Maryland men’s basketball is off to a good start, pulling away from Niagara, 71-49, in its first win of the season, and Kevin Willard’s first win as head coach.
Par for the course in game one of a new era, it wasn't always pretty as Willard tinkered with lineups and offensive and defensive schemes. But, Maryland’s starters looked comfortable playing together and dominated when they were on the floor.
The Terps now turn their attention to Western Carolina, which they tip off against Thursday at 7 p.m. at the XFINITY Center. Western Carolina lost its opener to Georgia and is by no means a difficult matchup for Maryland, but the Terps will still have to take care of business in their nonconference games against inferior opponents.
Western Carolina Catamounts (0-1, 0-0 Southern)
2021 record: (11-21, 5-13 Southern)
Western Carolina head coach Justin Gray is starting his second season as the Catamounts’ leader. Gray has served on various college coaching staffs before he got the head coaching job at Western Carolina in April 2021. In his first year as head coach, the Catamounts struggled mightily, finishing in last place in the Southern Conference with an 11-21 overall record.
Expectations aren’t much greater for the Catamounts this season as Gray continues to try to build the program from the ground up.
In its opener on Monday night, Western Carolina kept the game competitive against SEC opponent Georgia but ultimately lost, 68-55.
Players to know
Tre Jackson, senior guard, six-foot, No. 3 — Jackson promises to be an impactful transfer from Iowa State and could emerge as the Catamounts’ best player by the end of the year. Jackson is a good playmaker and can create for himself. He averaged 3.7 points per game for the Cyclones last year in limited minutes. He did, however, drain 35.7% of his threes last season.
Cam Bacote, graduate guard, six-foot-three, No. 11 — Bacote was Western Carolina’s primary point guard last season, averaging 8.1 points and 2.8 assists per game. He took on a lot of responsibility as a ball-handler and improved his playmaking as the year went on. Over the final five games, he had 24 assists and just 10 turnovers.
Vonterius Woolbright, senior guard, six-foot, No. 2 — Woolbright proved to be Western Carolina’s best player last season. In close to 30 minutes per game, he averaged 9.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists per contest. He also shared ball-handling duties with Bacote, and with the two of them back, Western Carolina should have an improved backcourt.
Pace and size. Like Maryland, Western Carolina plays with high tempo and likes to get out in transition to score. Gray has made it clear throughout the preseason that his team will attempt a plethora of 3-pointers, and they have the lineup to do so with guard depth. Even though the Catamounts are guard-laden, they have much more size than they did last season. Gray plays four guys who are six-foot-eight or taller, which could pose problems for Maryland given its struggles on the glass in game one.
Chemistry. Western Carolina’s roster is full of transfers who have little game experience together. Gray has eight scholarship-player newcomers on the roster, meaning there is going to be a big learning curve as he tries to get everyone to play under a uniform system and style. This early in the season, the Catamounts lack of in-game reps together and on-court chemistry will likely look off in the first few weeks of the season, especially in game two against Maryland.
Three things to watch
1. What will Willard’s rotations look like? After Maryland’s first win of the season, Willard blamed himself for the poor lineups he put on the floor that led to stagnant offense. It will be a conundrum all season because Maryland has little depth to work with off the bench. In these early games against lesser opponents, Willard will try to experiment with various lineups and get a sense of who he can trust to play off the bench.
2. Jahmir Young’s athleticism and talent. Maryland fans got their first peak at Charlotte transfer point guard Jahmir Young on Monday. After a slow start, Young showcased his athleticism and playmaking ability. Young is incredibly quick and a strong guard. He can pull up for jumpers, make plays off the pick-and-roll and push the pace in transition. As Young familiarizes himself with the rest of the team’s on-court habits and Willard’s system, watch out for him to have a special season.
3. Can Maryland improve on the glass? Maryland is already an undersized team, but when it presses and is forced to fall back into a zone defense, it looks even smaller. It is more difficult to rebound out of a zone than it is in a man defense. Regardless of the defensive looks Maryland shows, the Terps need to put an emphasis on all five players crashing the glass. Niagara took advantage of Maryland’s poor rebounding at times and if it continues to be a problem, it will surely hurt Maryland in the future.