#12 Maryland 2019-20 Preview

- Ky McKeon

Key Returners: Anthony Cowan, Jalen Smith, Darryl Morsell, Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Serrel Smith, Ricky Lindo
Key Losses: Bruno Fernando
Key Newcomers: Makhi Mitchell, Donta Scott, Chol Marial


Outlook: Mark Turgeon gets a lot of flak for his uncanny ability to take a super-talented team on paper and turn them into a “decent” actual squad. But, last season has to be classified as a success for the Maryland program despite a Second Round exit in the NCAA Tournament. The Terps were the 5th youngest team in the entire country in 2018-19 and yet still managed to win 13 games in a competitive Big Ten and finish the year ranked 24th in KenPom. This year, Maryland loses Bruno Fernando, a 1st Team All-Big Ten center and 2nd Round NBA Draft pick, but returns two Big Ten POY candidates in Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith to go along with a solid core of returning players and a well-regarded recruiting class. With most outlets tabbing the Terps as a fringe top ten team in 2019-20, Turgeon will be under the magnifying glass once again as he tries to finally prove he can win big with a loaded roster.

Fernando’s departure should worry Terps fans from an offensive perspective. Last season, Maryland managed to score a measly 0.88 PPP when the big man sat (per Hoop Lens), and a primary focus of the Terps’ offense was feeding him on the block:

Without Fernando, the lion’s share of the scoring load will fall on Cowan, the team’s lone senior and undisputed leader, and Jalen “Sticks” Smith, a potential future Lottery pick. Look for Cowan, a 2nd Team All-Big Ten member last season, to be used heavily in the pick-n-roll this season as he continues to dominate the ball in the Terps’ backcourt. While he struggled with his shot in 2018-19, Cowan was once again an iron horse from a minutes perspective and the team’s floor general. Similar to Fernando’s impact, Maryland scored just 0.87 PPP when Cowan was off the floor, demonstrating his importance to the Terps’ scoring attack.

Sticks’ potential is the sky and beyond. The former McDonald’s All-American turned in an excellent freshman season, earning a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman squad. Smith ranked 6th in the conference in offensive rebounding rate, which allowed the Terps to dominate the glass and get easy buckets off second-chance opportunities. In the upcoming season, look for Smith to continue trying to prove he can be a true stretch-four at the next level. While he shot just 26.8% from deep last season, his shooting mechanics indicate an improvement is shortly on the way. With Fernando gone, Smith will need to be a reliable 1st or 2nd scoring option, as he proved he could be in the NCAA Tournament when he poured in 17.0 PPG in two contests.

One major storyline to watch early in the year is how Turgeon plays with lineup composition. Turgeon rarely went small last year, instead usually pairing Fernando and Smith in the frontcourt, and he likely won’t stray away from that preference in 2019-20. However, the Terps are stacked in the backcourt and outside of Smith will have to rely on incoming freshmen to bolster the frontcourt rotation. We here at 3MW support a spaced floor and a smaller lineup, but we also realize who is coaching on the sidelines. If Turgeon does continue to “go big”, expect 6’9” freshman Makhi Mitchell to take most of the center reps in the early going. Mitchell, an ESPN Top 100 recruit, is a very strong post player that can put the ball on the floor. His presence will complement Smith in the way Fernando’s did, mainly serving as a post-up threat and a glass-crashing extraordinaire. Defensively, Mitchell won’t be overpowered by DI bigs thanks to his 230 lb. frame, and Smith can aid in the rim protecting department. Other options at the five include Makhi’s twin brother Makhel Mitchell and 7’3” freshman Chol Marial. Makhel isn't quite the prospect his brother is, but he weighs more and can give spot minutes at center when needed. Marial has gobs of potential with his jaw-dropping length, but he’s been plagued by shin splints over the past couple years. Also an ESPN Top 100 recruit, Marial has all the makings of a nationally elite shot blocker (if he can stay healthy) and he’s shockingly athletic for his massive size. Aside from the newcomers, Turgeon will likely keep sophomore Ricky Lindo, a hard-nosed rebounder, in the frontcourt rotation; he has reportedly been tremendous through the Terps’ offseason program, both changing his body and expanding his skill set.

If Turgeon embraces the “pace and space” (unlikely) and decides to go small, he’ll have plenty of options with which to work. Darryl Morsell, Eric Ayala, and Aaron Wiggins all have starting experience and each have something to offer the Terps on the floor. Morsell is the safest choice to start next season, one of the few upperclassmen on the roster. While he doesn’t offer much in the realm of scoring, Morsell is arguably the best perimeter defender on the squad and serves as a “glue guy” on both ends of the floor. Ayala shared ball handling duties with Cowan last year, allowing the star guard to play more off the ball. Considering the Terps ranked dead last in the Big Ten in turnover rate in 2018-19 (not all Ayala’s fault, though he did contribute), it’s likely he takes a backseat this year and serves as a secondary PG off the pine. Aside from turnovers, Ayala played well his freshman season, scorching the net from downtown to the tune of 40.6%. Wiggins didn’t start many games last season but he’s everyone’s choice to break out in a major way in 2019-20. Defensively, he struggled as a freshman, but that should improve given his physical gifts and another year of experience, and he shines on the offensive end. Last year, Wiggins shot a team-best 41.3% from outside the arc and actually performed better against top tier competition. He’ll need to work on his finishing near the hoop in 2019-20 (shot 34.3% inside the arc – YIKES), but he clearly has the goods to be a reliable third scoring option.

Rounding out the wing and backcourt rotation will be sophomore Serrel Smith and freshman Donta Scott. Smith’s minutes likely don’t increase from last season due to his offensive limitations, but he’s a valuable asset on the defensive end. Scott, however, has potential to carve out a key role off the bench. The 4-star wing is super athletic and can handle the ball at the top of the key. Maryland’s backcourt is crowded, but Scott has a chance to steal minutes, and early reports are that the staff is high on him. 3-star guard Hakim Hart likely doesn’t see the floor much this season.

Bottom Line: From a personnel perspective, Maryland appears every bit a top ten team. From a realistic perspective, Turgeon has led just one team to a top-20 KenPom finish since becoming a head coach in 1999, and that was in 2010 at Texas A&M. A slow-paced offense that limits talented guards in the open floor and a sagging defense that allows opponents consistent outside looks is not usually a recipe for success. Maryland is too talented to be picked outside the top 20 this preseason, but nothing in Turgeon’s track record suggests they’ll finish that way.