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Maryland men’s basketball vs. Old Dominion preview

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The Terps open up the 2020-21 season in College Park with many questions still to be answered.

Darryl Morsell, Northwestern, 2020 Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

Maryland men’s basketball is coming off one of the best seasons in school history after taking home a share of its first Big Ten title.

This year, though, things look a lot different as the Terps are without their two-headed monster from a season ago in Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith. Both players will not be returning to the team this season as Cowan graduated and Smith was drafted by the Phoenix Suns.

And of course, this season will be unlike any other due to the coronavirus pandemic. With opening games and tournaments have been canceled across the country over the past week, head coach Mark Turgeon said that his team is just grateful for the chance to get back on the court.

”We feel blessed that we’ve gotten to this point and that we have an opportunity to play a game tomorrow,” Turgeon said Tuesday. “So we’re gonna do whatever our doctors tell us. When they say it’s not safe, we’ll shut it down. But until then, we’re gonna keep practicing hard and get ready to play games.”

Turgeon is putting together one of the more unsure Maryland teams in recent years as five new scholarship players, and multiple walk-ons, will suit up in College Park. Transfers Galin Smith and Jairus Hamilton were both granted immediate eligibility to play large roles this season, and they’ll be joined by freshmen Aquan Smart, Marcus Dockery and Arnaud Revas.

The Terps’ sole returning double-digit scorer is junior Aaron Wiggins. The 6’6 guard’s 10.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 28.5 points per game ranked third on the team behind just Cowan and Smith, earning him Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year honors.

Senior Darryl Morsell, junior Eric Ayala and sophomore Donta Scott all return to Maryland’s starting lineup this season, likely joined by Wiggins and either Smith or sophomore Chol Marial at center.

The Terps open up the season against Old Dominion at 2 p.m. at Xfinity Center Wednesday. Maryland last faced off against the Monarchs back in February 1988 and holds a 4-1 series lead.

“I’m definitely excited, just the way that the year ended last year and all the returning guys coming back, knowing how hungry we are and stuff like that,” Morsell said. “I’m excited to get out on the floor. We’ve been practicing against each other for the past two, three months too, so I’m definitely excited to play against somebody else.”

Old Dominion Monarchs (0-0, 0-0 C-USA)

2019-20 record: 13-19 (9-9 C-USA)

Head coach Jeff Jones enters his eighth season at Old Dominion as one of the winningest coaches in Division I basketball. Jones was awarded Conference USA Coach of the Year honors in 2018-19 and tallied his 500th win a season ago. Prior to his job at Old Dominion, Jones was the head coach at Virginia for eight years and American University for the next 13. Prior to last year, all but two of the Monarch teams under Jones finished at or above 25 wins to end the season.

Players to know

Malik Curry, senior guard, 6’1, 180 lbs. No. 3. Curry led the Monarchs in a number of statistical categories a season ago, notably points per game (13.4) and assists per game (4.0). The senior guard has just one season at Old Dominion under his belt, previously playing for Palm Beach State, where he took home Southern Conference Player of the Year honors and was a NJCAA Second Team All-American.

Xavier Green, redshirt senior guard, 6’6, 200 lbs. No. 10. If you were to switch on an Old Dominion game at any time last season, Green was most likely on the floor. Averaging a team-high 36 minutes per game. Green ranked second on the team in points per game (12.8) and assists per game (2.6).

A.J. Oliver II, redshirt junior guard, 6’5, 190 lbs. No. 11. Though he played just half the season due to NCAA transfer rules, Oliver II averaged double-digit points and over 32 minutes per game in his 21 starts. The Clemson product played just seven minutes with the Tigers as a freshman, but has proven to be a vital role in the Monarchs’ three-guard play. His 51 threes were the most on the team, the next being Green’s 47 with 10 more games played.

Strength

Defense. Though Old Dominion struggled on the offensive side of the ball last season, the team’s overall defense ranked fifth in the conference, allowing just 65.6 points per game. The team was also first in the C-USA in rebounds per game at 39.2. Coach Jones will need to look for new defensive leaders this year, however, as Aaron Carver, who was named to the C-USA All-Defensive Team, graduated.

The team-leader in steals with 2.6, Jason Wade, will miss the 2019-20 season with a torn achilles he suffered on Nov 2. The Monarchs are built around their defensive strength on the floor, so without Carver and Wade, someone new will need to step up in a big spot.

Weakness

Scoring. Old Dominion ranked dead-last in the C-USA (65.6 points per game), three-point field goal percentage at 29.3% and free throw percentage at just over 40%. The Monarchs are returning their top-three scorers, though, who all finished above 10 points per game to finish the year.

Three things to watch

1. Who will Maryland turn to in crunch time? As games came down to their closing minutes each of the last two seasons, Maryland turned to Cowan seemingly every time. Now that the senior is gone, someone new will have to come up in the clutch. Morsell showed signs of it last season with his buzzer beater against Minnesota, while Wiggins put on his own highlight show with an emphatic dunk against Notre Dame.

2. What role will the newcomers have? The Terps welcome five new players to their roster this season, the two freshmen at the guard position, the transfers at forward and the big man Revas, though he is unlikely to see many minutes. One of the five could likely start in Wednesday’s game, but it remains unclear how big of an impact the group will have throughout the season.

“[I] just want them to just relax and play the way they’ve been taught to play and make good decisions, really lock in defensively. I think that’s a good way to get started with your career, lock in defensively and just take what the offense gives,” Turgeon said. “So we’ve had some new guys that have practiced really well and they’re ready to go. So we’re excited.”

3. How will an empty Xfinity Center effect the Terps? Home games for Maryland are usually welcomed by a roaring crowd in College Park, but with COVID-19 protocols, Xfinity will be much quieter this season. Though it was in a much smaller arena, the Monarchs are also used to lively crowds, as their home games recorded a conference-high attendance in 2019-20, leaving both teams in unusual territory when playing in near silence on Wednesday.

“My previous two years here, we’ve had closed off scrimmages and secret scrimmages, and I kind of expect it to be just like that,” Ayala said. “And fans or no fans, I think we want to go out there and compete and try to win a basketball game. So I’m looking forward to just being out there and having fun.”

Predictions

Vegas: Maryland -7.5, O/U

ESPN BPI: Maryland 82% chance to win

KenPom: Maryland 71, Old Dominion 63 (Maryland 76% chance to win)

Me: Maryland 72, Old Dominion 58