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Testudo Times staff roundtable: Basketball impressions and soccer & football predictions

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It's our weekly staff roundtable; men's basketball first impressions, men's soccer gets set for a tournament run and football looks to Michigan

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to Todd Carton, Andrew Kramer, Pete Volk, Dave Tucker, Grant Whittington, John Langley, Lee Sampson, Jake Nazar and David Wilson for their input this week. We touched on three different sports, all at different stages in the season.

Q. We’ve now had two exhibitions and three regular season games for men’s basketball. At this time, what’s your biggest positive and negative takeaway? *Ed's note: Some of these answers were given before the Fordham game last night

Todd: The truth is that I rarely put any weight on these early games against clearly overmatched opponents and that’s as true for the women’s team as it it for the men’s squad. Looking at last night’s box score (I didn’t see much of the game because I was watching 2015 MD volleyball commit Liz Twilley help her team win the MD 2A title.) I think I’d say that if Dodd can give the Terps 7 points (on 3-3 shooting), 5 rebounds and 4 blocks every game, that will be a solid season for him. On the negative side, I’d have to say that maybe I’m a bit spoiled from watching the women’s team so much and maybe it’s the different nature of the game but for all I read about how well this team is passing the ball, I’m not overly impressed with 15 assists on 35 baskets. For comparison, the women have had 50 assists on 80 baskets in their two games.

Andrew K.: It’s difficult to project anything from these four games as they were all against "cupcake" opponents. That said, in previous years we’ve had a few scary cupcake games, so the fact that we breezed through each game is notable. After all, Michigan State escaped with only a five point win over Navy last week. The other notable constant is ball movement: the players passed the ball effectively, leading to either open perimeter shots or an easy drive to the basket. It’s not something I’ve seen other Turgeon-led Terp teams do. I can’t come up with any real negatives but I’m sure some will surface once we reach real competition.

Pete: Maryland may have been playing cupcake opponents, but they’ve done so in the past, as well, so we can compare the differences between this year and previous cupcake encounters. The Terps have looked much cleaner, specifically on offense, and are playing with a purpose for the first time in the Turgeon era. Yes, these are not very good teams, but Maryland hasn’t beaten not very good teams quite like this in a long time, as Dave pointed out in his piece.

Dave: Maryland is beating who they have on their schedule so far. They’re blowing them out in a way that Maryland teams haven’t really done for almost 10 years. They’re not the national title team, but I think you’re seeing that these guys are going to be a very good team this season. They’ll have some growing pains, but the freshman and Pack and stepping up right away and they’re doing all of it without one of their leading scorers from last season. When they get Smotrycz back, you can’t help but be excited for the potential of this team. But translating that potential into wins is what I want to continue to see.

Grant: Sure, the schedule’s been easy but it’s exciting ganging up on teams and that’s just what the Terps have done so far. The freshman have been shooting lights out and making good decisions for the most part. Dez is the clear leader of the team and it looks like Layman seems to be a double-double threat every night.There are concerns on the rebounding front but I think the main concern should be beating the zone defense. Maryland’s mentality seems to be live and die by the three right now, but when they struggle from downtown, they need a plan B.

John: Like some have said before, I rarely put stock into early games, but with a young team, you have to pay attention a little bit. The trend seems to be a dependency on the long-range shot, which isn’t too surprising to me. I would like to see a post presence, but I doubt we will see much of it this season.

Lee: The biggest positive I’ve seen is this team’s ability to shoot from long distance.  The most troubling negatives have been turnovers (will they ever stop!?), and defensive rebounding.  This team could survive lack of offensive post production, but allowing multiple offensive rebounds does not inspire confidence.

Jake: They’re blowing teams out, and shooting pretty well doing it. That’s good. The turnovers suck. A lot. If they could get that sorted out they’re in very good shape. But again...just cupcake opposition so far. Though Maryland played some cupcakes last year and looked ugly while winning. Overall I’d say it’s been good.

David: The offense has the potential to be really, really good with Dez’s driving and pretty much everyone else’s shooting. The bigs are an undeniable concern, though. It’s never good to have a guard lead the team in rebounding twice in three games.

Q. Which newcomer has impressed you the most so far? Which one has surprised you the most?

Todd: I really haven’t seen enough of the play to answer this one. So I’ll pass.

Andrew K.: That’s tough, as there has been quality play from all freshmen. The surprise has been Richaud Pack. He adds another option at point guard to spell Melo, as well as being able to chip in points.

Pete: I would say I’m most impressed by Richaud Pack and most surprised by Dion Wiley.

Dave: Going continue to jump on the Pack train. He’s had a larger role than what I expected so far and I think is really going to have a great veteran presence on this team. Also agree with Pete on Wiley. He’s got a great shot and has been really impressive to me so far this season.

John: I haven’t had a chance to watch too much, but I am jumping on the Pack train as well. Seems to be doing more than I thought he would. Wiley surprises me as well (not to get redundant here). I always liked Wiley, but his shot is even better than advertised, to me.

Grant: Pack has been the most impressive thus far. He is choosey with his shots and seems to nail every one. He has a filthy triple threat and loves grabbing loose rebounds. None of the newcomers have disappointed but Pack has stood out the most, IMO.

Lee: I’ve been pleasantly surprised with Jared Nickens.  He has a good jumpshot, and has the length and quickness to be a good defender.  Also he has the best attribute for any shooter - no short term memory

Jake: I’ve been most impressed by Pack. Original answer I know. Most surprising...not sure I’m surprised by a lot them. We knew their talent. But Jared Nickens has looked good. Very good shot. Wiley’s also looked good.

David: I’ve been really impressed with Pack. He’s a different look than Trimble and plays at his own pace. He has a chance to feast against weaker second units. I also am already a huge Jared Nickens fan. He can shoot and he hustles. What’s not to like?

Q. Men’s soccer received a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament after winning the Big Ten Tourney. How far do you think this team will go?

Todd: Now we’ve gotten to a question where people think I have some idea what I’m talking (or writing) about. The team is geared for a deep run. They have essentially been in "playoff" mode since the Northwestern game. They are a focused, confident group that has been playing very well and who have met every challenge in terms of quality and style of play over that span. A possible rematch with Indiana in the third round is a little threatening. I’m not one of those folks who slavishly adheres to the "beating a team three times in a season is difficult" theory. If team A is better than team B (see MD vs Syracuse in women’s LAX) they will win all three. In this case, however, I’m not sure the Terps are better than the Hoosiers. Indiana was certainly better for the first 30 minutes of the B1G Tournament final. So that could be a stumbling block.

Pete: I’m hoping for an Elite 8 run, but I defer to Todd.

Dave: Would loooove to see this team get back to the National Title game this year. They seem to have done well after a somewhat rocky start. I could see a Final Four run in their future.

Grant: Like Todd said, the potential of an Indiana rematch is a bit scary, but I think the Terps will prevail and get to the College Cup. They have the talent, experience and coaching to make a run, so why not make a run? Final Four.

John: I’m going to plead the fifth here for reasons I will not disclose.

Lee: I’m very bullish - I think Final Four or bust.

Jake: Glad I get to answer this question having seen the draw, because making predictions in a tournament without seeing the draw is a fools errand. Even then...making predictions in soccer is tougher than any sport in my opinion. There’s so many different ways to play to either stifle a team, or put them under pressure. Even a less talented team can pull the upset if they’re committed enough and work hard enough defensively. Soccer fans will be familiar with the term "Park the bus". With all that said….I like Maryland’s chances to get to the College Cup. They could play UMBC and Louisville in the Second and Third Rounds, two teams they played in the regular season and didn’t beat. So they know what they need to do beat them. And the issue then was the issue with Maryland early in the season. They couldn’t create chances despite their possession and therefore couldn’t score. Now they’ve done that extremely well in their last 11 games, winning 10 with 1 won on penalties. I do think they’re a better team than Indiana who they’ll probably play in the Quarterfinals. So I’ll say a Final Four appearance. From there...we’ll see.

David: Anything short of the elite eight is a disappointment. Not sure if they have quite enough offense.

Q. Moving to football: The Terps are now 4-1 on the road this season and 2-3 at home. Is this mainly a result of scheduling or is there more to read into either of these records?

Todd: I’m going to go with scheduling. I think two of the home losses (OSU & MSU) happen regardless of where they are played and I don’t think any of the four road wins is one where you look at the game and wonder how Maryland won that on the road. Syracuse and USF are bad and Indiana may be worse. Penn State is the closest the Terps have to a quality win and, despite their six wins and the emotion of that game for Terps fans, the Nittany Lions are pretty much meh.

Andrew K.: With the exception of Wisconsin, Maryland’s road opponents have been fairly benign. Conversely, we played Ohio State and Michigan State at home. WVU is not a pushover and we lost on a last-second FG at home.

Pete: I’ll agree, it’s scheduling. We’ll see how that changes over the next two weeks.

Dave: Definitely think scheduling. Byrd has probably been the most intimidating it’s been, crowd wise, in a decade or so, based on attendance. Maryland just happened to play two of the best B1G teams at home and dropped a close one to a very good WVU team.

Grant: Without a doubt scheduling. Even the last game against Rutgers will likely feel like more of a neutral game because the students will be home for Thanksgiving break. Maryland has done pretty much exactly what fans expected out of them. The losses at home can’t be attributed to anything but the scheduling because the student section has been bustling this year (at least until half time).

John: No doubt, it’s scheduling. Their road opponents have been easier, and the three home games that stick out are West Virginia, Ohio State, and Michigan State, all tough teams (West Virginia being the least of the three, of course). If the tables were turned, we would be talking about the opposite, but here we sit.

Lee: I think scheduling is the most logical explanation.  As an alternative justification though, this team seems more focused and motivated when playing on the road (Wisconsin notwithstanding).

Jake: Yeah, it’s scheduling. They got the two best teams in the B1G by a country mile in Ohio State and Michigan State at home. And the (probably) 4th and 5th best teams on their schedule were at home. See the trend? Their road schedule has been average to poor with the exception of Wisconsin. That’s basically the most logical explanation IMO.

David: Definitely scheduling. Three of the four toughest games — West Virginia, Ohio State and Michigan State — came at home.

Q. There’s two games left, plus a bowl. What does Maryland need to do the rest of the way for you to consider this a successful season?

Todd: From the beginning of the year the floor for me to consider this a successful season has been eight wins so I have to stick with that. This means a minimum of 2-1. This week’s game is winnable but I don’t think it’s the "gimme" that some others folks seem to think. They’ve been playing better of late and a win this week gets them bowl eligible. I have to think that they are looking at this as their last chance to get that sixth win since they finish the season at Ohio State. I think the Terps should beat Rutgers at home so a sweep of the last two games makes the bowl irrelevant in terms of "a successful season." Split these two games and they have to win their bowl game (which might be easier than if they win them since then they probably won’t get Auburn as some projections show).

Andrew K.:The bowl game is hard to project because we don’t know who we’ll be playing. One sports pundit has us playing Auburn, which is hard to believe. A lot depends on our final record. So, to answer your question I think that winning out against Michigan and Rutgers would make for a successful season. Otherwise we’ll be in the same situation as last year. If we go 7 - 5 I’ll be disappointed.

Pete: For a successful year, Maryland needs at least two wins out of their next three games.

Dave: I thought 8 wins was very achievable for this team at the beginning of the year. They’ve done a great job of capitalizing against the weaker B1G teams and continued to build this program. I think 8 wins is a nice next step following last season.

Grant: I’m going to agree with the gang and say they need to win two of the next three games, one of them being the bowl game. It would be disappointing to win the next two games, just to fall in a bowl game.

John: Like others have said before, and I have as well, eight wins was success to me. So, two of the next three being wins is the least they can do in my opinion. Anything short of that is utter disappointment.

Lee: The bowl game is irrelevant to me from a win/loss perspective.  Splitting the last two games would be acceptable to me, but to consider the season a success, I would have to see an 8-4 regular season record. Maryland did not beat an out of conference FBS team with a winning record, so the conference record means more to me in terms of success than the overall record.  5-3 in the Big Ten is my standard of success at this point.

Jake: Get to 8 wins. It’s much more likely they get to 8 by winning their final two games because they’ll probably get a SEC West team that was a victim of cannibalization in the bowl game. So beat Michigan and Rutgers, finish 8-4 for the regular season, and that’s a good start to life in the B1G. Also continues the upward trend under Randy Edsall. 2-4-7-8.

David: I think winning two of the next three would be a success. That would either mean finishing the regular season at 8-4, which is good, winning a bowl game, which is also good, or beating Penn State and Michigan on the road during the same season, which is fun.

Q. Finally, let’s hear your prediction for the Terps’ trip to The Big House.

Todd: Maryland’s captains will shake hands with Michigan’s captains prior to the coin toss.

Pete: This one is a coin flip to me, but I’ll go Maryland, 21-17 in a dumb, dumb game.

Andrew K.: Using BTN’s 2-4-6-8-10 confidence scale, I’m taking the Terps with a confidence of 8. Yep, I think we’ve got a great chance to beat the Wolverines. Devin Gardner is worse than CJ and Michigan’s offense as a whole is pathetic. They’re sloppy and have one playmaker, Devin Funchess. The Wolverine’s defense took a hit when Frank Clark, one of their two best defensive players, was thrown off the team. But I also think Todd’s prediction will hold up.

Dave: I’ve been to the Big House before. It’s an awesome place, but the crowd was never really that loud or intimidating. That could be because it was 33 degrees, raining and they were playing Northwestern. The score for that game was something like 17-10. I’ll go with that for Saturday, with the Terps picking up their 7th win of the season.

Grant: Maryland wins on a Will Likely pick six: 24-17

John: This is really not a game Maryland should lose, in my opinion. I’ll go ahead and say Maryland 24-14 in an ugly game.

Lee: Maryland 24-23 in a game that mimics the Terp’s visit to Happy Valley (except there will probably be a handshake). Craddock kicks the game winner.

Jake: Probably going to be like the Penn State games in terms of how ugly it is, but Maryland should win. Maryland beats bad teams. Michigan is a bad team. They did their damnedest to post matching 0’s vs Northwestern (m00n) and set football back. Maryland really should win this one.

David: Maryland should win this one, but the offense without Diggs scares me a lot. He was always a bailout option. Obviously, Michigan’s defense isn’t anywhere close to Michigan State’s, but I’ll say Wolverines win 20-17 in a game that will be basically unwatchable.