Maryland men’s basketball’s weekend in Jacksonville was the epitome of March Madness. The Terps escaped Belmont in the first round thanks to a timely stop by Eric Ayala and Darryl Morsell, then saw their season end in a flash when LSU’s Tremont Waters sank a layup with 1.6 seconds to go in the Round of 32.
Even though the NCAA Tournament is still going after an incredible Elite Eight, for Maryland, it’s time to start looking ahead to next year. The Terps will return most of their rotation, but some key player decisions will determine how relevant this team will be on the national stage.
What will Jalen Smith do?
With Bruno Fernando almost a near lock to declare for the NBA Draft and sign with an agent, this is the biggest question for Maryland this offseason.
Despite struggling with consistency at times, Smith averaged 11.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game this season. His draft stock took a hit throughout the year, but he ended his season with a bang, shining on the biggest stage. Smith carried Maryland late against Belmont and finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds, then had 15 points, eight boards and five blocks against LSU.
The freshman’s potential has tantalized NBA scouts, and numerous college players have jumped to the next level thanks to strong tournament showings. But Smith has dropped off many mock drafts completely, and wasn’t listed on HoopsHype’s aggregate big board of some of the major mocks. He can still declare for the NBA Draft and attend the NBA combine before returning to school, a blueprint Fernando followed to perfection.
But a strong combine showing could cause his stock to soar even higher, like it did for Kevin Huerter last year. Smith will likely be the focal point of Maryland’s offense if he returns, which would give him the chance to be more consistent as the go-to post player.
How ready are the Mitchell twins and Donta Scott?
While not having a headline name like Jalen Smith, this is a solid class that gives Maryland depth at key positions. The Mitchell twins provide some much needed size, which could become an even bigger need if both Fernando and Smith decide to bolt for the NBA. Makhi is the better prospect, and should contribute right away. Makhel is not as polished, though a strong summer in the weight room could put him in position to help fill out Maryland’s rotation.
Scott is a tough and versatile player, and in many ways is a taller version of Darryl Morsell. He’s at his best slashing to the rim, and at 6’7 can guard multiple positions. Turgeon is always looking for players who are aggressive and willing to get on the floor in anyway possible, which Serrel Smith Jr. and Ricky Lindo both did this season. Even with a deeper rotation, Scott’s upside may be too much to ignore.
How does Maryland fill out the roster?
The Terps lose seniors Ivan Bender and Andrew Terrell, who were much more valuable off the court than they were on it. Fernando is projected to be a first-round pick in the NBA Draft and should declare and sign with an agent in the coming weeks.
With three recruits coming in, Maryland still has one open scholarship for the 2019-20 season assuming Fernando leaves. The Terps have been connected to four-star shooting guard Lester Quinones for months, who could provide Maryland with another outside shooting threat to pair alongside Aaron Wiggins. But Maryland could also use that spot to land a graduate transfer big, something Turgeon has done frequently throughout his time in College Park.
Will Anthony Cowan Jr. have a more defined role?
With Eric Ayala also seeing time at point guard this season, it seemed like Cowan was never fully assimilated into the offense. He still averaged a team-high 15.6 points and 4.4 assists per game, but his overall shooting percentage and three-point percentage were both down from last year. After a stretch in January where he scored 20 points or more in four straight games, Cowan averaged 12.7 points on 35 percent shooting from the field and 31 percent shooting from beyond the arc over the final 15 contests.
Although he wasn’t as much as an offensive threat, Ayala was the more consistent player and is a more natural leader. Cowan can take over a game when he’s at his best, but his role didn’t necessarily match his production this season. A slightly reduced role next year could mean more plays for Ayala to create and a better opportunity for Wiggins to find his shot. Mark Turgeon could have a tough decision to make, especially if Cowan can’t get out of his own head and is inconsistent again next season.
Can this team handle increased expectations?
Maryland was picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten this season, which won’t be the case next year. If Smith returns, the Terps will have their deepest team under Turgeon, and will be projected to finish in the top four of the Big Ten. Michigan and Michigan State will return most of their core from this season and be the top two teams yet again, and Iowa will likely round out the top four as it returns its entire starting five.
Turgeon has talked about how much he likes this team, and appears to have a core that can grow and get better. After falling a basket short of the Sweet 16, that should be Maryland’s goal next year. Even if Smith ends up declaring for the NBA Draft and signing with an agent, the Terps should still be a tournament team, as Turgeon has taken Maryland teams to March Madness with less.
This season’s team played with a chip on its shoulder, and will have to look harder to find that chip again next year. These Terps don’t seem like a group that would run from high expectations, but we won’t know for sure until the season actually starts.