As a young player growing up watching college basketball, it was always a great feeling when the season began. There was always that crisp feeling in the air…. the leaves were full of color while either in the tree or on the ground…… and ESPN was broadcasting their first hoop games of the year.
One of the teams that I was always intrigued by was the Maryland Terrapins. In a conference that was always dominated by the Duke Blue Devils, North Carolina Tar Heels, Wake Forest Demon Deacons and among others in the ACC, the Terrapins were always the red-jerseyed stepchild that no one thought about that much.
In the late 90s and early 2000s, Gary Williams led a Steve Blake and Juan Dixon team on a run that was one of the best ever in Terrapin history. A run that also included a national championship.
Now the Terrapins are in the same boat in a new conference…. the Big Ten. Maryland returns seven of its top eight players on a team that won 23 games and advanced to Second Round (Round of 32) of the NCAA Tournament.
Leading the list of returnees for Maryland is 6’0 guard Anthony Cowans. Last year, Cowans averaged 16 ppg, 4 assist and 3 rpg.
Another top returnee for the Terps is 6’10 225 pound sophomore forward Jalen Smith. As a freshman, Smith averaged 11 ppg and 6 rpg and should be grabbing a lot more minutes now that former Terrapin Bruno Fernando is now in the NBA.
Now while people may think that Smith is a good size player for Maryland, the bench is full of players ready to join him in the front court.
Head Coach Mark Turgeon’s Terps are not lost on size as he brought in 6’9 twins Makhel and Makhi Mitchell as well as 7’2 Chol Marial in this freshman class of 2020. Marial just had surgery recently and is expected to miss three to four months of the season but once he returns the Terps should be a force to deal with in the inside.
Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins secure an established and experienced guard rotation for Maryland in the backcourt. The Terrapins also brought in a 6’6 freshman guard in Donta Scott who was a Top 150 recruit.
Michigan State is the clear favorite in the Big Ten Conference without a doubt this year. Their experience and returning players that led them on their run through the tourney last year makes them a clear favorite to reach the title game this year.
But just like Gary Williams had in the late 90s and early 2000s in the ACC, Mark Turgeon is undoubtedly building a sleeping giant (especially in the Maryland front court literally).
If there is a team to watch out for this year, it is most definitely the Maryland Terrapins. Hiding in that northeastern corner of the Big Ten, and much like Cole Fieldhouse of the past, the XFinity Center is ready to rock in red this year.
The motto has always been “Fear the Turtle.” This year, the turtles are tall, long and quick and talented. The hares of the Big Ten…… beware.