- Matt Cox
Key Returners: Anthony Cowan, Darryl Morsell, Bruno Fernando
Key Losses: Kevin Huerter, Justin Jackson, Dion Wiley, Jared Nickens, Michal Cekovsky, Sean Obi
Key Newcomers: Jalen Smith, Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Schnider Herard* (eligible after fall semester), Serrel Smith
*EDITOR'S NOTE: As of August 1st, Schnider Herard has left the program to pursue a career professionally
Outlook: Of all the teams in our consensus top-40 countdown, Maryland may be the most polarizing. Between myself and my two colleagues Jim and Ky, countless hours of real work productivity has been lost due to heated debate over GroupMe on where to properly rank the 2018-19 Terrapins. Mark Turgeon has once again replenished the blue-chip talent pool in the form of three top-100 recruits, headlined by versatile 5-star forward Jalen Smith, and the arrival of these reinforcements comes at a time in need. Justin Jackson and Kevin Huerter both chose to take their talents to the NBA this summer, while veteran off-guards Jared Nickens (graduated) and Dion Wiley (transferred to SLU) also left College Park. The question now is how that revolving door of talent will impact the 2018-19 squad.
I'll start with this - if we lived in a world in which college basketball permitted trades and free agent signings, Maryland would be an active participant in this market. I'll explain...
Looking at the projected lineup this season, the Terps have bonafide front-court talent in spades that a lot of schools would pay a premium for - but as you move out to the perimeter, it's quickly apparent that this roster is starved for outside shooting. When Schnider Herard becomes eligible at the end of the fall semester, Turgeon will have the aforementioned McDonald's All-American in Jalen Smith, a projected 2019 lottery pick in 6'10 Bruno Fernando and a former top-50 recruit in Herard rounding out a ultra-talented frontline. But on the outside, the departure of Huerter, Nickens and Wiley guts the Terps of 3 of their top-4 shooters, leaving Anthony Cowan as the lone proven long-range shooting threat.
So with Darryl Morsell virtually a lock to secure the 2nd starting spot in the backcourt - a slash-heavy scorer who made a WHOPPING three 3s last year (3/23 to be precise) - Turgeon will need to expedite the maturity of his two other prized freshmen, Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala. Both are scouted as plus shooters with range, so their efficiency as lower usage complementary scorers / shooters will be pivotal to keeping the floor spaced for Cowan and Morsell to penetrate.
An interesting dynamic to watch will be how Turgeon juggles the lineup combinations at the forward positions. Last year, he was averse to playing a 'twin-tower' lineup as Fernando and Cekovsky - Turgeon's two primary bigs - hardly ever played together. Instead, he opted to go smaller with either Huerter or Nickens at the 4 playing alongside either Fernando or Cekovsky at the 5:
That should likely change this season with a game-breaking prospect like Smith being inserted to the mix, whose offensive versatility at 6'9 (7'1 wingspan) will be a weapon at the 4 spot. Smith is by no means a 3-point sharpshooter at this stage in his development, but both he and Fernando possess deceptively smooth shooting strokes (Fernando shot 74% from the stripe as a freshman) that could make them effective in pick-n-pop situations - that is, when they aren't abusing the rim on lobs in pick-n-rolls...
Removing injuries from the equation, what ultimately stung the Terps last season was a complete and utter lack of ball security - in fact, 293 teams in college basketball coughed up the rock less than Maryland did on a per possession basis last year. For as good as Cowan was all season as the primary ball handler and creator offensively, he exhibited some head-scratching decision-making in high leverage situations. In two notable 2nd half meltdowns last year (at Michigan and at Indiana), Maryland lost by a combined 4 points as Cowan's 12 turnovers proved to be extremely costly. But let's be clear - Cowan was far from the only perpetrator in the turnover department as seven other players posted TO rates over 20% last season.
Bottom Line: The concern I have with the Terps outlook for 2019 is one shared by a large portion of the Maryland fanbase - a lingering distrust in Mark Turgeon. Much like Steve Alford at UCLA, many categorize Turgeon as a member of the coaching segment who can reel in the 'Jimmys and Joes', but can't coach the 'Xs and Os'. Defenders of Turgeon will cite the stretch from 2015 - 2017 in which the Terps secured a 6-seed or higher in three straight NCAA tournaments as proof of his coaching prowess - but the common denominator over this run was Melo Trimble, an elite end of game executor whose individual playmaking brilliance masked many of the Terps' flaws in crunch-time. Without Trimble orchestrating the offense last season, we witnessed countless episodes of late game collapses as Maryland stumbled to a 8-10 Big 10 record and 8th place league finish (despite finishing 39th overall in kenpom.com's adjusted efficiency rankings). It will be up to Turgeon and his offensive engine Cowan to collectively silence the critics and maximize the potential of a roster that is once again dripping with top-tier talent.