There are only 14 days until the start of the 2019-20 season for No. 7 Maryland men’s basketball. As the Terps get ready for a highly anticipated year where they’re ranked in the top-10 of every major preseason poll, we’ll be breaking down head coach Mark Turgeon’s roster, which promises to be the deepest he’s had in his time in College Park.
Sophomore guard Serrel Smith Jr. was thrust into the rotation as a freshman, rounding out Maryland’s eight-man rotation of players with significant minutes. Like many young players, he showed flashes in his first year of college basketball, but consistency eluded Smith as the season went on. Here’s a peak at what year two of Smith’s tenure in College Park could look like.
Serrel Smith Jr., Guard, No. 10
Hometown: St. Petersburg, Fla.
High school: St. Petersburg
2018-19 stats: 3.4 ppg, 1.3 rpg
Smith came to Maryland as part of the six-player freshman class, five of whom — including Smith — made big impacts in their first year on campus. In the Terps’ eight-man rotation, five were rookies.
Smith managed to play all 34 games, averaging 12 minutes per contest, which ranked eighth on the team. Turgeon wasn’t planning on playing Smith often originally, but depth issues — which mainly stemmed from Kevin Huerter’s decision to go pro — forced him to give the freshman guard time on the court.
“Our expectation was maybe to redshirt him because he’s young for his grade but Kevin left,” Turgeon said in January, often noting throughout the season how impressed he was with the young guard’s development.
Like teammate Ricky Lindo Jr., Smith was mainly a rotational piece, backing up the bigger stars in his position group but still getting a somewhat sizable share of minutes.
Let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of his game.
Smith served as a backup guard, playing off-ball on the wing. He wasn’t asked to score much — Smith took just 3.1 field goal attempts per game — but when he found a groove, he could score in bunches. That’s where his nickname “Microwave” comes from.
Serrel Smith with a comfortable pull-up jumper. This has always been the most intriguing part of his game, but has been absent so far. pic.twitter.com/xAVrmcePU6— Lamar Johnson (@im_lamar) November 13, 2018
Serrel Smith with another possession of his best Jamal Crawford impression pic.twitter.com/DGJw2TApCo— Lamar Johnson (@im_lamar) November 13, 2018
And now Serrel Smith has his first made three-pointer of the season pic.twitter.com/NGUpEUa8r8— Lamar Johnson (@im_lamar) November 13, 2018
In his freshman year, Smith was a streaky scorer (more on that later), but when he got going, he showed an ability for shot-creating and was able to score in isolation.
Smith wasn’t extremely efficient from beyond the arc — he shot 32.8 percent from long distance, fourth-best on the team among regulars — but he had a knack for bombing a three at the right time.
Serrel Smith with his trademark second half 3. No copyright yet, but I'm sure it's coming. pic.twitter.com/MAnN6hK8qC— Justin Fitzgerald (@jfitzgerald52) February 20, 2019
At 6’4 and 175 lbs, Smith is lanky. He doesn’t have the body mass to bang down low with bigs (again, more on that later), but his length is very conducive to strong defense on the perimeter.
His long arms allow him to obstruct passing lanes, and he can reach in and disrupt opponents’ dribbling without picking up fouls. Despite his impressive showing on the defensive end as a freshman, Smith made sure to work on that part of his game during the offseason.
“I focused my efforts mainly on just continuing to play the best defense I can and stay more consistent this year,” he said. “Everyone has been working hard to make those individual improvements, and now it’s exciting to see it all come together.”
As mentioned previously, Smith was a streaky scorer as a freshman. He had seven games of at least seven points in 2018-19, averaging 10 points per outing while shooting 52 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from long distance.
In his other 27 appearances, Smith averaged 1.7 points per game while making 23.8 of his field goal attempts and 26.4 percent from beyond the arc. Some of that inefficiency is a result of less playing time, but either way, he’ll have to be more consistent in his sophomore campaign.
Turgeon believes that will happen this year, saying, “Serrel has become more consistent offensively for us,” at Big Ten Media Day.
On the opposite side of the court, Smith’s length allows him to be a nuisance out on the perimeter for those he’s guarding. But at just 175 lbs, he has — and could have going forward — had some difficulty with bulky guards and forwards.
Smith checked in at 170 lbs as a freshman, which means he didn’t put on the large amounts of weight that a number of his teammates have. A slimmer frame may keep him quick on the outside, but he may be too light to have a much of a presence — either offensively or defensively — whatsoever in the paint.
Outlook for the 2019-2020 season
Smith figures to be a vital part of Maryland’s rotation once again, as he’ll slot in as a backup guard between Anthony Cowan Jr. and Eric Ayala.
He wasn’t tasked with facilitating as a freshman, but that could possibly change this season — Smith was recruited as a combo guard. He will be part of the second unit, likely alongside Donta Scott and Makhel Mitchell, among others.
But Turgeon’s rotations are generally more fluid than a “first team, second team” approach, which will give Smith opportunity to play with the team’s stars.
He could play off-ball next to Cowan at times while manning the offense in his stead in other spots, if the Terps decide to have him run the show as he did in high school. In any case, the growth of Smith’s overall game will be crucial for Maryland’s success this season.