There are only 29 days until the start of the 2019-20 season for 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 forward Jalen Smith is arguably the teams most talented player, and certainly its best NBA prospect. Smith was one of two Terps, along with Anthony Cowan Jr., to be named to the Preseason All-Big Ten Team. Here’s a look at what to expect from Smith in year two.
Jalen Smith, Forward, No. 25
Hometown: Baltimore, MD
High school: Mount Saint Joseph
2018-19 stats: 11.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.2 bpg
Smith’s decision to return to Maryland for his sophomore year may be the biggest reason why the Terps have such high expectations for 2019-20. Smith started every single game for the Terps last year and at times was the best player on the floor, proving his five-star ranking and McDonald’s All-American status.
At other times though, Smith was nonexistent for the Terps, struggling to share the front court with now Atlanta Hawk Bruno Fernando. All in all, Smith turned in a very solid freshman campaign, earning a spot on the All-Big Ten Freshman team while averaging 11.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.
Smith enters the season as the 18th best player in the nation, according to Andy Katz and is widely viewed as one of the best bigs in college basketball.
Let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of his game.
One of Smith’s biggest advantages is his 6’10 frame. With the length and athleticism that Smith possesses, he’s shown that he can dominate the offensive glass for the Terps and create lots of second chance opportunities.
Last season, Smith averaged 2.7 offensive rebounds per game, which put him only behind Fernando at 2.9. Smith has a great knack for the ball, and the departure of Fernando should lead to even more opportunities to clean up the offensive glass.
Maryland finally decides to get in on the offensive rebound party. Jalen Smith cleans up the boards to extend the lead to 5. pic.twitter.com/C35FNhX6Bo— Justin Fitzgerald (@jfitzgerald52) February 13, 2019
Another one of Smith’s best qualities is his ability to stretch the floor. Smith can score from all over the court, whether it’s a monster slam, a nice move in the post, or a mid range jumper near the free throw line — sometime even a three-pointer.
This ability to stretch creates a major matchup issue for opposing defenses and should be even more of an issue this year if Smith has improved his shot.
Here’s Smith showing his versatility by knocking down a clutch floater to beat Nebraska last year.
Jalen Smith called game— Bleacher Report CBB (@br_CBB) January 3, 2019
Maryland gets a big W over No. 24 Nebraska pic.twitter.com/YAqyW4AT6P
And while it isn't always this consistent, when Smith can hit from long range, it’s a huge asset for the Terps. Against Minnesota last season, he was able to hit three from beyond the arc on a 50 percent clip.
Jalen Smith is 3-4 from deep pic.twitter.com/7OVPlwsOcq— Jared Goldstein (@_jgoldy17) March 9, 2019
And it would be a travesty to publish this preview and not include Smith’s monster dunk in the final two minutes against Belmont in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This dunk was instrumental in the Terps avoiding the upset and was widely recognized as one of, if not, the best dunk of the entire tournament.
THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH CAPITAL LETTERS FOR THIS.— Jared Goldstein (@_jgoldy17) March 21, 2019
STICKS AND OOOOOONNNNNEEEE pic.twitter.com/oD4l4aXQ31
On the defensive end, Smith has already proven to be a force when it comes to shot-blocking. Having averaged 1.2 blocks per game last year, Smith showed opposing defenses that he should not be messed with in the post. This skill also only got better as the season went on as evident by his five block performance in the final game of the season against LSU.
One area of Smith’s game that should be much improved this season is three point and free throw shooting. Last season, Smith shot 65.8% from the free throw line and 26.8% from behind the arc.
Free throw shooting can oftentimes be the difference between winning and losing in college basketball, and with the large amount of time Smith will have the ball in his hands, he will need to make big strides in this area.
When it comes to three-point shooting, Smith must improve considering the volume at which he shoots threes. He made a name for himself with his shot beyond the arc in high school, but last season Smith was fourth on the team with 2.2 threes attempted per game, only hitting 26.8 percent of his attempts. Smith has to be more efficient this year with his shots from deep, and this was definitely something we saw improve as the season went on last year.
Smith knocked down a massive three to tie the game late against LSU in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The five-star freshman Jalen Smith with the HUGE response!— SI College Hoops (@si_ncaabb) March 23, 2019
(via @marchmadness) pic.twitter.com/FUsDVZt4xs
Another area of Smith’s game that he struggled with during his freshman season was consistency. Smith had 11 games where he failed to reach 10 points and seven where he failed to reach five rebounds.
This inconsistent play was partly due to the fact that Smith was sharing the frontcourt with one of the best bigs in the country in Fernando, as well as the mere fact that he was just a freshman. With the departure of Fernando and a season under his belt, Smith should consistently dominate this season.
Outlook for the 2019-20 Season
When Smith decided to not even test the NBA waters this past offseason, many around the basketball world were shocked.
While still skinny at the time, Smith’s length and athleticism is tailor-made for the modern NBA, and when he chooses to leave for the association, a team will be very lucky to have him. Smith is already being projected as a first rounder in Bleacher Report’s 2020 mock draft as the 14th overall pick and as the 21st overall pick by NBC Sports.
I stand corrected on this: Jalen Smith (Maryland) was probably the most surprising guy who didn’t test the process. Would have likely been a first-rounder. https://t.co/lV7eywjlVI— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) April 24, 2019
Smith enters the season looking to dominate college basketball. The man once dubbed as “Stix” is now being referred to by the team as “Logs” due to his drastic body transformation, head coach Mark Turgeon said at Big Ten media day. According to Turgeon, Smith has put on nearly 35 pounds since the start of his freshman year.
“He never has his shirt on anymore, he’s always trying to show his upper body off,” Turgeon said at Big Ten Media Day. “[He’s] really worked hard to expand his game. He’s become a much better perimeter defender. We’ve worked on everything. He had a terrific freshman year.”
Turgeon said Smith also worked a lot this offseason on his play in the low post and becoming more consistent.
Smith said he knew he was coming back to Maryland right after the loss to LSU because it “left a bad taste in my mouth.” Smith is ready to carry the load for Maryland and do all he can to lead the Terps to their third Final Four appearance in school history.
Maryland basketball took the NCAA Tournament loss to LSU hard, especially freshman Jalen Smith. The Terps crawled back after being down by nine at halftime, but LSU nailed a shot in the final seconds to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Shot for @TestudoTimes. pic.twitter.com/YlkD3Jlf7f— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) March 23, 2019
“I’m going to take my team to the NCAA Tournament once again and just try to go further than what we did last year,” Smith said in an interview with Andy Katz in September.