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Baby Don't Fear the Turtle: A Maryland Basketball Preview

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I'm not sure if there's a point to me writing a Maryland preview, as Jeremy Gold has perfected the genre with his thoughts over at Turtle Soup. But I can't leave them out, so here goes:

Last Year: Was it really only the fourth season after Maryland's championship run? Because this team was dropping more players than threes, losing point guard and chemistry-killer John Gilchrist before the season, and shooting guard Chris McCray (15.3 ppg, 3.6 apg) to academics midseason. The end result was a team struggling to 8-8 in the ACC and 19-13 overall. Their reward? A first round NIT loss to Manhattan. Meanwhile, a bunch of kids from the Maryland area were busy taking George Mason to the Final Four.

Comings and Goings: In addition the folks mentioned above, Maryland says goodbye to the rest of their championship recruiting class - Nik-Caner Medley (15.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Travis Garrison (8.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg). The general mood among the Terrapin faithful is Good Riddance. (In addition to the troubles that plagued McCray and Gilchrist, Garrison had a felony assualt charge.) Gary Williams can now go back to building championship contending teams the way he's used to.

And who's the foundation for the rebuilding effort? Well there's DJ Strawberry (10.3 ppg, 4.0 apg), a shooting guard forced to play the point last year. Whether he can shoot remains to be proven. He's joined on the wing by MIKE JONES!!! (10.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg) who scored a similar number of points off of more shots. One of these two needs to improve a lot to lead this team.

Down low there's the poor man's Lonny Baxter, Ekene Ibekwe (11.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg), James Gist (8.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Will Bowers (2.1 ppg, 1.3 rpg). Barring a large improvement at shooting guard - which I wouldn't hold my breathe on seeing - the majority of the points production is going to come from the first two of the big men. Will Bower's role will continue to Be Very Tall.

The incoming savior is far and away Eric Hayes, the guy expected to take the point guard slot. If he slips, Greivis Vasquez could step in, although he's more suited for a shooting guard or small forward position. Disturbingly for Maryland fans, in the two underwhelming preseason games the bright points have been less heralded recruit Landon Milbourne and junior transfer Bambale Osby, both expected to compete for playing time in the frontcourt.

The Outlook: Maryland has won its two exhibition games by a total of 10 points. The marigin last year? 61. Luckily, the Terps get to ease into the schedule, getting four easy games before the Big Ten Challenge takes them to also rebuilding, but much more dangerous Illinois. From there it's games against Notre Dame and ACC bruiser Boston College before the patsies of winter break come calling. Maryland could enter the new year either riding high on a couple of upset victories, or fully broken and waiting for the season to end. Like Wake it depends on how many and which freshman quickly adapt to the college game. Although they'll have better luck than their buddies in Winston-Salem, they're still rebuilding in a year of a resurgent Atlantic Coast Conference. Gary Williams will get them more wins than is to be expected, but not enough to get them back to the NCAA's, which are still a year away.

  • Preseason Poll Finish: 7th, maybe a shade too high.
  • Carolina March Forecast: 7-9 in the ACC and a better job in the NITs.