And Now, We Coast: Maryland Basketball Enters Doldrums, Excitement Shifts Down a Few Gears

If you're anything like me, you can't wait to see Maryland take to the floor against a semi-big-name opponent again. Terrell Stoglin blitzing Notre Dame on Sunday did nothing but whet my appetite, and now I'm eager to see how much Maryland can keep improving. It's been a fascinating and encouraging process, really, and with a talisman like Stoglin at the helm it's been entertaining, too.

Sorry to get your hopes up, by the way. Because it'll be about another month before you get to see these guys take on another high-major opponent.

Yep, we've reached the winter doldrums, when competitive games end and we have a solid month of guarantee games and tune-ups for the ACC slate. With the Irish out of the way, Maryland's next six contests are against mid- or low-major opponents, all at home, none promising to be particularly entertaining. Things won't heat up again on the court until the Terrapins travel to N.C. State to kick off ACC play.

In fact, let's take a look at Maryland's next six opponents, so you understand just what you're facing here. There's tomorrow's opponent, Mount St. Mary's, which lost to Marquette by 54 and stands at 1-6 on the season, with the only win coming over Hartford. Then there's a week-long break before the Terrapins host Zeke-coached and 2-5 Florida International, who have a respectable victory over George Mason but also sport losses to Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Oral Roberts, and Georgia State.

Then there's another week-long break before they welcome Radford, who've lost five-straight against opposition like Long Island, Marist, and Charleston Southern. Another five days, and there's admirable 4-4 Albany, who still lost to George Mason by 20 and whose best win is over Navy. Then 1-5 Samford, which has already lost to Youngstown St. and Western Carolina at home. And things wrap up with Cornell, a 3-4 team that hasn't played any team better than Buffalo or St. Bonaventure (and lost both of those).

The best KenPom ranking of the six is Cornell's 174, and the average rank is 261. (Maryland is 103.) I know I said that every game for Maryland will be tough - and teams like FIU and Cornell could pose problems - but, in all honesty, they should go 6-0 for the rest of December.

In fact, the biggest news won't have anything to do with the opponents or the games, unless Maryland drops one. The real focus will be on Maryland's team progression: the Terrapins will leave this stretch a better and deeper team than they found it, as Alex Len will have served his ten-game suspension and be available against Albany (cupcake #3 of the six-game stretch). That give the big Ukrainian three games to get settled to the pace of the college game and ensures that he, and his progression, will be the biggest storyline for the final three contests.

I'm advocating against expecting immediate fireworks, as he's still only a freshman, but he'll at least help out Maryland's depth situation, provide a big body to try to counter the ACC's post players, and decrease the minutes guys like John Auslander and Spencer Barks have to play. If he can be a minor improvement over, say, Berend Weijs, I consider that gravy. Either way, he should improve the team.

Likewise, there's an outside shot Pe'Shon Howard by the Cornell game. His optimistic return date was upgraded to New Year's, and Cornell is on the 3rd. Howard has the potential to seriously alter Maryland's ceiling, significantly more so than Len. A true point guard, like Howard, would provide the Terrapins with a steadying influence on the court as well as allow Nick Faust and occasionally Terrell Stoglin to move to their more natural positions off the ball. MVPe' may be talented, but his bigger contribution to Maryland will be helping everyone else fall into place into the place where they better fit.

So yes, the next month might be a bit boring, particularly because the football fury seems to be extinguishing. (C'mon, Jacksonville.) But should Maryland take care of business, they very well could enter ACC play standing at 10-3, with Alex Len eligible, Pe'Shon Howard healthy, and a trip to Temple still on the slate.

If that doesn't excite you a little bit, stop watching basketball.

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