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The Maryland men’s basketball preseason mailbag

Our readers sent in questions, and our editors answered some of the best.

Mark Turgeon 2019-20 Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

It’s mail time!

There are only six days until the start of the 2019-20 season for No. 7 Maryland men’s basketball, and the first exhibition game is on Friday.

Terp fans are clearly excited for this highly anticipated season, and we know you all have a ton of questions. So we decided to answer some with a good old mailbag Q&A.

And if we didn’t get to your question, there’s a good chance that we answered or discussed it on our season preview podcast, where we get in depth on everything you can expect this season. You can listen to that HERE (it’s also available on iTunes and Spotify).

We received a lot of questions on the starting five, as well as how many guys could see minutes in the rotation and how many freshmen will be involved. Here is our take:

Lila: From what we’ve seen in person and heard from experts around the country, this is clearly the deepest team Mark Turgeon has had in his career — and he said the same. With that, there are easily nine to 10 guys that could see significant rotation minutes on this roster, including at least two of the freshmen — possibly three once Chol Marial comes back.

Here is who you’re likely going to see on the court (in no particular order): Anthony Cowan Jr, Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Darryl Morsell, Ricky Lindo Jr, Jalen Smith, Makhi Mitchell, Donta Scott, Serrel Smith Jr. and Chol Marial.

As for the starting lineup, all three editors have different takes that we have been debating heavily over the past month. Here are each of our predictions:

Me: Anthony Cowan Jr, Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Darryl Morsell, Jalen Smith

Cody: Anthony Cowan Jr, Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo Jr., Jalen Smith

Sean: Anthony Cowan Jr., Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo Jr., Jalen Smith

From Chris Thompson (@chrisathompson): Who are the best defensive players on the team?

Cody: When talking about defense, Darryl Morsell is the first player that needs to be addressed — paging Carson Edwards. Morsell has taken it upon himself to guard the opposing team’s best player, saving his teammate’s legs.

Ricky Lindo Jr. is another player that brings a lot of energy to Maryland on the defensive end of the floor. Lindo used his 6’8 frame to his benefit last year by grabbing rebounds and being a solid defensive player. According to Turgeon, Lindo added on an additional 30 pounds from August of his freshman year, which will help him defend big men in the paint. If Lindo is able to maintain his quickness, which is expected, he will continue to be the only Terp that can guard every position on the floor.

Beyond Morsell and Lindo, another player to keep an eye on his Jalen Smith, who will be in charge of guarding the paint with the departure of Bruno Fernando, who led the team with 64 blocks. With added muscle, Smith will have to contend with other Big Ten front court players while managing to stay out of foul trouble. An extra player to watch out for is Eric Ayala, who has dropped some weight. Ayala will be quicker and in better shape, giving the Terps another defensive option at the guard position.

From Josh Schneider (@Jew_Rosenhaus): If we can average single digit turnovers starting in Big Ten play, what are the chances we are a legit Final Four team?

Lila: What you said in this question is absolutely crucial for this team. The amount of games Maryland could have won last season if it had fewer turnovers is pretty high. This team has the clear talent and depth of a Final Four squad, but the two keys to getting to that stage will be limiting turnovers and Turgeon’s ability to make in-game adjustments. If those two things happen consistently, I see this team making it to Atlanta for sure. But because you never know about those two things with the Terps, I had them going to the Elite Eight on our preview podcast.

From Martin G (@stlterp): Who is the most improved player over last year?

Cody: Aaron Wiggins is hands down the most improved player this season, which Lila addresses below. However, my go to No. 2 answer would be Eric Ayala. During open practice around two weeks ago, Ayala looked thinner, more agile and bouncier. On a three-man-weave, Ayala just casually put down a reverse dunk and was constantly dunking throughout practice. When I asked him about his bounce later that day, Ayala told me that he’s enjoying his newly acquired athleticism after losing nearly 20 pounds and is having fun incorporating it into his game.

Now that Ayala is in better shape and looks more athletic, I think that he’ll be able to handle a larger role on defense and offense. With Ayala having an offseason to improve, I look for him to have more of a facilitator role while Anthony Cowan Jr. plays more off the ball and gets more shooting opportunities.

From @englanumd: How good will Aaron Wiggins be? and Will Turgeon actually pick up the pace or will this be the same movie again? (Lila)

Lila: Last season, Aaron Wiggins was lethal from behind the arc, shooting 41.3 percent and making the second most threes in for a freshman in program history while playing just 23.5 minutes a game. He’s likely to get much more shots and minutes this season, and I have been insanely impressed with what I’ve seen from him in practice. He put on around 10 pounds in muscle and looks much better in the paint, his shot looks somehow even better and his passing looks much improved too. I think he will 100 percent be a mid-to-late first round draft pick by the end of this season.

As for the pace, Turgeon has said that the team will play a lot faster this season. And I know he has said that before and isn’t that best at coaching a fast team, but if there is any year for him to do so, this is it. He has players with the length and muscle to play fast, and he also has the depth to not worry about guys getting tired. Turgeon and Wiggins both told me earlier this week that practices are aimed more so than ever at playing fast. But it will likely depend on the opponent, so we’ll see.

From Jay Pasko @JPasko9: Will we be running the “1 guy dribbling 4 guys watching”offense?

Sean: I wouldn’t think so. Last year, Anthony Cowan Jr. dominated in terms of ball possession, running the offense through himself whenever he was on the court. As a point guard, that’s his job, but given the amount of weapons the team had, 4.4 assists per game wasn’t enough.

At media day, Turgeon expressed that Cowan is working more on facilitating, saying “he knows that he has to do all the things to help us win games this year, and put the team first in all those areas.” And he sounds like he trusts more in this year’s squad and the talent it has. That was certainly evident in the team’s open scrimmage, as Cowan looked more like a quarterback and less like a one-man offense.

From @theswagcriminal: Are they going to bring out any special jerseys this year?

Lila: I am a huge fan of special jerseys — very enamored with all the cool ones Under Armour did between 2013 and 2016 for the Terps, but we haven't seen those as much as late. When I talked to Andrew Terrell on our ouTTakes podcast about this year's jerseys and the possibility of special editions, he said he thinks the team might tone it down a little this year. But honestly, I think that if Maryland makes it far in the tournament, Under Armour might be inclined to make some special throwbacks to honor the 2002 team. That would be incredible.

From @NYyrMDt: Which of the past five #7 preseason teams will our season most resemble?

Sean: Well first, let’s see who was ranked No. 7 over the last five seasons.

  • 2014-15: Florida Gators — 16-17, 8-10 SEC, No NCAA Tournament
  • 2015-16: Iowa State Cyclones — 23-12, 10-8 Big 12, Sweet Sixteen
  • 2016-17: Xavier Musketeers — 24-14, 9-9 Big East, Elite Eight
  • 2017-18: Wichita State Shockers — 25-8, 14-4 American, First Round
  • 2018-19: Nevada Wolfpack — 29-5, 15-3 Mountain West, First Round

In terms of postseason success, I’ll go with the 2016-17 Xavier team that made the Elite Eight. That’s about where I project the Terps to finish this season, though where they’re placed in the bracket is crucial.

However, the Musketeers were an 11-seed in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, sneaking in as one of the last at-large bids. I think Maryland will finish second in the Big Ten this year, which would warrant a 2 or 3 seed in March. So in terms of the regular season, I’ll pick the 2017-18 Wichita State Shockers, which were a No. 2 seed in the AAC Tournament and a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

From @ScottTe79668615: Is Chol Marial going to be able to get up and down post surgery, Will be Jalen Smith be an interior force on offense? & Thoughts on out of conference schedule?

Lila: Chol Marial could be cleared as soon as Nov. 25, according to Turgeon. And I think he will be, as he has been doing a lot of work towards rehab and told us how eager he is to get back out there. He played throughout most of high school with both fractures never treated properly and still was pretty impressive, so I’m excited to see how he looks healthy.

As for Smith, I think so. He put on a ton of added muscle over the offseason and looks way more aggressive in the paint from the practices we’ve seen. He has all the tools to be a force inside, and he even showed glimpses of that in the postseason last year.

As for the nonconference schedule, we are currently doing a breakdown of it all. You can check out the first part of that here.

From @MidTownTerp: Are there notable differences in the twins games/skills at this point? Could you tell them apart in a game if they weren’t wearing numbers?, Is Turgeon a championship-caliber coach? & Who is most responsible for the Terps recruiting success?

Sean: We’ll be dropping a video soon about the Mitchell twins and what sets them apart, but to answer your question, I’ll say this: Makhi is considered much more polished and college-ready, which is why he was a four-star recruit. That’s not to say Makhel, who was a three-star, won’t get there at some point, but for now, Makhi is more likely to see meaningful minutes as a freshman.

Right now, no, Mark Turgeon is not a championship-caliber coach, if only because he hasn’t won a championship yet. As with all coaches, there are aspects of their coaching style/abilities that some like or dislike — it’s the nature of being a high-profile figure. Jay Wright was long considered someone who didn’t have what it took to win in March, and then his Villanova Wildcats won two titles in three years. It’s somewhat of a cop-out, but ultimately, nobody is a championship-caliber coach until they win a championship, so the jury is out on Mark Turgeon for however long he’s in charge of a program.

As for recruiting success, that’s another reason why it’s hard to make an indictment on Turgeon’s abilities as a college coach. Sure, there could be issues with Xs and Os — not that there necessarily are problems, but one undeniable thing about Turgeon is his penchant for bringing in top-notch talent. Bino Ranson is a big part of the recruiting efforts in College Park, but ultimately, the highly ranked recruits come to play for Turgeon.