Mark Turgeon's first year as Maryland Terrapins head coach, the first of the post-Gary Williams era, was met with struggles, as most expected. Turgeon's revamping of the roster means Maryland will once again be short-handed this season, with only nine scholarship players eligible for the upcoming year.
The Terrapins must replace their top two scorers from a year ago in Sean Mosely, who was graduated, and Terrell Stoglin, who left early for the NBA Draft. Stoglin's journey to pro basketball was accelerated by the fact that he would have been suspended for season due to violating the team's athletic conduct code. Maryland also missed out on a pair of freshmen who likely would have contributed right away as well. 6-9 Damonte Dodd chose to attend prep school this season, while Sam Cassell Jr. was ruled ineligible by the NCAA in a decision that outraged many, including his father.
Those decisions, along with the transfer of two role players from a year ago, mean the Terrapins only return four players from last season's squad. The most intriguing of those is 7-1 Alex Len, who has peaked the interest of many NBA squads. The Ukrainian big man sat out the first ten games of 2011 due to a NCAA ruling about his amatuer status and showed glimpses at times, but still proved to very much be a work in progress.
Len's size and length in the frontcourt will likely be joined by senior James Padgett, who, by process of elimination, will take on more of a leadership role this season. Padgett is an average player by high major Division One standards and figures to be pushed for playing time by freshmen Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell. Both newcomers are a bit undersized, but bring a ton of physicality inside.
Versatile guard Pe'Shon Howard looks to be fully recovered after a pair of different injuries forced him to miss significant time last season which was ended by a torn ACL. Howard is by no means a big-time scorer, and his decision-making is certainly questionable, since he averaged 3.2 turnovers per game last year. Howard is the only real option at the point for Turgeon, so he must be more dependable in running the offense this season.
Swingman Nick Faust had a solid freshman campaign and is the Terrapins' top returning scorer. He will need to take more of an offensive mindset and have a breakout season for Maryland to make any real noise. The "free agent" addition of Logan Aronhalt, who becomes immediately eligible after graduating from Albany, will provide a needed shot in the arm offensively. Since Faust and Howard aren't known as great shooters, his ability to knock down outside shots will be vital for the Terrapins' offense.
A pair of freshmen will be thrust into key roles off the bench. 6-8 Jake Layman brings some versatility to the small forward position and could also play some four if Turgeon chooses to utilize a smaller lineup. Seth Allen is a combo guard who is more of a scorer than distributor but will have to log some minutes at the one behind Howard.
Maryland also picked up a pair of key transfers in Xavier's Dezmine Wells and Evan Smotrycz of Michigan. Both players must sit out this season, but Wells likely would have been the go-to for the Musketeers this season and is a huge addition, while Smotrycz will add an inside/outside dimension to the Terrapins' frontcourt in 2013-14.
Just like last season, Maryland enters the year with only nine scholarship players. An injury or suspension could prove costly once again. I expect the team to take a step forward this season, but the Terrapins are still at least a year away from being a true NCAA Tournament-caliber team.
Player to Watch: Alex Len, C
Potential, potential, potential. With his combination of size and athleticism, Len has the makings of being a lottery pick one day. However, he needs to show off a more well-rounded offensive game, while also proving he can handle banging down low, before I'm ready to back up that theory. I don't expect him to be a dominant big man quite yet, but if he can show solid growth, he will be a tough match-up for most ACC opponents.