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4 questions for Maryland athletics as 2019 begins

As the calendar turns, it’s time to look ahead.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Tournament-Northwestern vs Maryland Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It’s now 2019, and like every new year, there’s reason for optimism as we get started. While 2018 was an up-and-down year for Maryland athletics, the next 12 months could have some special things in store. But Terps fans also have several questions as 2019 gets started. Here are a few of the big ones.

How does Mike Locksley fare in year one?

A week from now, the Alabama offensive coordinator will finally be able to invest all his time and energy into his new position. Since getting the job, Locksley has had to split time between his Maryland and Alabama duties, which means he hasn’t hired a full staff or been able to devote as much time as he would like to recruiting. On a conference call with reporters during the early signing period, he said his main focus has been meeting with the current roster as well as signing players he had previous relationships with.

The result was a small six-player class, but Locksley said once the dead period ends on January 11, his biggest priority will be doing in-home visits for potential recruits. His goal is to sign a full class for 2019, though that may be hard since Maryland’s recruiting basically shut down as DJ Durkin’s fate was in limbo almost all of last season.

Once the recruiting cycle ends, Locksley will have to turn to guiding Maryland through another brutal schedule. After starting the season against Howard, the Terps will a typically tough Big Ten East slate and some challenging matchups in crossover games and non-conference play. Outside of the Big Ten East, Maryland will travel to Purdue, Minnesota and Temple (who dominated in College Park in 2018). At home, the Terps will also face a Syracuse team coming off its best season since 2001 and a Nebraska team that could see a big jump in Year 2 under Scott Frost.

Getting to a bowl game would be a big accomplishment, and show a talented 2020 DMV recruiting class that the future is bright in College Park.

Can Maryland men’s basketball get back to the NCAA Tournament?

The Terps head into the new year with more questions than answers. Mark Turgeon’s squad is a young team that showed potential against Virginia, but showed similar signs of late game woes that plagued this team last year against Purdue and Seton Hall.

Maryland will now have to get through a challenging Big Ten schedule in a much-improved conference. A .500 record the rest of the regular season could still be enough for an NCAA Tournament bid, but even that’s easier said than done. The Terps have home-and-homes against Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Indiana and Nebraska and have to travel to Michigan State and Iowa. All seven of those teams are currently ranked in the AP top 25 or spent time there earlier this season.

For Maryland to get back to March Madness, it will have to reverse its recent road woes. The Terps went 2-8 away from the Xfinity Center last year and have split similar games this season. However, the one win was over Navy in front of a crowd with a sizable Maryland presence. Maryland went 8-2 in road games when it made the NCAA Tournament in 2017, which was a tremendous boost and ultimately the difference between being on the bubble and safely in the tournament.

Will Maryland women’s basketball put the pieces together?

Since a dominant win at South Carolina, Brenda Frese’s team continued to stay in the win column despite inconsistent play. That inconsistency finally cost Maryland on New Year’s Eve in a 73-65 loss to Rutgers. In front of a noisy crowd at the Xfinity Center, the Terps were outclassed by a more experienced team that wanted it more. The Scarlet Knights also exposed several of Maryland’s deficiencies, and Frese said it hammered home the message that the Terps can’t expect to win on talent alone.

This team has higher expectations than last year, and rightfully so. Maryland’s core is another year older, and freshmen Taylor Mikesell and Shakira Austin have been difference-makers so far. Despite adding key pieces and getting consistent performances from Kaila Charles and Stephanie Jones, it hasn’t clicked yet. Blair Watson is still working her way back from a torn ACL, Channise Lewis hasn’t looked as confident and has gone from occasional threat to a no-show on offense, and Brianna Fraser is still searching for consistency.

The Terps should bounce back Saturday against a weaker-than-usual Ohio State team before heading into their toughest stretch of the season so far. After facing the Buckeyes, Maryland will travel to take on a scrappy Nebraska squad, host a Michigan team that just upset No. 12 Minnesota and travel to East Lansing to face a red hot Michigan State. If the Terps have truly taken the next step, we’ll know in a few weeks.

What does Maryland lacrosse have in store in 2019?

Believe it or not, the start of the lacrosse season is only a month away. The men’s team will start its season Feb. 2 against Bucknell, and the women’s team will do the same one week later against George Mason. Both teams will be defending their Big Ten titles and will have championship aspirations.

Despite having a young squad, expectations for John Tillman’s team are once again high. Senior Curtis Corley leads a defense that lost key cogs in goal, close defense and the midfield, but it should gel as the season progresses. Jared Bernhardt takes over the No. 1 jersey from Connor Kelly and should lead a young but talented offense. Bubba Fairman and Logan Wisnauskas will play key roles as well after having stellar freshman seasons. The Terps should have plenty of challengers in the Big Ten, though, which may be the best conference in the country.

Cathy Reese has a stacked roster once again, led by seniors Jen Giles and Caroline Steele on offense and Julia Braig and Megan Taylor on defense. The Terps also welcome Canisius midfielder Erica Evans from Canisius, who is a former All-American and helped lead Canada to a silver medal at the 2017 World Cup. Maryland will play 10 teams from last year’s NCAA Tournament in its typically challenging schedule, but won’t be the favorite to hoist the trophy at Homewood Field on Memorial Day Weekend. That honor belongs to Boston College, who not only returns Tewaaraton winner Sam Apuzzo but also brings back 2017 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Kenzie Kent, who redshirted last year to focus on ice hockey.

Of course, every Maryland team — and the athletic department as a whole — faces questions as new seasons approach or current seasons continue. But there’s a whole year ahead to find the answers.