As hard as it is to believe, college basketball tips off in just about one month from now, with the "Champions Classic" getting things rolling on November 9th at Madison Square Garden.
And to get you ready for the season, Aaron Torres Online will be giving you 30 previews in the coming 30 days to get you ready for the start of the year, all written by college basketball nut and recruiting guru Jacob Polacheck.
Today, we are back to the Big Ten, where Maryland exceeded all expectations last year. Now, after reloading in the transfer portal, how will they handle being a team that many see as a potential second weekend club?
Also to read Aaron's preseason Top 25 - click here
How it went down in 2020-21
After losing key stars Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith, Maryland had relatively low expectations heading into the 2020-21 season. That didn’t stop Mark Turgeon and his squad from making the program’s fifth NCAA Tournament appearance since 2015. Led by the dynamic backcourt of Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins, the Terrapins relied heavily on jump shooting as a key tenet for success, especially due to the team’s lack of size in the frontcourt.
However, the Terrapins’ offense struggled mightily at times, failing to score more than 55 points in five of the team’s 14 losses on the season. When the offense stagnated, the defense was unable to make up for the slack without significant size in the paint.
After reeling off five straight wins from Feb. 14 to Feb. 28, Maryland entered March with a 15-10 record, but struggled down the stretch, falling to Northwestern and Penn State to close the regular season. A win over Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament did enough to clinch the Terps an at-large bid, even after falling to Michigan in the conference tournament quarterfinals (a game that came with plenty of fireworks).
Maryland received an at-large bid and at No. 36 overall, the Terrapins were the highest ranked ten seed in tournament history.
In the first round, Maryland was able to sneak past UConn 63-54, but was no match for the high-powered Alabama offense, getting blown out 96-77 to end its season. Despite a disappointing finish to the season, the Terrapins exceeded many expectations in what was expected to be a down year.
What You Need to Know About 2021-2022:
Key Returnees: Eric Ayala, Donta Scott, Hakim Hart
Key Losses: Aaron Wiggins, Darryl Morsell, Jairus Hamilton, Galin Smith, Aquan Smart, Chol Marial, Reese Mona
Key Transfers: Fatts Russell, Qudus Wahab, Ian Martinez, Xavier Green
Key Recruits: Julian Reese, Ike Cornish
Aaron Wiggins, who was drafted No. 55 overall in the NBA Draft by the Oklahoma City Thunder, is the Terrapins biggest loss from an offseason with tremendous turnover. Still, three starters - Eric Ayala, Donta Scott and Hakim Hart return to this year’s squad as the team made headway in the transfer portal.
Despite the loss of Wiggins and Darryl Morsell, who transferred to Marquette over the offseason, Maryland still returns its leading-scorer (Ayala at 15.1 points per game) and leading-rebounder (Scott at 5.9 rebounds per game). The team has also added impact transfers Fatts Russell (Rhode Island), Qudus Wahab (Georgetown), Ian Martinez (Utah) and Xavier Green (Old Dominion).
Russell was one of the hottest names on the transfer portal this offseason after a tremendous four-year career at Rhode Island, including a spectacular 2019-20 campaign in which he averaged 18.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.9 steals per game. Wahab will provide a needed anchor in the frontcourt, after serving as a focal point in Georgetown’s late season run to the NCAA Tournament last year. He averaged 12.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
Julian Reese and Ike Cornish are both quality recruits that round out the Terrapins roster, in what should be an improved 2021-22 squad. You also can’t forget about James Graham, who joined the team mid-season last year as a freshman, giving him some added experience as he enters his sophomore campaign.
After failing to find offensive production at times a year ago, this team is much better-suited for a tough Big Ten as it boasts a very well-rounded roster.
The Big Ten made a great case as college basketball’s best conference last season, sending nine teams to the NCAA Tournament and once again, the conference is expected to be among the best in college basketball.
Maryland has a strong non-conference schedule, opening its 2021-22 campaign with five home games against non-power five teams before heading to the Bahamas for the Baha Mar Hoops Bahamas Championship as they face Richmond on Nov. 25 before a matchup with either Louisville or Mississippi State on Nov. 27. Like last year, the Spiders are again an A-10 team good enough to potentially steal an at-large bid, and Mississippi State - like the Terps - loaded up in the portal and should be an NCAA Tournament team. Louisville is always talented, but it's worth noting, will be without Chris Mack, as part of his suspension in the Dino Gaudio case.
The Terrapins face its first conference opponent on Dec. 5 against Northwestern, sandwiched in between a Dec. 1 matchup against Virginia Tech in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and a Dec. 12 matchup with Florida at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY for the Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational. Home contests against Loyola (Dec. 28) and Brown (Dec. 30) wrap up non-conference play before the Terrapins face off against two of the Big Ten’s most challenging competitors to open January.
Maryland faces Iowa on the road for a Jan. 3 matchup before heading to Champaign for a Jan. 6 contest against Illinois. From there, the Terrapins get Wisconsin at home (Jan. 9), Northwestern on the road (Jan. 12) and Rutgers at home (Jan. 15) before facing another preseason Top-25 team at Michigan on Jan. 18. From here, Maryland runs into a brutal stretch of opponents, set to face Illinois (Jan. 21), Rutgers (Jan. 25), Indiana (Jan. 29), Michigan State (Feb. 1), Ohio State (Feb. 6), Iowa (Feb. 10) and Purdue (Feb. 13).
The final stretch is manageable, with three of Maryland's last games coming against teams not projected to make the NCAA Tournament (Nebraska, Penn State and Minnesota). Still, games against Indiana (Feb. 24), Ohio State (Feb. 27) and Michigan State (March 6) during that closing stretch won't be easy.
With a loaded Big Ten, Maryland will have its hands full with quality opponents, but this team is better suited than last year to compete among the conference’s best.
They will also have plenty of opportunities in the out of conference, to pick up quality wins to help their resume.
What to Expect in 2021-2022:
You have to give Mark Turgeon credit this offseason for honing up on the team’s weaknesses, adding Wahab to fill that interior presence and Russell to make up for the scoring load lost by Wiggins and Morsell. The team’s biggest strength is the backcourt, led by Ayala, Hart and Russell which should be able to match up with some of the Big Ten’s best.
Depth should be another strong suit for the Terrapins, especially in the frontcourt with Graham, Reese, Arnaud Revaz, Pavlo Dziuba and Simon Wright providing some bench help.
Expect Maryland to be a much-improved team this year. How far that will take them is yet to be answered.
For more college hoops coverage, make sure to follow Jacob Polacheck on Twitter @JacobPolacheck
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