2018-19 Terps Basketball: The Journey Begins
It has been eight long months since the Maryland Terrapins were unceremoniously bounced from the Big Ten basketball tournament in New York City. Soooo much has gone on since that time – on and off the court- that the exasperating loss at the hands of Bucky Badger seems like it was years ago. Fortunately – and finally- the 2018-19 season is upon us and the Terps get a chance to finally get the awful taste of last season out of their mouths.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Look at where we’ve been since that first week of March. The whole Diamond Stone payment saga started about that time. While over time it has been shown, I think, that this was a side deal done with a wanna be agent, it proved to be an incredible distraction to any forward movement for last year’s team.
Adding to the offseason issues, you have two players leave for the NBA draft. One of them – Kevin Huerter – seemed to sign up for the NBA combine as an afterthought. Then, after one half of one game, he’s given the advice to sit and not play anymore because he’s already shown enough to get drafted.
You kidding me?
Kevin, we hardly knew ye’.
Throw in the expected, albeit confounding departure of Justin Jackson and it appears you have major vacuums to fill. While I don’t think I’ll ever understand Justin’s decisions and motivations last year I think sometimes we all have to come to grips with the fact that you never really know what’s going on behind someone’s front door. There are forces at play you may never understand.
People sometimes automatically assume that departures like this automatically mean that you’re lesser moving forward. It really doesn’t work like that in college hoops for a couple different reasons. One is the improvement variable. A lot of these guys are young kids. Some mature and get better at different times. Some don’t get better at all. Compare and contrast some of the seniors that left with some of the kids left in the program.
I cast no aspersions and throw no stones at guys who were good Terps but the departing seniors that played last year were never able to improve like you would have hoped. Whether it be to injury, or just being happy to be there, or whatever, some of those guys just never made the next step in their progression. Contrast that with the guys who are the two most important players on this year’s team – Anthony Cowan and Bruno Fernando.
I was pretty critical of Cowan in this space last year but it was completely because of some decisions made and his leadership. What is 100% verifiable is the fact that this kid is a complete bulldog and is dedicated beyond reproach. As a freshman he had a remarkable season but could have occasional issues with getting his shot off and shooting from range. He worked his tail off in between his freshman and sophomore campaigns and came back a different guy. His numbers jumped from 10 ppg on 32% three point shooting to 16 ppg on 37%. What makes that even more impressive is that last season he was the Terps leading scorer and at the top of every scouting report. Here’s the best part; the Anthony Cowan that leads his team onto the court against Delaware on Tuesday night is miles ahead of last year’s Ant. And, because of increased backcourt depth and flexibility he’ll also be a lot harder to find given that he will be playing both guard positions throughout games.
Then there’s Bruno. He’s as dynamic a force and personality as this program has seen in some time and he flirted with the NBA and came back. A lot of guys in that situation figure they’ll roll through their sophomore seasons and then just re-up for the combine and draft next year. Much like his teammate Cowan, Fernando has added a few flourishes to his already impressive game and is light years ahead of the guy we saw last year. He shoots the three effortlessly now and has a wider array of game around the hoop.
To circle back to my point about the improvement variable….when your two best players come back this much better from season A to season B the whole team usually follows suit. As impressive as that improvement is, it will allow those two to bootstrap guys like Darryl Morsell and Josh Tomaic on their own upward arc. This is a thing. It happens. And it also produces one of the most critical things missing from the Terps last season – veteran leadership. When guys like Fernando and Cowan are in your program they can be the rising tides that lift all boats. They also establish work habits and commitment that should be absorbed by the younger players in the program.
Much has been made of Maryland’s new freshman and it all appears to be true. Guys like Jalen Smith and Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins are totally plug and play guys. All three will start games this year. We’ll discuss their development in the days ahead but the focus needs to be on season upon us.
The Maryland schedule builds to an early crescendo later this month with a matchup at home against Virginia – rated by many as the county’s best team right now and almost certain to be in everybody’s top five. This young Terp team has to take advantage of the first six games prior to UVA rolling in to Xfinity and get better. They get the benefit of playing five of their first six and there are a couple of interesting games in those half dozen.
Maryland gets to play Delaware with their best player, Ryan Allen, out until mid-December. The Blue Hens do return one of their more highly hyped players. Last year their 6’5” freshman point guard started the season on fire. He had 23 points and 7 assists (with no turnovers) in an early game at Notre Dame before suffering a season ending knee injury.
His name? It comes straight from the ‘you cannot make this up’ column. His name is Kevin Anderson.
After Delaware is a game at Navy. While it’s easy to blow it off as a game against a Patriot League opponent, it is college basketball and strange things happen all the time- especially in November. You have to play the service schools with a particular mindset. You have to keep in mind that, while the rest of the college basketball teams prepare for games, the academies prepare for war. The Middies will play like they were shot out of a cannon.
Two other intriguing contests prior to UVA will be Hofstra and Marshall. Both are high octane teams with proven backcourts. Take the over in both games. Both have older players and will be completely unafraid of the environment at Xfinity. Marshall has the added bonus of a coming off of a remarkable NCAA tournament run last season and will have one of the better players come into College Park in guard Jon Elmore. Their coach is Dan D’Antoni – the brother of NBA Mike- and they try to win games 110-100. Sign me up!
On paper the six games leading up to Virginia seem to offer a smattering of opportunities to play games at different paces and – in the case of Navy – a different venue. The only issue I could see is that you go from one game against Marshall that will be full throttle to a game against Virginia where the first team to sixty wins.
This team would be well advised to not put all of their eggs into that Virginia basket. As much of an opportunity as it represents playing against an old rival who happens to be ranked high early, the next two games after that against Penn State at home and Purdue on the road will probably will probably be more significant once the story of the season is written next spring.
The journey starts tomorrow.