A lot of people are counting down to a date right now; for most, it's Tuesday, but not for us. No, Friday's where it's at, with Maryland kicking off basketball season on November 9th against Kentucky in the Barclays Center. There's plenty of intrigue as we inch closer to gameday, from how those uniforms will look in person to the Harrison Twins revenge factor.
But the most interesting question, and perhaps most important one, is what Maryland's starting lineup will look like. Because unlike Kentucky's locked-on starting five of Ryan Harrow, Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress, Kyle Wiltjer, and Nerlens Noel, there's some uncertainty about who trots out for Maryland at the tip. [Update: Don't believe me? Mark Turgeon says he only has two starters figured out so far.] We'll know for sure after tomorrow when Maryland faces IUP in an exhibition game, but what's the fun in figuring it out after the fact? Let's try to piece things together earlier.
Let's get the easy stuff out of the way. Alex Len is a guaranteed starter in one of the post spots, as Mark Turgeon's already said. And while Turge hasn't said the same for Pe`Shon Howard and Nick Faust, you have to assume that the closest thing Maryland has to a pure point guard in Howard and arguably their best player in Faust are locked in for starting spots as well. Howard will match up with Harrow at point guard, Faust preferably with Goodwin at 2-guard, and Len against either Wiltjer or Noel depending on who partners with him.
The other two positions are less certain. First off, it seems likely that James Padgett will start at the four alongside Alex Len, but I'm having trouble buying into that being an absolte certainty. Not because Padgett isn't Maryland's best option, in a vacuum - he probably is. But Kentucky's lineup could present some matchup problems for him. Kyle Wiltjer and Nerlens Noel will almost certainly start at the four and the five; Len could easily handle either, but Padgett would run into trouble on both counts. Wiltjer's mobility and ability to stretch the floor would bring Padgett out of his comfort zone; Noel's length and athleticism could give him fits. One potential fix for that is starting Len along with Shaquille Cleare; Len can handle Wiltjer, while Cleare's girth and strength could help neutralize Noel, as he did when the two faced off in AAU play.
But that's a stretch, because it'd require starting a true freshman in his first game over one of the two seniors on the team, and in his homecoming game at that. Not only is that questionable optics and management, it would be throwing a young guy into the deep end. Cleare hasn't lit the world on fire to this point, despite his strong rebounding ability, so it'd be a pretty huge gamble, one that Turgeon may not feel like taking if he feels confident in Padgett, matchups be damned. It's probably quite likely that Padge is, in fact, the fourth starter.
Which leaves one more spot open, right along the wing with Nick Faust. If Dezmine Wells becomes eligible between now and Friday, he walks into it. But the N.C.A.A. granting that waiver is questionable in the first place; having it happen in the next week or so seems downright unlikely. So if not Wells, then who?
There are two real possibilities. The first: Logan Aronhalt, the 6-4 senior transfer from Albany. Aronhalt is a sharp-shooter who can stretch the floor and open up space for Howard's and Faust's drives, as well as for Len to operate in the mid-range. There are some questions about his explosiveness and mobility coming off a knee injury, and his relatively middling height would be worrisome given that he'd match up against Archie Goodwin, a 6-6 pogo stick. Not to mention that with him as a 2-guard, Faust will be asked to defend Alex Poythress, an athletic 6-8 monster. His experience, however, would be a plus under the bright lights.
The second, and what I consider to be more likely option: Jake Layman, the 6-8 true freshman. Layman's an athlete of his own, and because he'd be manning the three spot he'd let Faust function as a 2-guard. That would push the matchups back in Maryland's favor somewhat, with Faust on Goodwin and Layman on Poythress. Starting a freshman is again worrisome, but hey - it's basketball, not football. He'll survive, especially given that Poythress is a youngster himself. I'm not as confident about him in a half-court offense as Aronhalt, but he's a much better defensive option, and his length and athleticism would give Maryland an easy outlet on the fast break. In a game in which Maryland might struggle to get buckets regardless of who starts in that final spot, those two aspects of the game are probably more important than anything else.
Unless Wells is ruled eligible in the next eight days, it seems likely to me that Turgeon rolls out a starting lineup of Howard, Faust, Layman, Padgett, and Len, though I suppose as I said earlier both Aronhalt and Cleare could be outside bets. That's pretty much what I'd do, too.
[Update: As I noted above, the way Turgeon's talking about this makes me wonder if maybe Howard's and Padgett's spots aren't more up for grabs than it appears presently. It makes a lot more sense to me for Padgett; he's a good kid, a senior, and a leader, but he's really not a great fit for this game. I assume the guy pushing Howard is Seth Allen, but if Padgett's not on the floor, Howard has to be, right? Can't have that much inexperience at there at once.]
So, what say you? Any changes you could see or would consider making? Thoughts about matchup problems? Like I said, we'll know tomorrow, but there's no bragging rights in playing the waiting game.