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Maryland basketball preview: part 2

By Rick Nelligan

Welcome back Terp fans. It’s now time to follow up on my roster rundown from yesterday with an early preview of the Terps basketball schedule and my predictions on the year. If you missed my post yesterday, go ahead and read it real quick, I’ll wait...

First, I will delve into the Terps key non-conference games. Then I’ll give my ACC outlook, and finally my predictions for the season.

Key non-conference games

Maryland must take care of business against teams they are supposed to beat. Among others, Maine, Delaware State, and Penn State (I refuse to allow the ACC to lose the ACC/Big Ten challenge ever again) fall into this category. The Terps have a decent amount of cupcake teams on their schedule, but don’t get confused; there are a few big-timers as well. In order to put themselves in good position for an NCAA Tournament bid, the Terps likely need to win two of these four games.

Nov. 18 – vs. No. 4 Pittsburgh (2K Sports Classic) – Madison Square Garden

The Panthers return seven of their eight top scorers from a year ago, including leading scorer Ashton Gibbs. Gibbs is the brother of 2011 Maryland basketball commitment Sterling Gibbs. More importantly, Pittsburgh’s calling card under head coach Jamie Dixon has been defensive intensity. Without knowing who will step up early on for the Terps offensively, the key will be to match the Panthers' intensity and limit turnovers on offense. Otherwise, it could get ugly.

Nov. 19 – vs. No. 16 Illinois or No. 25 Texas (2K Sports Classic) – Madison Square Garden

Which team they face will be based upon the outcome of the Maryland-Pittsburgh game and the Illinois-Texas game. Personally, I’d rather play Texas. It has nothing to do with them being lower ranked to start the season. It would be the first time Rick Barnes has faced his coaching mentor Gary Williams since Barnes left Clemson for Texas back in 1998. It would also be sweet to pay the Longhorns back for stealing our hometown hero Kevin Durant from right under the Terps' nose.

Dec. 5 – vs. No. 22 Temple (BB&T Classic) – Verizon Center

I love this game for the Terps, and not only because I believe it is a favorable matchup. It has the potential to develop into a regional rivalry with an up and coming program, something that Maryland has sorely lacked for years. While the Owls were dominant defensively a year ago, this is about the time I expect the Terps to find their identity on offense. It should be a great game, but I expect this to be a quality win for the Terps.

Jan. 15 - at No. 6 Villanova – Philadelphia

The Terps had a tough time keeping up with the Wildcats a year ago, losing 95-86. But both teams are looking for new leaders to step up after their top players graduated. This will be a tough game for the Terps, as it is only their second non-conference game in a true road environment. The Wildcats are traditionally a team that relies on three pointers and fast break buckets, which was exactly what the Terps were unable to stop last year. I’d be surprised if Gary allowed the Terps to not show up defensively in the rematch.

ACC outlook

Typically par for the course, Duke and North Carolina are projected to finish atop the ACC. Beyond that, I believe it is a toss up between Maryland, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech and Florida State to round out the top half of the ACC. I do believe that the experts are overrating Tech’s senior talent, but more on that and my outlook on Maryland’s ACC schedule as it draws closer.

Season projections

With the relative inexperience (none of the three senior starters have ever consistently started before) of the Maryland basketball team, it’s possible this could be a trying year for Terp Nation. But I say nay, and in Gary We Trust. I believe that the Terps will likely struggle early, particularly in the 2K Sports Classic. But Maryland will round into form as the season wears on and players start to establish their roles. Gary will lead his players and utilize the newfound athleticism of this Terps team.

I believe the Terps will be much stronger the second half of the season than in the first, which is usually the trend for the Terrapins anyway. At the end of the regular season, I predict a 21-10 record, including nine wins and a 4th place finish in the ACC. Since the Terps should be stronger at year’s end, I could see an ACC Championship game appearance in the cards for Maryland. As for the NCAA Tournament, a sixth seed and an unfortunate early exit in the round of 32 seems likely to me. Let me know what your feelings are for the season Terp fans, and what your predictions are. Like I said yesterday, it should be another exciting year in College Park. Go Terps!

By Rick Nelligan  | November 4, 2010; 2:07 PM ET
Categories:  Rick Nelligan, Terps  | Tags:  Rick Nelligan, Terps  
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