Thanks to Noah Niederhoffer, Jake Nazar, Todd Carton, Pete Volk and Andrew Kramer for their input this week. More than usual, we jumped around here, touching on what I believe is a record for us – four different Maryland programs in one roundtable: men's and women's basketball, men's soccer and football. Let's rock:
Q. We'll start with tonight, and Maryland's season-opening men's basketball game against Wagner. What are you looking for out of the Terps in what is, ideally for them, nothing more than a tuneup that counts in the standings?
Noah: No injuries, no centers fouling out and I am looking out for smart decisions with the basketball.
Jake: Let's turn it over fewer than 7-8 times, win easily and have no crippling injuries.
Todd: The no injuries-thing is always good. They were a decent 19-12 last year and have some size, so I'd like to see Dodd not foul out and Ceko get some productive minutes.
Pete: I mean, I can't disagree with no injuries. I would like Maryland to continue to pass the ball well, as they have appeared to do in the two exhibitions. I would also like Maryland to win the rebounding battle (and the game) against a smaller opponent.
Andrew K.: No injuries and continued free-throw shooting in the 70's.
Q. Taking the long view for a moment, Maryland rostered a handful of freshmen who might be semi-important to the program's future. For each of Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley, Jared Nickens and Michal Cekovsky, what's a reasonable season result?
Noah: For Trimble, anything less than a trip to the NCAA Tournament will be considered a failure. He brings the hype and the talent and he is expected to help Maryland win and make the tournament right now. It's always something with this team and they will lose games that they shouldn't lose and they will probably unexpectedly beat one very good team. I think they are a bubble team this year but I have them on the outside looking in.
Jake: Individually the expectation level probably goes Melo-Cekovsky-Wiley-Nickens in terms of who has the most expectations on their shoulders. For the team....get in the dance. 1 tournament in the last 5 has left people really impatient. Then again, Maryland fans are always impatient and not known for taking a patient approach in judging their team.
Pete: I think it is more than unreasonable to pin Maryland's NCAA Tournament hopes on a freshman. Trimble will play a big role, and he should be an important scoring factor, but I just want to see growth from the four of them.
Andrew K.: Trimble is B1G Freshman of the Year and Wiley and Nickens get substantial PT. For Cekovsky, getting adjusted to the U.S. game and being a respectable sub for Dodd seems reasonable.
Q. Similarly, for this women's hoops team sans megastar Alyssa Thomas, what's a reasonable expectation for the 2014-15 season?
Noah: Having covered the women's team for a little while, I know that they will be really, really good even without Alyssa Thomas. They are ranked 10th in the AP Poll and eighth in the Coaches' Poll. This team might go full-court press and mid-court trap for ENTIRE GAMES! I'm excited to see that. Offensively they have great speed and athleticism. That being said, they are a pretty small team, and they won't rebound as well, which will hurt them against the nation's best teams. This team should definitely make the Elite 8, but it depends on who is on their side of the bracket. If it is UConn or Notre Dame, they will not be making a return trip to the Final Four.
Jake: Be very good, compete for the conference title and win at least two games in the tournament. That seems to be the expectation every year, and they meet it.
Todd: I guess I can't duck this one. I have high expectations for this team. I think their non-conference schedule, despite Coach Frese's attempts to spin it otherwise, is fairly soft, with the game against Notre Dame in South Bend obviously serving as the top challenge. I haven't seen either of the exhibitions but it did worry me a bit that UDC out rebounded Maryland. Still, for the season overall, I'd look for them to be undefeated at home, win the B1G championship, and make a run to the Elite Eight.
Pete: Can't top what everyone else said here. My expectations are similar to Todd's.
Q. Shifting gears for a moment to soccer, Sasho Cirovski's Terps have an afternoon date with Michigan State in the Big Ten's conference semifinal today. The Terps have had a remarkable turnaround after an uncharacteristic and underwhelming start. Have you formed any impressions of this team or expectations going forward?
Noah: Sasho is a great motivator, and from watching and covering the team, I can tell you that they are confident and playing their best soccer at exactly the right time. They sensed the urgency after their overtime loss at Northwestern in early October, and they haven't lost since. A lot of things fell their way, which helped them win the Big Ten title and host the Big Ten Tournament. The home cooking always helps, but they are putting themselves in great position to get a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, and this team knows that they can play great soccer. The expectation for me is that this team will make the Final Four again.
Jake: They're the team you expected them to be 4-6 weeks ago. Their attack is really clicking after 8-9 odd games where they just weren't able to really create quality chances and therefore couldn't win games. Not only are they scoring, they're dominating games and are comfortable at the back as well. They're playing as well as anyone in the country. They'll go far in the tournament.
Todd: I'm with those guys. I pointed out in my season review that, while it took this team longer to get started than many of us hoped or expected, they hit this wonderful confluence of backs against the wall, ejected coach, and return to health that has launched them on this run. George Campbell is probably as healthy as he's been all season and once he scored his first goal seems to be a more relaxed and confident player. Shinsky, Endoh and Eticha make a huge difference and in the back. Alex Crognale is playing as well as he's ever played. The one cautionary note is that because of the way they attack, they do leave themselves a bit more vulnerable to counters than a lot of teams. Bottom line: They're primed for another run to the College Cup.
Pete: Last year's loss to Notre Dame still pains me. Bring it home, boys.
Q. And finally pivoting to football, Ohio State handed it to Michigan State pretty substantially in East Lansing last weekend. Did that game change your view of Maryland's prospects Saturday night, perhaps to the point that you'll buy into an upset?
Noah: Not at all. Ohio State runs the ball extremely well and has a serviceable quarterback. Maryland has neither.
(Ed. note: J.T. Barrett is "serviceable" in the same way water is "mildly wet.")
Jake: No. Ohio State may have comfortably beaten Sparty, but Sparty's still blown out nearly everyone else they've played in conference play. Probably the same vs. Maryland.
Todd: Sorry. Maryland goes down and goes down handily. Randy Edsall's record against ranked teams drops to 1-260,000, or whatever the actual number is.
Pete: Nah. Michigan State's defense is specifically built to stop offenses like Maryland's. The Terps will need big plays on special teams or defense to get in the kind of field position they'll need to put up any points.
Andrew K.: Any chance whatsoever went out the window with Diggs being suspended for the game (and now possibly out for the rest of the year with a kidney injury). It's possible that MSU has a letdown, Long/Likely make sensational plays and the weather is awful. But even if all three occur, the talent differential is so substantial that MSU probably wins.
Q. Score predictions, please, for Maryland-Michigan State at Byrd Stadium, and tell us who Maryland's most important player will be:
Noah: A lot to a little. 45-20. C.J. Brown will get booed off the field. Andre Monroe will be Maryland's most important player because the line of scrimmage will be the key to the game.
Jake: 37-17, Michigan State. Most important player, I'll cop out and say the offensive line.
Todd: Predictions? I ain't got no predictions. I don't need no predictions. I don't have to give you any stinkin' predictions!
Pete: 27-6, Michigan State.
Andrew K.: Using BTN's 2-4-6-8-10 confidence scale, I'd say MSU winning is an 8.