Five Things About Maryland Basketball Heading into the Summer

By JJ Zakheim

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon and the Maryland Terrapins will return next season with high hopes after exceeding their 2018-2019 expectations. Coming into the season unranked, the Terps finished the year ranked 21st in the nation and fifth in the Big Ten, with 13 conference wins including a win at Iowa, marking their first against a ranked team on the road since 2008, and the first of Turgeon’s tenure at Maryland. The Terps entered the NCAA tournament as a six seed and and won their first round game against Belmont. Now, Coach Turgeon will lead last season’s fourth youngest team in the nation into the 2019-2020 season with aspirations to achieve more than last year’s group did, even with Bruno Fernando leaving school for the NBA.
As the summer approaches and off-season workouts begin, here are 5 things that all Maryland Terrapin fans should keep in mind as they prepare for next season.

1. Replacing Bruno’s Offense
In the aftermath of the NCAA tournament, the biggest news coming out of College Park is that star center, and projected lottery pick, Bruno Fernando will not be returning to school and entering the NBA Draft. Replacing Bruno will be easier said than done, as he averaged 13.6 PPG and 10.6 RPG this past season and finished first team all Big Ten. Since Maryland already struggled to consistently score points (71.4 points per game) replacing Bruno’s offensive output will be at the top of Turgeon’s agenda. While Maryland fans hope that sophomore guard Aaron Wiggins will carry a large part of the scoring burden, it will take a group effort to restore the value that Maryland legend Bruno Fernando brought night in and night out on the offensive side of the ball.

2. Jalen Smith returning for his Sophomore Season
After Fernando’s decision to forego his Junior season for the NBA, the second biggest announcement on campus was that five star freshman Jalen Smith’s decision to return to school. Smith, the second five star recruit that Turgeon brought to Maryland, moved up and down the mock NBA draft boards all season and was considered a coin flip to either enter the draft or stay in school. The hope of Maryland fans was that Smith would stay in school and ease the pain of Fernando’s departure. Smith, a versatile 6-10 forward with a developing three point range, gives Turgeon the ability to be flexible with his lineups, an option he hasn’t had with most of his Terrapin teams. Jalen Smith’s decision to remain in school combined with talented rising sophomores Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala and a heralded freshman class create the potential for one of the best Terps team Turgeon has ever had.

3. A loaded Big Ten conference
Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston announcement that he will be returning to East Lansing for his senior season prefigures next season’s NCAA landscape. Michigan State, predicted by many to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country, won’t be the only real threat to come out of the Big Ten next year. While Michigan is losing Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ignas Brazdeikis to the NBA Draft, coach John Beilein and his renowned offensive game plans always put the Wolverines in the conversation to make noise in March. Additionally, Chris Holtmann’s Ohio State group that is coming off a big tournament win against Iowa State has five of their top seven scorers returning to school, including their stud sophomore big man Kaleb Wesson, who’s returning for his junior year after posting a 14.6 PPG and 6.9 RPG campaign last season. Buckeye fans will also look forward to CJ Thomas, a 6-1 transfer from Florida State’s magical Elite Eight run in 2018, serving as the Buckeyes floor general and providing critical tournament experience to a team that’s trying to turn some heads. Another team that can wreak havoc in the Big Ten is the Iowa Hawkeyes with sharpshooter Jordan Bohannon and three of their top five scorers returning to school for senior campaigns. The Terps will have their hands full competing in a conference that sent a Division I-high eight teams to the tournament last season. The Terps will need to be ready to play from the season tip-off if they have any hopes of capturing Coach Turgeon’s first ever conference title.

4. Improved Depth
With the Terps returning four of their five starters, six out of seven rotation guys, and adding two four star recruits, Coach Turgeon has a secret weapon that he hasn’t had much of during his time at College Park, depth. The rotation that Coach Turgeon uses will depend heavily on the development of freshmen Serrel Smith Jr. and Ricky Lindo, but with the progress they made during their freshman campaign, there is a good chance that they will become key rotation pieces next season. A big question surrounding the team is what Coach Turgeon will do with the starting lineup. Assuming that Anthony Cowan returns to school, It is still up in the air if Turgeon will consider inserting Aaron Wiggins and Serrel Smith into the starting lineup, relegating Eric Ayala to the bench in a sixth man role. While Ayala exceeded expectations in his first year as a full-time starter, Maryland’s coaching staff may want to think about using him as a weapon off the bench who can breathe new life into the starting unit, be on the floor at the end of games, and stagger his minutes with Cowan to ensure that there is a primary ball-handler on the floor at all times. Even if Coach Turgeon doesn’t make a starting lineup change, the rotation of Cowan, Ayala, Morsell, Wiggins, Jalen Smith, Serrel Smith Jr, Lindo and the Mitchell twins will give the Terps the ability to experiment with multiple lineups during the regular season.

5. Taking a Leap: Darryl Morsell
While Anthony Cowan and Bruno Fernando headlined Maryland’s 2018-19 success, Darryl Morsell proved to be an under the radar, steady force that fueled Maryland’s engine all season long. Morsell, a 6-5 guard, improved his shooting efficiency this past season, bringing his field goal percentage up from 42 percent to 46 percent, and was always willing and able to guard the opposing team’s best point guard or wing player. Morsell flashed some of his raw offensive potential in the Terps win over Belmont in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Morsell scored 18 points on 6-10 shooting from the field and 5-7 from the free throw line. It was nice to see Morsell more comfortable within the offense during that game as his role on that side of the ball varied due to Cowan, Ayala and Fernando being the players with the ball in their hands the majority of the time. Morsell will need to continue to work on his jump shot, specifically his three-pointer, to help Maryland’s offense survive the loss of Fernando. Coach Turgeon spoke all season about Morsell’s work ethic and progression as a player even going so far as calling him an “X Factor” on the team. If Morsell can keep improving on the offensive side of the ball and continue to impact the game on defense he will quickly shed his reputation for being under the radar.