Maryland gains a huge piece of their puzzle, turns a big weakness into a big strength, and becomes a contender, all at one fell swoop.
Put away your #FreeDez hashtags and NCAA-seeking pitchforks: the Dezcision has come down, and Mr. Wells has, in fact, been freed.
That groundbreaking bit of news, as you've probably long already heard, came down earlier today when the NCAA reversed its decision to deny Wells' request for immediate eligibility. That decision will not only restore some faith in the organization from Maryland's fanbase, but also have a much larger practical consequence: revolutionizing Maryland's second season under Mark Turgeon.
Pre-Dez, this was a talented, young, flawed, and inexperienced roster. Youngsters like Seth Allen and Jake Layman looked like great bets for the future, but they were likely going to be thrown into the deep end long before they were truly ready. The lineup lacked a proven secondary scorer to complement Nick Faust, plus had a gaping hole next to Faust on the wing. The options were either starting a shorter-than-you'd-like Allen or Pe`Shon Howard at the 2-guard and pushing Faust to the 3, or starting Layman, long and lanky but not ready to receive starter minutes in an ideal world.
Wells solves those problems. He's already been to a Sweet Sixteen, meaning he's been through the fires and is ready to be a much-needed experienced leader on the floor. He was considered a likely breakout star as a sophomore at Xavier, where he averaged nearly 10 points as a freshman - his offensive rating of 108.4 was 29th in the A-10 among all players (and, coincidentally, about the same mark Harrison Barnes put up last season, and significantly higher than Nick Faust's). Reports from the summer had him as perhaps Maryland's best player in practices, more polished and smooth than other Terps. That might be a little optimistic - transfers are always said to be the best in practice when they aren't eligible, for whatever reason - but it's hugely encouraging.
One of the things that has most hurt Maryland over the past few seasons is the lack of multiple perimeter scoring options. Ever since Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes, and Landon Milbourne all left College Park a few years back, the roster's rarely had multiple dangerous perimeter threats. Last year is a perfect example of that, with Terrell Stoglin taking the burden entirely on his shoulders, sometimes carrying it and sometimes failing. But when Stoglin hit his trademark rough patch, Maryland's offensive production would grind to a halt. Until Faust emerged late in the year, no one else on the floor was a consistent producer; the offense would stagnate and become toothless, killing Maryland's momentum and digging them into a hole.
There is no Stoglin on this year's roster, but there are plenty of scoring options who complement each other, led by Faust and Wells, each of whom could average 15 points a game from the wing. If either Howard or Allen can emerge as an ACC-level point guard and pitch in a handful as well, plus throwing in Logan Aronhalt's sharp-shooting off the bench and Layman's athleticism, there's a glut of competent scoring options from the outside. That should open things up for Alex Len in the middle, giving him space to assert himself a little more. And should Faust or Wells emerge as a top-tier ACC scorer in their second season? Well, things might get really interesting.
And that entire package comes at probably Maryland's biggest position of need. He'll walk into one of the two wing spots (probably the 3, but that's really just semantics at this point) alongside Faust, presenting opponents with a fearsome duo of athletic catalysts. Instead of starting the inexperienced Layman or undersized Allen or Howard, Maryland can start an experienced, physically imposing Wells, a massive swing in the Terrapins' favor. That leaves only one real position of genuine uncertainty in the lineup: at point guard, between Allen and Howard. And after seeing their performances against IUP in the exhibition, there seems to be a solid chance at least one of them will turn out as an ACC-level starter.
So Maryland probably won't start a single freshman, unless Allen beats out Howard at point guard (which would be a good thing, in a way, as it would indicate that Allen is better than we thought and as good as he showed in the exhibition). (I guess Charles Mitchell could still beat out James Padgett, but he could be better off the bench as a spark.) They'll have a starting lineup with two of the most imposing young wings in the ACC, both of whom have huge reputations as defenders and are athletic specimens. They boast an athletic 7-footer at center. The likes of Jake Layman and Logan Aronhalt, while potentially in over their heads receiving starter minutes, can become impact players off the bench with their length and athleticism (in Layman's case) and shooting and experience (in Aronhalt's). This is the most balanced, deepest roster Maryland's had in years, with a variety of strong options at every position on the floor.
All of that put together takes Maryland from off the bubble and almost certainly into the NCAA tournament. I'll hold off for the moment declaring the Terrapins top 25 teams for sure, since so much of that will depend on how Len and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Allen and Howard progress. But I thought this team, without Dez, was probably on the outside of the bubble; with him, there's top-6 seed potential here. That might seem like a drastic switch, but that's what happens when probably a team's biggest weakness is transformed into arguably its biggest strength. Not only is the immediate effect significant, but it's followed by a substantial domino effect to boot.
The best part about it all: you only have to wait another two days to see it all finally come together. Kentucky was likely to be double-digit favorites in Brooklyn on Friday. Now? Maybe I'm a little biased, but it looks like a toss-up from here.
So let's hear it. How drastically does Wells change the paradigm for Maryland this season? What were you thinking Maryland was destined for without Wells, and now with him? Is this that much sought-after game-changer for Maryland's program? It's not hard to look at the future and see a veteran Wells, Faust, and Len lining up wreaking havoc in the not-too-distant future.