Men's Basketball Season Gets Underway
Finally, the time has come for the Maryland men's basketball season to get underway. It's been a long wait since last March. Too long, if you ask me. But nonetheless, the wait is over. On Thursday afternoon, the Terrapins will gather at Comcast Center for the team's media day, and Friday night is Maryland Madness.
While the lone exhibition game isn't for another 20 days (not that anyone's counting) and the first regular season game isn't for another 30 days, here are a few story lines that likely will be addressed by Coach Gary Williams and the players at today's media gathering and certainly are worth paying attention to over the next month:
Senior guard Eric Hayes has been out for much of the past two months because of a turf toe injury. Hayes got out of a walking boot two weeks ago, and given that this sort of injury tends to linger, his recovery will be closely monitored. Hayes played a critical role off the bench for the Terrapins during their stretch run to the NCAA tournament last season. His experience and scoring ability will be highly valuable to the team this year, regardless of whether he serves as a starter or comes off the bench.
In other injury news, sophomore forward Steve Goins had surgery on the back of his knee near the end of
last spring the summer and returned to the court for pickup games for the first time on Oct. 5. Goins did not play a significant role for Maryland last season, but he looked to take on more responsibility this season, given the offseason transfer of Braxton Dupree, the gradution of Dave Neal and the career-ending injury of Jerome Burney. The Terrapins have two freshman big men stepping in this season (we'll get to them momentarily), but Goins has a big frame (listed at 6 feet 10, 245 pounds) and a season's worth of experience. At the very least, he could provide the team with some of the front-court depth it lacked last year.
As was previously mentioned, front-court depth was not the team's strong suit last season. Dave Neal and Landon Milbourne admirably manned the post, but both played out of position all year long. It is not a situation that the Terrapins would prefer to deal with again during their upcoming campaign. Enter freshmen forwards Jordan Williams and James Padgett. Both offer some size (Williams is listed at 6-10, 260 pounds, and Padgett is listed at 6-8, 225 pounds), as well as particular potential strengths.
Williams has strong hands and did not have any problem finishing around the basket in high school. He has the tools to develop into a reliable low-post scoring option and, consequently, has the best chance of the two freshmen to crack the starting lineup sooner rather than later.
Padgett, meantime, doesn't project as much of a scorer right away, but he'll be someone who can monitor the boards. His size (he's more like 6-7) might initially prohibit him from guarding opponents effectively in the post, but he could grow into a cable and efficient defender as he gains experience.
One could make a strong argument that no other Maryland player made more of a sacrifice for his team on the court throughout the entire season last year than Landon Milbourne. Listed at 6-7, 205 pounds, Milbourne spent his junior season playing the power forward position against players who often were much bigger and taller than him. Though it took him much of the first two months of the season to adjust, he never complained and he rarely was outworked.
This year, Milbourne, a senior, should find a little bit of relief in the form of Williams, Padgett, Goins (if healthy) and possibly even an improved Dino Gregory. That said, it's unlikely that Milbourne will get to fully return to the role of slasher/wing player that he might prefer. Milbourne will still be counted on in the post to some extent, but he'll be better prepared for it this time around. His performance will be critical to the team's success this season.
By the end of his freshman season, Sean Mosley had established himself as one of the better perimeter defenders on a team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Mosley's physical defensive presence made up for his streaky offensive performance, and it will be on the offensive side of the court that the Terrapins look for the most improvement from the sophomore guard. He shot 37 percent from the field and 23.8 percent from three-point range last season.
In August, Mosley and 14 other players from around the country competed on the Global Sports Academy Team USA all-star squad, which traveled to four different European countries (Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands) during a nine-day stretch in which it played seven games. Mosley teamed up with players such as Villanova's Corey Stokes and Antonio Pena, Purdue's Ryne Smith and Loyola-Maryland's J'hared Hall. The squad went 6-1.
How much will that experience help Mosley? It certainly can't hurt. If Mosley can display an offensive efficiency to match his defensive prowess this year, he'll not only keep the spot in the starting lineup he grabbed hold of during the second half of last season, he'll emerge as one of the team's key contributors.
You didn't really think I'd make it through an entire post previewing the upcoming season without mentioning Maryland's best player, did you? Vasquez is worth paying attention to for countless reasons. To name a few: He is Maryland's most dynamic offensive threat, he is the team's most intriquing/charismatic/excitable/controversial/entertaining personality, he is the program's next best hope of producing an NBA player, he is the central figure in determining how far Maryland will go this season.
Vasquez entertained the notion of entering the NBA draft over the summer and during a two-month process was evaluated by NBA personnel. He was afforded many compliments, but he also was given a list of aspects of his game that needed some work. Can he develop a consistent shot, specifically from long range? Can he become a more effective, more agile defender? If the answers are yes, that bodes well both for Vasquez's draft prospects next summer and for Maryland's prospects come March.
How do you all feel about the team as the season gets under way? What other topics do you think will be pertinent to follow in the month leading up to the first regular season game? Feel free to share in the comments section below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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