Maryland men’s basketball’s last game of the 2019 calendar year — and of the 2010s — is in the books. Thanks to an 84-70 victory against Bryant Dec. 29, the No. 15 Terps will enter the new year with an 11-2 record. But there’s still plenty to be worried about.
The Terps’ last three weeks have been filled with frustration. After starting 10-0 for the first time in 21 seasons, Maryland dropped back-to-back contests at Penn State and Seton Hall, the latter of which smothered the Terps without its two leading scorers. With long breaks in between games for finals and the holidays, Maryland had 19 days to dwell on defeat. Beating Bryant changes that, but it’s far from a sure sign that things are trending back up.
As Mark Turgeon’s team enters the new calendar year, it faces midseason uncertainty on and off the court.
Makhi and Makhel Mitchell have transferred, and questions still linger.
The twin freshman centers entered the NCAA transfer portal Dec. 27 after suiting up for just 12 games as Terps. The Mitchells committed to Maryland in August 2017 and enrolled this summer, although lead recruiter Kevin Broadus departed for Morgan State in the spring. Makhi averaged 3.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game; Makhel averaged 1.0 and 2.3. The duo combined to average 15 minutes, and for the most part, they were used in exactly the same fashion.
According to InsideMdSports’ Jeff Ermann, head coach Mark Turgeon was prepared to issue a suspension to one or both of the twins before meeting with them and their mother and concluding it would be best if they left the program. The Mitchells came to Maryland with a reputation as “talented and charming, but also immature and jumping from school to school frequently,” Ermann wrote. Multiple reports suggested there was some tension between the laid-back twins and the team’s gym rats as well.
Maria Mitchell, the twins’ mother, shared her thoughts on Twitter. In a series of now-deleted tweets, she refuted the prevailing assumption that this was a mutual decision and turned heads by calling Turgeon “untrustworthy.” (Her subsequent tweets continued to suggest that Turgeon only “wanted” one twin, presumably the more highly-touted Makhi.)
When asked about the accusation postgame, Turgeon responded, “No comment, no comment,” then muttered “Jesus” under his breath.
The Terps now have to change their frontcourt rotation.
The Mitchells didn’t put up big numbers, but they combined to fill a clear-cut role: eating up minutes at center to either give Jalen Smith a rest or slide him to power forward. Smith, at 6-foot-10 and 225 pounds, is still not a natural Big Ten center, but he’ll likely be forced to spend much more time at the position in conference play. Maryland’s only other players over 6-foot-8 to see action in the first 12 games were sophomore Ricky Lindo and junior Joshua Tomaic, who really wasn’t part of even the most extended rotations.
This is where Chol Marial comes in. The 7-foot-2 freshman with a 7-foot-8 wingspan made his Maryland debut against Bryant, just when the Terps needed his presence the most. He logged 14 minutes against the Bulldogs, tallying six points, five rebounds and a block. Marial’s first four-minute stint included two putback dunks, both prompting roars from the Xfinity Center faithful.
Maryland’s frontcourt rotation wasn’t wildly different otherwise, though. Freshman Donta Scott started at power forward and played 22 minutes. Smith played 28, almost all at center. Lindo played five minutes and Tomaic entered for the final two. Against a Bryant team that didn’t have any starters taller than 6-foot-7, pretty much anything would have worked — Maryland held a jaw-dropping 48-16 rebounding advantage, including 19 offensive boards.
With the Mitchells gone, Marial’s health and availability will mean that much more for the Terps’ ceiling and floor this season. If he can show flashes of the play that once made him a five-star prospect, the outlook changes dramatically. As Maryland moves him along, though, expect to see more of Lindo, or Tomaic, or perhaps most likely, even more small-ball lineups.
Maryland cruised against Bryant, but the road gets tougher.
This game checked almost every box for Terps wins this year. Maryland started slow. It missed a lot of shots. It turned the ball over too much. But it had enough firepower to pull ahead of an overmatched opponent and separate itself down the stretch.
Big Ten play is up next. Maryland hosts Indiana Jan. 4, then No. 5 Ohio State Jan. 7. The Terps won’t be able to physically dominate those teams like this. They’ll have to play at a level they simply haven’t reached since the Notre Dame game. And it’s unclear how much their ceiling and floor have lowered (or risen) with the departure of the twins.
As always in college basketball, the real answers will start to come after the calendar turns.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox