Maryland 18-19 Preview

It's never boring, at least.

The Terps were supposed to have an excellent season last year, after its sensational freshmen class matured into sophomores. Unfortunately, Justin Jackson got hurt early, Ivan Bender then went down, and the team never seemed to get its footing defensively. Ultimately, the Terps were bypassed on Selection Sunday, though it could have been good enough to get in. In the offseason, the Terps lost Jackson and Kevin Huerter to the NBA Draft, and sweated out Bruno Fernando's decision to return to school for his sophomore year. Additionally, the Terps welcome arguably the best freshman class in the Big Ten, headlined by McDonald's All-American Jalen Smith. Finally, there's the addition of the intriguing transfer Schnider Herard, from Mississippi State. (Apparently Herard has left the team.)

That's exciting enough on its own. (That's right, focus on the basketball.) The media, for its part, has picked Maryland 7th. I think that might be wrong:

2018 Efficiency Margin Percentage of Minutes Returning Percentage of FR Minutes Returning
Team A -0.03 54.5 29.8
Team B 0.01 55.9 16.7

Both of these teams also have an incoming McDonald's All-American. So, why is Indiana (Team B) universally regarded to be in much better position than Maryland (Team A)? Huerter might well be the best player lost by either of these teams last year, but on a possession basis Maryland lost less than Indiana. I would not rank UMD above IU just yet, but I do think both teams should have similar projections.

Much of Maryland's struggles can be traced to defensive three-point percentage (yeah, that's the only negative stuff we should be worrying about here). Not only did conference opponents make a bunch (40 percent), but they devoted a league-high 39.3 percent of attempts to 3-pointers. Some investigation (wait, what? Investigation? We investigated! There's nothing there! Stop asking! Oh, wait, you mean about 3-pointers, heh, nevermind) is warranted.

Indeed, you have to go back to 2011, before you can find a Maryland team with 3-point defense that's within screaming range of last year's squad. As a reminder, 3-point percentage is a number that's largely in control of the offense. Even 3-point attempt percentage is a mostly offense-driven statistic. I do not want to write it off entirely, but without a larger trend, I'm fine chalking this up to luck and statistical variation.

Even so, the engine that has driven a lot of recent Turgeon teams has been shutting down the interior. Back when the Terps had Diamond Stone (we don't need to talk about him) patrolling the paint, it was an inhospitable place for opponents to be. Big Ten opponents shot just 45 percent on 2s, which is understandable given that the Terps blocked nearly 16 percent of those attempts. Last year, those numbers were 49 percent and 9 percent, respectively. That's not awful, mind you, but Turgeon's teams have always made that foundational, largely sagging the defense and staying out of passing lanes as a tradeoff. If the Terps are not getting the benefit of the bargain, it hardly seems worth it.  Fernando is tall, but not a natural shot blocker. Jalen Smith could bring that skillset, or it's possible Herard (a former top-100 recruit) could. Maryland should be plenty long next season (as Smith has the ability to man the 4-spot), so I expect at least some improvement.

The backcourt could be interesting as well. Cowan is locked in as the team's point guard and offensive spearhead. But there are minutes up for grabs at the wing. Darryl Morsell  struggled as a freshman last year, and it would be less than ideal if he played as much as he did last year without an improved shot. I don't mind (well, don't mind that much) that he shot just 13 percent on three in conference play—a much bigger problem is that he only had the confidence to attempt 15 threes in 18 games.

Beyond Morsell, the returning options are meager. Dion Wiley transferred, Jared Nickens graduated. That leaves the freshmen, including top-100 players Aaron Wiggins (no relation to Andrew, if you were wondering), and Eric Ayala. I don't know what the depth chart (Hey! NO FOOTBALL TALK!) will look like come December, but I would guess one or both of them would be prominently featured.

Overall, I'd say Maryland is in pretty good shape, as long as you know where not to look.