2019-20 Terps Basketball: Spring Thoughts
Once again, Mark Turgeon and company own the spring. With the imminent return of point guard Anthony Cowan from testing the NBA waters Turgeon will head into the 2019-20 season pretty much loaded from top to bottom. What was already a stacked roster became even more formidable with the commitment of 7’2” Marial Chol earlier this week. The Chol signing offered a punctuation mark to a recruiting class that offers up a little bit of everything – size, skill, motor and even a set of twins.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Let’s back up a minute here.
This past season certainly had its share of ups and downs and it ended with heartbreak, for sure. Almost every team’s season ends poorly. We can debate the style of play and the relative inconsistencies until the cows come home and I won’t go that rabbit hole. The team was able to parlay their relative youth into a strength and, with a few exceptions, played some damn good basketball this year. At one point they won four consecutive road games by ten points or more. Not many Power five teams can lay claim to that. They drilled a Purdue team that eventually got to the Elite 8 here at home and were able to do all of that while offering up loads of playing time to a talented freshman class that will be that much better for it next year.
Moving into this next season this recruiting class and the returning core need to be as good as we think they are. While its exciting to be in the top ten in a bunch of the early season polls the one thing that I keep seeing is that, while the Terps are ranked somewhere from 5 to 8, the number 1 team in virtually every poll is conference rival Michigan State. Depending upon who decides to stay in the NBA draft, Michigan could be right up there too. Ditto for Ohio State. I wouldn’t expect the conference to be as good from top to bottom as it was this past season, but the best teams will be very good.
The loss of Bruno Fernando is huge – no pun intended. His work ethic and growth were an object lesson for everybody in that locker room. His force of personality and his athletic magnetism were just so impressive, and it was fun watching him completely scare the hell out of a lot of opponents. Bruno helped to recruit Chol until his very last day on campus and he bled for Turgeon and the program. He’s an all-timer…but, sadly, we must move on.
Bruno’s departure opens the door wide open for Jaylen Smith to walk through. If he’s the same Sticks that we saw in Jacksonville in the NCAA tournament then the team should be in good hands. He was a confident force on both ends of the floor and his reaction to the kick-in-the-gut ending of the LSU game in the round of 32 tells you all he needs to know about his commitment to the cause.
Having the high-quality core of (prospectively) Anthony Cowan, Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Smith, Ricky Lindo, Sorrell Smith and Daryl Morsell will allow a solid incoming freshman class a chance to find themselves. I doubt that any of them will see the playing time that Ayala or Wiggins saw this year, unless its either Makhi or Makhel Mitchell. The good news is that portion of the class is plug and play ready if needed. Freshman Donta Scott, for instance, is a guy who might be able to help early and often at any of three different positions.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of Chol for next season. If healthy there is no doubt he could help this team – even if it were 12-15 minutes per game. The extent of his injury should be a major concern here. He really hasn’t played much in the last two seasons which would indicate it’s a case of shin splints for the ages. A lot of times things like that don’t really get addressed successfully until they’re addressed surgically- which would clearly impact his freshman season. I don’t have any inside information on this at all and – like the rest of Terrapin nation- love the late spring recruiting coup. Something just tells me it might be prudent to slow the roll and temper the enthusiasm just a bit. This is not the worst problem in the world to have.
By and large the 20 game Big Ten schedule that started last year would have to be considered a success given the number of teams that made the NCAA tournament – a conference record eight. It has its detractors (including Turgeon) but those twenty conference games automatically turbocharge both your schedule and the strength of schedule metric at your website of choice. Throw in the fact that the Terps will play in the ACC/Big Ten challenge and a solid Thanksgiving weekend tournament in Orlando and we should get an early indication of the strength of the team.
I’ve never seen a college basketball game won in the month of May. That said, the Maryland program seems to have momentum right now. Some of that is due to a good season with great kids and some of it is due to dogged effort on the recruiting trail. Now the trick is to turn the momentum and talent into a season to remember next year.
A fixture in the Washington sports scene since his days as a player and a coach, Chris Knoche has accumulated a diverse resume as a media presence in town for more than two decades. That resume has earned him opportunities on both national and local stages and made him a Washington DC staple on radio, television and in digital media.
He was an all-Metropolitan selection as a player at WT Woodson High School and played collegiately at the University of Colorado and American University. After serving stints at American – first as an assistant coach, then as the Head Coach from 1990-1997- he began working games as a Color Analyst for CBS/Westwood One, ESPN, Comcast Sportsnet and DirecTV. After the 1998 and 1999 seasons Chris was selected to do NCAA tournament work for Host Communications and CBS/Westwood One. In 1999 Chris began working as the Color Analyst for the University of Maryland broadcast network and enters his 20th season with the Terps this season.
During those twenty years Chris has appeared regularly on George Michael’s “Full Court Press” on the NBC affiliate in Washington as well as being a regular guest for the highly rated “Sports Reporters” show on ESPN 980 radio. He currently serves as host for the DC Basketball Coaches podcast along with former Maryland Head Coach Gary Williams and he has regularly written columns for comcastsportsnet.com and Baltimoresportsandlife.com.