Preview: Three Questions Heading Into Maryland Basketball’s Opener vs. Niagara

Maryland (0-0) vs. Niagara (0-0)

Time/Location: 7:00 PM | Xfinity Center, College Park, MD

Radio: Johnny Holliday (pxp), Chris Knoche (analyst), Walt Williams (sideline); 105.7 FM (Baltimore), 980 AM (DC)

Broadcast: BTN+

Streaming: Brendan Hartlove (pxp), Josh Caplan (analyst)

Maryland basketball will kick off its season on Monday night in the first game of the Willard era, a day that Maryland fans have awaited since the program’s official announcement back on March 21. While many fans feel excitement ahead of the new era of Maryland basketball, Willard admitted he’s feeling excitement among his many emotions. “I am excited. It’s been a long seven months,” Willard said last week. “Proud of the staff for working as hard as they did to put together a great roster. A little nervous at the same time, to be perfectly honest with you, but more excited to get this journey started.”

Maryland will kick the season off against Niagara, who’ve lost both matchups against the Terps with the most recent meeting nine years ago in the NIT. The Purple Eagles, who were picked to finish eighth in the MAAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, return senior guard Noah Thomasson after being named preseason All-MAAC second team. Still, fourth-year head coach Greg Paulus welcomes eleven new faces to the roster including six transfers while David Mitchell (Brown) and Joe Kasperzyk (Bryant) provide D1 experience on the roster.

While Maryland will look to kick its season off with a convincing win to test the full rotation before the schedule picks up, what should Maryland fans expect on Monday night? With a pair of newcomers joining a trio of returning starters for Kevin Willard, who will be the first off the bench? We look at the three biggest questions that surround Maryland basketball this season.

Who be able to provide depth for the Terps this season?

With the expected starting five of Jahmir Young, Don Carey, Hakim Hart, Donta Scott, and Julian Reese, there is a big question on just how deep this team for the upcoming season. Willard admitted he feels “we have ten guys that can play right now” with incoming transfers Patrick Emilien and Jahari Long joining Ian Martinez off the bench. Two players more who are likely to crack the everyday rotation are Ike Cornish and Noah Batchelor, though Martinez’s experience at the two could make him the first guard off the bench. Cornish is a redshirt freshman that will get a chance to make his crack in College Park as a player that can play at the two or three while on the court. Cornish is known as a solid shooter from the outside and with his length being 6-foot-6, he can disrupt offenses by getting into the passing lanes and causing turnovers—but he has yet to prove it on the college level. Batchelor, who is also a 6-foot-6 shooting guard or small forward, is just a true freshman but Willard admitted he’s a versatile piece the coaching staff is evaluating. “A guy like Noah Batchelor who is a guard but we’re playing him some at the power forward spot as a trail four to utilize his shooting to help that second unit spread the floor a little bit,” Willard added last week.


What bodes well for Maryland on Monday night is Niagara averages 6-foot-4 in height and a pair of towering big men in Harlan Obioha and Touba Traroe, giving Willard an early measuring stick for potential rotation players like Emilien and Caelum Swanton-Rodger. While Emilien benefits from joining the program as a veteran, the grad transfer will need to help Maryland’s rebounding concerns while Swanton-Rodger could get a crack at testing his strength in the low post but finding a reliable option in the frontcourt would loom large. Maryland also returns Pavlo Dziuba from one season ago while Arnaud Revaz returns to round out the rotation. Julian Reese enters the season in a feature role at the five and will be pointed to as the defensive enforcer, but while he’ll look to prove his foul troubles are behind him, cementing the frontcourt depth will tell the tale for Maryland’s success in conference play.

Will the Terps finally be able to consistently shoot from behind the arc?

Last season overall, the Terps only shot 32.6% from behind the arc. In just 13 games last season, the Terps shot over 35% from behind the arc. At their lowest the Terps shot just 7.7% from behind the arc, coming in the loss to Virginia Tech. If the Terps want to be a team that can stretch the floor and put pressure on teams to have to cover every inch of the floor they will need to become a more consistent shooting team. Incoming transfers Jahmir Young, and Don Carey will look to add that shooting aspect to the Terps offense, and both noted the increased tempo could provide those scoring opportunities. “Playing fast ultimately just means, I think it’s more opportunities for me and my teammates to showcase our, skill set,” senior guard Don Carey added. “More possessions in the course of a game and it’s just fun and exciting really for our team.

Carey shot 38.8% from behind the arc while Young shot 34.1% from behind the arc. Pair them with Hakim Hart, whose shot 33% over the last two seasons, or big men Donta Scott and Julian Reese and Maryland has the potential to stretch the floor. With Young’s ability to create through the paint and off high ball screens, the complementary scoring styles could create open opportunities for guys who’ve proven themselves in practice. While he has yet to show it on the college level, Cornish has flashed through the offseason with his perimeter scoring while freshman Noah Batchelor can provide a spark.

For a Maryland team that finished with the third-worst three-point shooting percentage in the Big Ten a season ago, consistent outside shooting could alleviate concerns in the frontcourt as Maryland looks to surpass preseason expectations.

How will the team’s chemistry be with all the new faces?

When a team gets a new head coach, there can be some trouble with chemistry and flow to a team’s offense and defense to start out the season. But add in two starters that transferred in and a few other bench players that transferred in, it can take even longer for a team to gel together and look like a cohesive unit on the court. “I don’t think we’re gonna be as smooth in the beginning as I would like,” head coach Kevin Willard added when talking about how well the team could play together to start the year. “I think the biggest thing for me is I’m gonna be patient ‘cause I know, I think we’re gonna be really good once we can kind of get through December. I think we’re gonna be really good.” The Terps are losing their two biggest primary ball handlers from last season in Fatts Russell and Eric Ayala. Luckily, they were able to get Jahmir Young in the portal. Willard, though, took note of the chance to face fresh competition. “I think they’re excited to kind of get going here and get moving, stop beating up on each other so we’ve had a good week of practice,” he added.”

Maryland enters a similar dynamic this season to last season and with a first-year coaching staff, they could run into early kinks and hiccups through the transition. Young expressed confidence in his squad as he’s seen improvements following the two closed scrimmages against Virginia and Villanova.

“Definitely rebounding. Just like taking care of the little stuff. Turnovers, just different things when we get tired, being able to play through fatigue, being able [to] talk on a defensive end, making sure that we cover the right areas, we’re in the right rotations. Just little things that would make us a better team. We have a lot of time, so just being able to put that all together and I feel like we’ll be a great team.”

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