There’s a noticeable sense of excitement in College Park with Maryland men’s basketball set to embark on year two of the Kevin Willard era.
The Terps’ 2023-24 campaign begins Tuesday with a home matchup against Mount St. Mary’s. The Terps have won 46 consecutive home-openers, the third-longest streak in the country.
Tuesday’s game is set for 7 p.m. and will be streamed on Big Ten Plus.
Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers
2022-23 record: 12-20, 8-12 MAAC
Mount St. Mary’s is in a state of transition, entering its second year in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Sixth-year head coach Dan Engelstad, a Bethesda, Md. native, guided the Mountaineers to success while in the NEC, including an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2021.
They understandably took a slight step back last season, eventually seeing their season end in the conference tournament quarterfinals to top-seeded Iona. However, they won five of their last seven games.
After seeing three of its top four scorers from last season move on in the offseason, Mount St. Mary’s was picked to finish seventh in the MAAC preseason coaches poll.
Players to know
Dakota Leffew, senior guard, 6-foot-5, No. 1 — Make no mistake about it, this is Leffew’s team. After a breakout junior campaign during which he averaged over 13 points per game, Leffew was named to the preseason All-MAAC first team. He is one of just two returning starters, alongside forward George Tinsley.
George Tinsley, graduate forward, 6-foot-6, No. 11 — Tinsley, who transferred from Binghamton after his sophomore season, started every game last year for the Mountaineers, averaging 7.1 points and six rebounds per game. He was their best two-way player, leading the team in blocks (42) and finishing second with 26 steals.
Terrell Ard Jr., graduate forward, 6-foot-7, No. 15 — After losing 70% of his scoring from last season, Engelstad went out and got Presbyterian’s top forward in Ard Jr. A two-year starter with the Blue Hose, Ard Jr. established himself as a threat in the paint last season. He led the team in rebounding and finished as their highest scorer on seven occasions.
A competitive program. Mount St. Mary’s has been consistently competitive over the past decade, with three NCAA Tournament appearances in that span.
In the past three seasons under Engelstad, the Mountaineers are 39-47, but .500 in conference play. They won the NEC Tournament in 2021, and it can not be forgotten that the program transitioned to a more difficult conference ahead of last season.
Dramatic roster turnover. Mount St. Mary’s relied heavily on its upperclassmen last season. Seniors Malik Jefferson and Deandre Thomas, both of whom were starters, exhausted their eligibility. The team’s biggest loss is Jalen Benjamin, who transferred to Santa Clara after leading the Mountaineers in both points and assists last season.
Forward František Barton and guard Xavier Lipscomb are likely to see a heavy increase in minutes this season. Three-star freshman Dallas Hobbs, one of five first-year players on the team, could make an impact too.
Three things to watch
1. Maryland’s starting lineup. It’s almost certain that Maryland will start with Young and Harris-Smith in the backcourt, and Donta Scott and Julian Reese in the frontcourt. Might freshman Jamie Kaiser Jr. take that fifth spot? Willard has mentioned that he tested a multitude of different lineups during the preseason.
2. New depth. A lot has been made of the departures of Hakim Hart, Ian Martinez, Don Carey and Pat Emilien, understandably so. Could Jordan Geronimo come off the bench to provide an athletic spark? Will freshman Jahnathan Lamothe get minutes? And at center, what roles will Caelum Swanton-Rodger and Mady Traore have?
It might only be the first game, but trends should start to take place of who will be counted on this season.
3. Dominance at XFINITY. Maryland went a remarkable 16-1 at home last season. While that mark is almost certainly irreproducible, Maryland will look to get off to a winning start at home this year.