more impressive senior season. It’s no guarantee, but there is a reason why Ayala was named to the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award Watch List. He might not make a massive leap from last season, but look for Ayala to pace Maryland in scoring and have another strong year.

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‘BTPowerhouse 25’ Rankings: