The Maryland men’s basketball season is rapidly approaching and expectations are high.
The first exhibition game for the program is just seven days away and it’ll come against Fayetteville State in College Park on the evening of Nov. 5. Then, the 2021-22 campaign officially kicks off against Quinnipiac at Xfinity Center just four days after the lone exhibition match.
It’s going to be a season of expectations and hopes for a Maryland team that is returning three quality players and bringing in an array of talented youngsters waiting in the wings right behind them. Head coach Mark Turgeon did an excellent job filling the team’s biggest needs in the offseason with the addition of two big transfers, and as a result, Maryland is receiving a fair amount of preseason recognition.
Maryland has been ranked as the No. 21 team in the AP Top 25 Preseason Poll and it is behind just four other Big Ten programs that are also found in the rankings.
Let’s take a look at Maryland’s projected starting five in what is surely one of the most talented rosters that the Terps have had in some time.
Projected point guard: Fatts Russell
Despite the departure of guard Darryl Morsell, Maryland was able to maintain a strong backcourt heading into this season with the addition of Rhode Island transfer Fatts Russell. Russell had a decorated career at Rhode Island, finishing with the most career steals in program history and ending seventh all-time in three-point field goals made at the school.
As a senior at Rhode Island, Russell led the team with 14.7 points per game and chipped in with an average of 4.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and nearly two steals per game. He was forced into a heavy scoring role with the Rams, but the speedy guard is a magnificent passer as well. His court vision is special and his ability to drive to then find open teammates while moving at full speed is something that Maryland fans should notice right away when he steps onto the court.
Russell started in 22 of Rhode Island’s 23 games he played last season and he proved that he’s an extremely durable player. There were only three games a year ago that Russell played less than 30 minutes. He’s a proven point guard that will likely play heavy minutes for Maryland in 2021-22 and his playmaking abilities should boost the offensive efficiency almost immediately.
One area that Russell did struggle with last season was his overall shooting percentage. As previously mentioned, Russell was forced to provide a ton of Rhode Island’s offense, but he finished shooting at a 33.3% clip from the floor and a 23.5% shooting success rate from deep. Luckily for Maryland, Russell won’t have to carry much of the load from three-point range as the Terps have other capable shooters in that area.
Projected shooting guard: Eric Ayala
The one Terp receiving the most amount of preseason recognition is senior guard Eric Ayala, who is entering his fourth season at Maryland.
Ayala is the likely candidate to finish with the most points per game on the roster in 2021-22 after leading Maryland last season with 15.1 points per game in 28 total starts out of 29 games that he played in.
The guard out of Wilmington, Delaware has already been named to the preseason All-Big Ten team and he was tabbed as the No. 19 overall guard for the upcoming season in college basketball, per an article from The Athletic. To top it all off, Ayala was also listed as one of the 20 players on the 2022 Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award watch list, an award for the nation’s top shooting guard.
Just like the rest of the program, it’ll be a season of very high expectations for Ayala, who has proven himself as a true three-level scorer over the course of his career. He finished with the most minutes per game last season with just over 33 per contest and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him match those court totals this year. He was also a big factor in Maryland’s short postseason run in 2020-21, totaling 36 points in the Terps’ two NCAA Tournament games.
The expectation is that Russell will be utilized more as a pass-first guard, and that means we could see even more production from Ayala this season. Don’t be shocked if Ayala is able to increase his points per game average after shooting 43.7% from the field and 33.7% from three-point range last year.
Projected small forward: Hakim Hart
Junior Hakim Hart may be the biggest X-factor on the projected starting lineup coming into the season.
Entering this year, Hart is listed as two inches taller than the 6-foot-6 height he was listed at last season as a sophomore. Though he’s listed as a guard, it’s probably wise to assume that that the now 6-foot-8 Hart is expected to take over the small forward duties for the departed Aaron Wiggins, who got drafted to the NBA by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Hart has been with the program since the 2019-20 season and he’s come a long way since averaging 1.6 points and just over six minutes of court time in his freshman year. He made 19 starts last season for Maryland at both guard positions and averaged 7.1 points on 45.2% shooting from the field. Hart also chipped in with 3.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game a season ago.
Hart’s positive progression in the first two seasons of his collegiate career should carry over into this season as well and he’s expected to be a bigger factor on offense in 2021-22. It’s going to be an important task for Maryland to try and replace the production that Wiggins gave it, and Hart may be one of the answers to that problem.
One thing to keep an eye on is Hart’s three-point shooting ability. Hart shot at a 33% success rate from deep last year on 88 attempts. If Maryland is going to replace Wiggins’ 14 points per game and the 57 made threes he made a season ago, then Hart will have to maintain his consistency from long range with even more attempts from beyond the arc that will likely be coming his way.
Projected power forward: Donta Scott
Donta Scott is arguably the best returning player on the team as his impact from last year was on-par with what Ayala produced on a game-to-game basis.
There were plenty of times a season ago that Scott was the most effective two-way player on the court for Maryland and he’s locked himself into the starting power forward role entering the 2021-22 season. Scott averaged 11 points per game as a sophomore, and he excelled with his efficiency and defensive awareness. He led the team in blocks with 25 and came up with 22 steals in 27 starts. Scott also helped Maryland with rebounding last season, averaging a team-high 5.9 boards per game.
Scott was also an underrated passer and he finished tied for third on the roster for the most assists with 63.
What makes Scott so effective, though, is his willingness to score from just about everywhere. He’s a force in the paint, but he’s also a sharpshooter from deep. He by far and away led the Terps’ three-point shooters by hitting 43.8% of his three-point attempts. That number is good enough for fifth in program history for a player’s single-season three-point field goal percentage.
Scott is one of the most talented power forwards in the nation and his all-around ability has gained some preseason recognition. He was one of 20 players named to the watch list for the 2022 Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award, which signifies the country’s top power forward.
Maryland’s success last season had a lot to do with how well Scott played at certain times and he’ll likely be a top-three scorer on the team once again.
Projected center: Qudus Wahab
If Maryland was missing any key pieces when competing in the Big Ten in 2020-21, it was clear that the absence of a true center hurt the program immensely.
Even though players like Galin Smith and Jarius Hamilton did their best to fill some of the lack of depth that Maryland had in its frontcourt, the Terps were visibly beat in the paint often a season ago, especially against Big Ten teams that had dominant forces down low.
Fortunately for Maryland, Turgeon’s work in the transfer portal is lining up to pay dividends in the future. The program will have the help of 6-foot-11 Qudus Wahab this season, a transfer from Georgetown that played a pivotal part in the Hoya’s Big East Tournament Championship run.
Wahab has turned into more than just a serviceable center as he has grown to become one of the dominant centers in all of college basketball. Last season for Georgetown he averaged 12.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game as a sophomore. Wahab also hit 127 of his 215 shot attempts, giving him a 59.1% field goal percentage. His length gives him plenty of advantages on both ends of the floor, and he figures to immediately fill in a hole that Maryland desperately needed to fill entering this season.
He averaged over 27 minutes per game at Georgetown in his sophomore season, showing that Wahab is ready for an even more expanded role. He was just the latest Terp to be named to a preseason accolade, as Wahab was recently named to the watch list for the 2022 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award for the nation's best center.