Maryland Basketball Should Be Better By Default In 2013

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Mar 15, 2013; Greensboro, NC, USA; Maryland Terrapins guard Nick Faust (5) and guard/forward Dez Wells (32) react. The Terrapins defeated the Blue Devils 83-74 during the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament at Greensboro Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Obviously looking ahead a bit here, but when you look at Maryland’s 2013-14 basketball schedule, and how it’s starting to shape up with the addition of Morgan State, I can’t help but be even more optimistic about the team. To be sure, next season Maryland loses a big time player in Alex Len, still doesn’t have the point guard situation quite figured out, and will go up against a very challenging schedule, but there are signs that the Terrapins will still realistically compete in the ACC and make the NCAA tournament.

  • The Terrapins are going to have great chemistry together

One of the hardest problems Maryland had last season was just gelling as a team early on. They lost the ACC’s leading scorer in late April/early May in Terrell Stoglin, had Mychal Parker depart, and their starting point guard wasn’t 100% from his injuries sustained the season prior. Then Dez Wells showed up, and they weren’t even sure if he would play. All of that just meant the team had few defined roles, very little time to become a true team, and you could see that throughout the year by the inconsistencies on the court.

In the Terps third year under Turgeon’s tutelage, the majority of this roster will have played with one another for an entire season save for Peters and Dodd. More importantly, they’ve had a chance to build some very real chemistry. Everyone on the team seems to like one another, and we haven’t heard of any dissension despite not really having an senior presence on the floor. And this upcoming season, the Terps are going to be far more in tune with one another than this time last year.

That starts with the exhibition tour/team bonding experience when they head to the Bahamas to take on some local teams. The competition obviously isn’t going to be top-tier, but it’s the entire experience that will help with this team. Anyone who has played a team sport knows the intangible importance of the road trip, and a trip to the Bahamas before school starts? It’s a chance to let off some steam and get everyone into the mindset that, from that point on, it’s all business. You think Shaquille Cleare wouldn’t mind visiting home, with some of his best friends in tow, once again before school starts up and life comes full steam ahead? He’s going to love it, and the team is going to love it.

It’s huge for cohesiveness. I once had a coach in hockey (former NHLer, no-nonsense kind of guy who also coached me at Maryland) who always took my team out before the season to go whitewater rafting, zip-lining, and do some obstacle courses on an overnight trip before the season. At the time, everyone thought it was one big joke and wasn’t going to do anything but waste a weekend; even after the trip, we still had that mentality. But there’s something about being around your teammates for an extended period of time that gives you a sense of bonding. The jokes become inside jokes, you start to recognize personalities and understand what buttons to push and which ones not to.

The next year? We ended up going to nationals. We didn’t win, but the team had never made it that far before, and even at the end of the season the team was more like a band of brothers than a disjointed unit.

The games these Terrapins play won’t be to get them used to tough competition, but to get them gelling as a unit. It’ll get Dez Wells acclimated to his role as the primary scoring option, to get Nick Faust used to playing off him, to get Roddy Peters accustomed to playing with elite players around him, rather than having to do it himself as he did at Suitland, and it’ll give Smotrycz his first exhibition game as a Terp. Same goes for the other guys.

  • RPI is no longer a hindrance, to the umpteenth power

Last year, the Terrapins played only five games in which their opponent was ranked; three against Duke, one against Kentucky, and one against NC State. Sure, they played Miami and North Carolina, but neither was ranked at the time and the Tar Heels were very similar to Maryland in skill. In 2011, they played seven ranked teams (UNC 3x, Duke 2x, Alabama and UVa) but the roster was in disarray and didn’t really have Turgeon’s guys.

This year, Turgeon gets the schedule of a team set to play in the NCAA tournament, and come ACC tournament time, set to compete for the conference title. Their first big game against UConn (who was barred from the tournament last year despite going 20-10) is going to be even harder than Kentucky. A team that returns Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatwright, and their other four top scorers from last year will be a real challenge to beat. Toss in a top 100 recruit in Kentan Facey, and the game should be a barometer on how good the Terps will be this year.

Then you replace Northwestern in the Big Ten challenge with an Ohio State team that made the Elite Eight last year. Yes, they lose Deshaun Thomas/ a third of their shots on offense, but this is Thad Matta we’re talking about. They make the tournament every year, and it’s not as if the cupboard is barren with Quinton Ross ready to take on a bigger role, a solid PG is Aaron Craft and locally poached SG Kameron Williams (of Mount St. Joes) stepping in. This Ohio State team will be well-coached, and ready to introduce Maryland to life in the B1Gs early.

Still, those two powerhouse games will prep the Terps for what will be the hardest ACC schedule they have, arguably, ever faced. Syracuse is stacked, Pitt (who made the tourney) returns six of their top ten scorers, Duke brings in the second best high school player in the nation and a very refined team, North Carolina will be reloaded, NC State loses CJ Leslie and Howell, but they should still be very tough to beat, Notre Dame is always a tough out, Virginia brings back the ACC Player of the Year, and the rest of the conference is never really easy.

That schedule is brutal, doesn’t really give you any games off, and since I’m a firm believer that competition is great, it also makes Maryland a better team by default. Maryland may still technically be young with only three upperclassmen (who will get actual minutes) on the roster, but this team just feels older than their age suggests. They’ve been on the big stage before, won big games before, and know how to better deal with adversity. This schedule is one that should be full of challenges and intense games, and come midseason, they’ll either be playing some of their best basketball, or in the ACC gutter. I can’t see the latter happening with the talent on this team.

Even if Maryland goes 22-12 next year again, the wins they get next year will be almost assuredly against better competition, and the losses the same. This team was pretty darn close to an NCAA berth last year, and if they have a similar season to last year with wins over some of the aforementioned teams, they’re going to be in the tournament.