The Big Ten basketball media poll was released on Monday, and you probably won’t be surprised to learn that Maryland did not land near the top. Entering a transitional season for first-year coach Kevin Willardthe Terps were picked to finish 10th in the conference.
That prediction mirrors most preseason rankings for Maryland, which has a few quality returners and some proven incoming transfers, but also a lot of question marks. starters Donta Scott and hakim hart are back, as is talented but unproven big man Julian Reese. incoming transfers Jahmir Young (Charlotte) and Donald Carey (Georgetown) have proved themselves at previous stops. But the rest of the team is a collective wildcard, which has the Terps landing outside the range of projected NCAA Tournament teams in the preseason projections.
Maryland hasn’t finished lower than eighth in the Big Ten since joining the conference, even during the lost season of a year ago, when Mark Turgeon left eight games into the season and the team essentially played out the string for the final two months and they tied for eighth place. And Willard finished no lower than fifth in the Big East during his final seven seasons there, making the NCAA Tournament in all but one of those seasons. But the media doesn’t seem to know what to expect of them in Willard’s first year, with the poll including a wide range of opinions that saw the Terps receive three sixth-place votes and two 12th-place votes.
“We have veterans, Jahmir Young, Don Careyyou talked about Donta [Scott] and Hakim [Hart]. You know, we have enough guys that played college basketball at the highest level, that I’m not worried,” Willard said during a recent public appearance. “Maybe some stumbles early on, that’s not going to derail this [team]. I think that’s what I love about this group, they’re very focused … This is their last week off. We had Juju [Julian Reese]Donta, Don, Jahmir, Caelum … They’re all in the gym working out and on their own, very focused on where they are now, but where they want to go.”
The win-loss record won’t be easy to pad, because Willard has taken a more aggressive scheduling tact than his predecessor, Turgeon, highlighted by non-conference games against Tennessee and UCLA, along with either Providence or Miami. In all, 14 of the Terps’ 25 opponents played in the 2022 NCAA Tournament
“I think the schedule is a little bit tougher than probably I should have done, but we have enough home games where I think we can get some good momentum. I know they’re very similar to Brenda [Frese’s] schedule]and the fact I think we’re not going to be really smooth in November, early December. I just don’t think it’s going to be possible, but I’m not worried about that. I really like this team,” Willard said.
“I think by the time January, it’s — I think it’s we have veterans, Jahmir Young, Donald Carey, you talked about Donta and Hakim — we have enough guys that have played college basketball at the highest level that I’m not worried. Maybe some stumbles early on. That’s not going to derail this [team]. I think that’s what I love about this group. They’re very focused.”
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Brendan Quinn of The Athletic pointed to the unpredictability of the standings, using last year’s Terps as an example.
“Oh, and Maryland? The Terps were picked fifth. Every voter slotted them between fourth and eighth. Not quite how it played out, is it? Mark Turgeon’s tenure ended before league play began in December, and Maryland finished in a 10th-place tie with Northwestern and Penn State,” he wrote.
This year’s team isn’t picked as high, but Willard potentially has two of the league’s most versatile players in Scott and Hart, a dynamic new point guard in Young and a potential star in Reese, the sophomore center who will need to take a large step forward for a team lacking post options. Willard is also high on redshirt freshman shooter Ike Cornish and Seton Hall transfer Jahari Long, a guard who could play reserve minutes at both spots. Athletic junior guard Ian Martinez began to show flashes late last season of what had people excited about him at Utah.
So there are lots of questions, but also some intriguing pieces.
“We got a lot done as a staff, you know, we hit the ground running, kind of had to rebuild the roster, seeing who was staying, seeing who’s going. And then trying to fill the roster with guys that were going to complement the guys that stayed,” Willard said. “You know, we had some really good players stay. Donta Scott and hakim hart, Julian Reese. And making sure that the guys we brought in were gonna help those guys and compliment those guys. And really kind of make sure that we had a roster that was balanced.”
Maryland opens the season Nov. 7 against Niagara. The Terps will play a pair of scrimmages against big-name opponents during the preseason.
(first-place votes in parenthesis)
- Indiana, 43 (19)
- Ill., 81 (6)
- Michigan, 92 (1)
- Michigan State, 139
- Purdue, 141 (1)
- Ohio State, 167
- Iowa, 185 (1)
- Rutgers, 218
- Wisconsin, 229
- Maryland, 267
- Penn State, 304
- Minnesota, 334
- Northwestern, 362
- Nebraska, 378