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Maryland women’s basketball has talent, but plenty of question marks heading into 2017-18

Our preseason outlook on Brenda Frese’s Terps.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Bridgeport Regional-Maryland vs Oregon David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

For the past two years, Maryland women’s basketball has been a top-10 team powered by Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough.

Now, both players’ jerseys are hanging in the rafters, and rightfully so. Jones ended her Maryland career tied for sixth in points and third in rebounds in program history, and last year her 697 points last year were a single season record. Walker-Kimbrough finished fourth in points and was the most accurate three-point shooter in team history.

Head coach Brenda Frese knew life without Jones and Walker-Kimbrough was coming, but the team’s roster took another hit when the team announced Destiny Slocum, Kiah Gillespie and Jenna Staiti were transferring just 10 days after Maryland’s loss to Oregon in the Sweet Sixteen. Then in June, Kiara Leslie announced she was transferring to NC State.

After finishing 32-3 last year and winning a third straight Big Ten regular season and tournament title, Maryland has just 10 players on its 2017-18 roster. It’s a talented group, with eight of the 10 ranked in the top 100 of their recruiting class and four named McDonald’s All-Americans.

Where will Maryland find offense?

Brenda Frese loves to run, so this team should have no problem scoring points. The question, is where will they come from? Last year, feeding the ball to Jones in the post was almost an automatic two points, and passing to Walker-Kimbrough on the wing was pretty efficient.

Sophomore Kaila Charles seems ready to fill the void. She’s comfortable scoring both inside and out, with the potential to attack the basket as well as a pull up for a midrange jumper. She also possesses the toughness to get some offensive rebounds and convert second opportunities inside.

When she’s on, Brianna Fraser looks like the next great post player in a long line of them under Frese. She’s probably the second-most athletic player on the team behind Charles, and can attack the basket with power and initiate contact. Fraser is not as strong as Jones, but can still create matchup problems for opponents. She was prone to some travels and moving picks last year, and cutting down on those will help her maximize her potential.

Eleanna Christinaki should be another option when she makes her season debut Dec. 20 against Coppin State after leading Florida in points per game before her transfer. (More on her later.)

After that, Maryland has players capable of scoring in spurts. Senior Kristen Confroy is already a solid three-point shooter, and should maintain that role this season. Sophomore Blair Watson also has a solid stroke, but is more athletic and could be a matchup nightmare if her offensive game matches up with her defensive skills. Sophomore Stephanie Jones, Brionna’s younger sister, makes smart plays around the basket. Aja Ellison is also back, but is a mystery after missing last season with a knee injury and getting limited playing time the previous two years.

Rounding out the group is Ieshia Small, who will see more of an off-the-ball role this season. She thrived in that role during the World University Games, and has the potential to be a spark off the bench if she takes smart shots.

Another year, another point guard.

For the fourth year in a row, Maryland will have a different player running the offense. Following Slocum’s departure, the Terps acted quickly and got a commitment from Channise Lewis, who was reopened her recruitment after initially committing to Illinois. Lewis is the No. 55 player in ESPN’s Class of 2017, and will start immediately.

Lewis doesn’t have Slocum’s talent, so don’t expect too many crazy passes or Steph Curry-range threes. She may take some more time to adjust to the college game, but having practices and the World University Games over the summer will certainly help. In Taiwan, she did a good job taking care of the ball, and looked to get more comfortable pushing the ball as the tournament went on.

When Lewis needs a break, Sarah Myers will be the backup. Myers saw limited action last year, but is definitely capable of giving Lewis rest for a few minutes. She’s not a natural point guard, but handled the ball occasionally last year and didn’t look overwhelmed when put in that position.

Maryland will get a jolt at midseason.

Christinaki will be eligible right before Christmas time after sitting out her final semester under NCAA rules. She averaged 17.6 points per game at Florida before leaving Gainesville, and will definitely be a boost to Maryland’s offense.

“She’s a scorer,” Frese told Testudo Times in May. “She’s going to be able to bring in instant offense to our team. She can slash, she can shoot the three, she can get to the rim and draw fouls. Our fans are really going to love watching her play.”

Not only will Christinaki be another scoring option, but she will provide depth to a team that desperately needs it. Frese has played short rotations the past two years, but has no choice this year. She doesn’t have players she can just pull off the end of the bench if things go wrong, so adding a player as good as Christinaki midseason is huge.

This team will take a step back, but it may not be as big as people think.

The Terps lost as much scoring as they have from any team in the Brenda Frese era, but were still picked to finish second in the Big Ten by the coaches and the media. Part of that is due to the weakness of the conference, but also to the talent still on the roster and Frese’s track record of developing players.

Maryland has the talent to be one of the top teams in the Big Ten, but lacks the depth to compete on a national level. Ten players is not a lot for a team that returns just one player who played over 20 minutes a game last season. Frese will have to do a good job managing minutes to make sure the Terps don’t run out of gas before the postseason.

We may not know how good this team is for a long time. Maryland will be without Christinaki when it takes on South Carolina and UConn, and doesn’t face another marquee opponent until hosting Ohio State two months later. This is definitely a tournament team, but the question of how far it can go is yet to be answered.

The only way to answer that is to play games. Maryland opens the season Nov. 10 against Albany.