It was great to see the Maryland women's team advance on to the Sweet 16 after Tuesday's win over Texas. That game wasn't always artistic, but a win is a win. Now they meet No. 1 seed Tennessee, and that will be a stern test.
Getting out of a region that includes the Vols as well as Louisville is asking a lot, although No. 2 seed West Virginia bit the dust against LSU. Make no mistake, the Terps have had a solid year, and in truth, perhaps we've taken them a bit for granted in recent years, as automatic NCAA berths have come to be expected, and Maryland normally contends in the powerful ACC.
That said, they still need a signature win to cap off the magnificent career of Alyssa Thomas, and Tennessee certainly provides them that opportunity. Maryland has advanced to the Elite 8 three times since winning it all in 2006, and yet the Final Four has eluded them. It's going to be interesting to see how they respond against the Vols. They've got a franchise talent in Thomas, excellent depth, and plenty of size with Brionna Jones, Alicia DeVaughn, and Malina Howard.
Now is the time to make a statement. The Terps lose Thomas, DeVaughn, and guard Katie Rutan to graduation, so if they really want to make a mark nationally, beating Tennessee is the way to get that done. We wish them luck.
I've spent so many years following ACC Basketball recruiting, that it's going to take a little while to get accustomed to the Big Ten, and following who's coming and going in that league. Here's a quick look at how those teams finished this year in the league, and what significant losses are expected.
Michigan (15-3): The Wolverines will lose big man Jordan Morgan, and it sounds like shooting star Nik Stauskas is coming out as well. I'd expect our old friend Mitch McGary to return, as he'll have to prove he's recovered from back surgery before he's off to the League.
Wisconsin (12-6): I'd favor the Badgers next year as they only use shooter Ben Brust. Big man Frank Kaminsky returns as does athlete Sam Dekker, and their floor leader Traveon Jackon. I don't relish playing this bunch in Madison in January.
Michigan State (12-6): Sparty could win it all this year, but they'll be a little down next year as Keith Appling, and star center Adrien Payne graduate. It's also likely that 2-guard Gary Harris will declare for the draft.
Nebraska (11-7): Coach Tim Miles has made the Huskers relevant, and he loses basically no one from the roster. The names are unfamiliar for the most part, but Miles has Nebraska poised as a solid contender to win the league next year.
Ohio State (10-8): An uncharacteristic down year for the Bucks, and huge losses include Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. Thad Matta though does have a strong recruiting class coming in, featuring big time guard D'Angelo Russell.
Iowa (9-9): The Hawkeyes faded down the stretch, but Terp fans remember them for the beat down they put on Maryland in last year's NIT. They'll be strong again next year, though losing Roy Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe will hurt.
Minnesota (8-10): Richard Pitino did a solid job with the Gophers, and most of them return, although Austin Hollins graduates, along with shooter Malik Smith. They should still be in the middle of the pack again next year.
Illinois (7-11): John Groce suffered through a rough year with the Illini, but they're young, athletic, and lose basically no one. Plus they welcome big time forward Leron Black next year, so I'd expect them to move up in the standings as they mature.
Indiana (7-11): The Hoosiers took a big fall this year, and despite a strong recruiting class which features big time shooters James Blackmon and Robert Johnson, next year could still be a bit of a struggle. Losing senior Will Sheehey hurts, but now that 6-10 Noah Vonleh has declared for the NBA, that's a huge blow. Look for Indiana to struggle in the paint next year, but they will have excellent perimeter firepower with Johnson, Blackmon, and returning point guard Yogi Farrell.
Penn State (6-12): Pat Chambers has done a solid job trying to turn around this long dormant basketball program. He's recruited pretty well, and yet, losing his best player (Tim Frazier) will be hard to overcome.
Northwestern (6-12): Chris Collins did a nice job this year with a roster not exactly chocked full of talent. He sprung a few upsets and kept the scores down to remain competitive in most Big Ten games. Recruiting has picked up some, but losing guard Drew Crawford stings.
Purdue (5-13): The Boilermakers have struggled since losing Robbie Hummel and Ju'Juan Johnson from their program two years ago. Coach Matt Painter does have a very good recruiting class coming in though. Purdue loses guard Terone Johnson to graduation, and that's a significant loss.
We'll see how spring recruiting goes for these programs, and yet, at the moment, we see no reason why Maryland can't be a significant factor next year in the Big Ten. They're catching a break it would seem, as some of the traditional powers are a little down now (Indiana, Ohio State, Illinois) and others (Michigan State, Michigan, Iowa) are suffering some serious losses.
That said though, going on the road to all new arenas will be a challenge, and adjusting to perhaps a bit more physical style of play will take some time. And let's be honest, the Terps weren't exactly the "Monsters of the Midway" this year in the ACC, when it comes to being a rough and tough squad. It also needs to be noted that this new league has some tremendous coaches... Bo Ryan , John Beilein, Thad Matta, and of course, Tom Izzo, are as good as it gets.
I thought about "grading" this year's Terps squad individually, but when I looked closer at each player, I only gave "Bs" to three players, and clearly, no one deserved an "A." Those three were:
Seth Allen: Despite occasional poor shot selection, and less than stellar defense, Allen gets a "B" because the team did play much better upon his return, he was the team's best weapon on offense, and we have to take in consideration the fact that, in my opinion, he's still playing out of position. Move him to the 2-guard spot next year, and let him do his thing. All in all, he had a solid year.
Dez Wells: Wells deserves his "B" based on his effort, his defense, his leadership, his toughness and his willingness to take the big shot at critical times. Yes, he turns it over too much, and he's not a knockdown shooter, but I question where the program would be without him. In a program where some players take a play off now and then, Wells brings it every night.
Jonathan Graham: This choice might raise a few eyebrows and that's fine. I'm not saying that Graham is an elite talent or athlete. But, again, the fact that he played significant minutes tells you how the other bigs were doing, and I never questioned his heart or his energy. Graham put everything he had into the team, whether playing or sitting. And he had his moments while on the court. For all the intangibles he possesses, he also gets a "B."
Time for some speculation. If the Terps had their recruiting wishes granted, I'd say they still want to add a fifth year big man in the Class of 2014. Names will surface in the coming weeks, although Temple's Anthony Lee will not be one of them. He's already down to five schools, and the Terps are not one of them.
It also certainly appears that Slovakian power forward (by way of Spain) Michal Cekovsky (Canarias Basketball Academy) is another person of significant interest to the staff. You can do the math though. Obviously if these two wishes are granted, it's pretty obvious some current bigs will be moving on. But we'll let that play itself out. There's no need to try and figure out who, if anyone, will be leaving at this time.
Regardless of how 2014 finishes up recruiting wise, there are still some clear cut needs in the the 2015 class. Maryland desperately needs a versatile forward in the program, preferably a 4-man who can score inside or out. We still expect a new name or two to surface in that regard, but for now, Esa Ahmad (OH) still seems like the priority.
Maryland also needs to get more athletic -- particularly at the wing positions. Nick Faust and Dez Wells will be gone after next year, and Jake Layman is entering his junior campaign. Incoming Jared Nickens is a decent athlete, but not an elite one. The Terps needs some wings who can shut people down, get to the rim, and make things happen.
Terrapin Times will be covering some high school events this weekend, and getting a closer look at all the best young players the DMV has to offer. We've mentioned often that the local junior class doesn't excite us. Well, Allonzo Trier (Montrose Christian/Rockville, Md.) is the real deal, but I don't see that happening, and Josh Reaves (Paul VI/Fairfax, Va.) still doesn't have an offer. At this point in time, I don't see a local recruit signing on, but we'll continue to monitor that.
As for the 16s, there is some depth in that class in the DMV, and there's still time for some of those prospects to mature and grow into solid high major players. We'll be evaluating a number of them in the coming weeks.
We'll also to continue to follow the ever changing coaching carousel, as slots are opening up and being filled almost daily it seems. Lots of positions are filled during the Final Four weekend, so we'll see if anything pertaining to Maryland assistants moving on becomes relevant. As of this moment, we haven't heard of any movement among the Maryland staff.
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