Maryland's game against College of Charleston tomorrow night in the Comcast Center (at 7:00 on ESPNU, mind you) can be spun any number of different ways. You could look at it as Bobby Cremins, former Georgia Tech coach, returning to an ACC arena to play Gary Williams, an old foe. You could look at it as the battle for Adjehi Baru (no, really, CoC is a finalist). You could see it as Charleston's second upset bid at an ACC power after last year's takedown of UNC, the loss that jumpstarted the Heels' collapse. Or you could just be boring and look at it as another early-season warmup for the rest of the season.
Whichever way you slice it, don't overlook the actual team at play here. CoC - they're the Cougars, if'n you're wondering - is expected to be one of the better mid-major teams in the country and has the potential to be a pretty formidable foe if Maryland plays as sloppily as they did against Seattle. They return three (or four, depending on your perspective) starters and they have a legitimate star point ranked among the best players outside of the Big 6 Conferences. And though this year's team has a few unanswered question marks - their debut comes against Maryland, so no prior games this year off which to base anything - the UNC win from last season should remind you that they have no trouble taking down an ACC team.
Senior 6-2 point guard Andrew Goudelock is the unquestioned star and leader. He led them in points and assists last season with 19.4 and 3.9 a game, respectively; the next closest, with 12 and 3.1, has graduated, so expect his involvement in the offense to increase even more. He's not flying under the radar in the slightest, either: he was named the SoCon's preseason player of the year. He's a do-it-all type of guard with a specialty in shooting, as a career 42% shooter from beyond the arc. He scored 24 points in the UNC upset last season, including the mega-clutch game-tying 3-pointer that sent the contest into overtime.
Don't think that there's nothing surrounding him, though. For one, there's Jeremy Simmons, a 6-8 senior forward who averaged 12 and 8 last season and made the preseason All-SoCon team. He'll likely be expected to check Jordan Williams and is the team's best inside scorer and leading rebounder. Joining Goudelock in the backcourt is another senior, shooting guard Donovan Monroe. He averaged 12.3 points a game and led the team in steals last year. All three of Goudelock, Simmons, and Monroe started last season and are seniors now; this team is not wont for experience. (In fact, the only guy to play major minutes last year and graduate was Tony White, a 6-5 guard, and he had about as much production as Monroe.)
The x-factor of the bunch is Antwaine Wiggins, a 6-7 junior forward that blew out his ACL last preseason and missed the entire year. His injury transformed the team from a traditional squad with decent mid-major height to a three-guard set heavily relying on a sole outstanding player. He returns this year, undoubtedly rusty but also healthy, and is expected to start in the frontcount next to Simmons. While neither Wiggins nor Simmons are towering presences, they do give the Cougars decent height and won't be easily beaten by Maryland's Jordan Williams, Dino Gregory, or James Padgett.
The strength of CoC's team comes in their guard play, the ability of Gouldelock, and, perhaps most importantly when compared to Maryland, their experience. They have three returning senior starters; another, Wiggins, started two seasons ago and has been with the program for four years. Gouldelock is a legitimate star and Monroe is a more-than-adequate secondary option.
What hurt the Cougars last year was rebounding, and Wiggins' absence was a big reason for that. They also add a few big-bodied freshmen, but considering this is their first game, who knows how they'll perform? Unless Wiggins can either provide more boards than expected or Simmons improves greatly in his senior year, that will still be an area Maryland has a crucial advantage, thanks in no small part to Jordan Williams. Likewise, the identity of the fifth starter - expected to be 6-6 sophomore swingman Willis Hall - could be a limiting factor; Hall averaged only 5 points a game last year and I haven't read much about how he's expected to progress.
There's a reason CoC is expected one of the better mid-major teams in the country this year. Their experience can't be manufactured and Gouldelock is the rare high-major talent on a mid-major team. There are most certainly some questions out there, mostly around rebounding. The question marks - Wiggins and Hall - won't be answered well into the future, but I'm getting the feeling this one will be closer than last night's blowout. It might not be close just yet, but Charleston has the potential to make Maryland uncomfortable.