The last time Maryland men’s basketball took the court, the Terps clinched a share of the Big Ten regular-season title on senior day in College Park, Md. But the two-and-a-half months since have been filled primarily with frustration.
All of college basketball was gutted by the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the lost opportunity was especially heartbreaking for teams enjoying up years or even historic seasons. Most bracketologists had Maryland as a No. 3 or 4 seed; the former would have been the program’s best seeding since 2002. Instead, the Terps’ postseason was washed away entirely, giving way to an offseason filled with more negatives than positives.
After a slew of outgoing transfers and recruiting shortfalls, Maryland’s 2020-21 outlook remains murky. The biggest stars are gone, and plenty of role players have moved on, leaving question marks all around the court. Here’s the rundown of what’s happened and where the Terps go from here.
Maryland knew it would be without star point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. for the 2020-21 season, and it wasn’t surprised when all-conference big man Jalen Smith declared for the NBA Draft in April. But the departures have started to pile up, with several role players seeking new opportunities elsewhere.
Power forward Ricky Lindo Jr. was the first domino to fall, announcing his departure March 30 and his transfer to George Washington April 10. Forward/center Joshua Tomaic entered the transfer portal April 20 and officially landed with San Diego State May 7. Most recently, shooting guard Serrel Smith Jr. left the program May 26. Lindo and Smith both came on as valuable role players as freshmen in 2018-19 but seemed to regress last season. Tomaic, meanwhile, had been a rotational big man at most during his Terps career.
Each of these decisions to search for more playing time on another team makes sense in a vacuum, but all three players had a chance to earn a serious role on a reloading Terps team this upcoming season. Instead, Maryland has been forced to fill out its roster with transfers and late-cycle high school recruits. That’s proved to be a challenge.
Maryland’s 2020 recruiting class has just two prospects, both in the backcourt. Local combo guard Marcus Dockery committed to the Terps all the way back in 2018 and signed in November 2019. His stock isn’t as high as it was when he pledged — he dropped from a four-star to a three-star recruit — but the staff is high on his ability to be at least a productive role player immediately. The same goes for Chicago-area point guard Aquan Smart, who was unrated for most of the recruiting process but is currently a high three-star prospect, per the 247Sports Composite.
On the transfer market, Maryland landed former Boston College forward Jairus Hamilton in late March. Hamilton, who was a four-star high school prospect and received interest from the Terps, joined his older brother at BC and averaged 9.5 points and 4.3 rebounds as a sophomore last season. He’ll need a waiver to become immediately eligible for 2020-21, and while there’s a sensible case — he’s closer to his family in North Carolina, albeit still several driving hours away — Maryland probably won’t concretely know his status for a while. In either case, Hamilton has two years of eligibility remaining.
The lone big man addition of the offseason has come in the form of Alabama graduate transfer Galin Smith. He’s certainly not Jalen Smith — the 6-foot-9, 240-pounder averaged just 3.1 points and 2.5 rebounds in 13.1 minutes per game last season — but if he can be a productive bench player, he’ll bring serious value to the Terps. Smith’s biggest claim to fame is being one of the three Alabama players who nearly pulled off a 3-on-5 comeback against Minnesota in November 2017.
This Maryland offseason, above all else, has been defined by three narrow misses on the graduate transfer market. The Terps made a run at Radford’s Carlik Jones, the 2020 Big South Player of the Year, but the Cincinnati, Ohio, native opted to move close to home and spend his final year at Louisville. The same situation played out with Harvard’s Bryce Aiken, who opted to return to his home state of New Jersey and transfer for Seton Hall. Maryland was also firmly in the mix for Yale big man Jordan Bruner, who ultimately opted for Alabama.
There have been plenty of unfulfilling courtships since — including, among others, Michigan guard David DeJulius (Cincinnati), Duke wing Alex O’Connell (Creighton), Purdue center Matt Haarms (BYU), UNLV guard Amauri Hardy (Oregon) and VCU forward Marcus Santos-Silva (Texas Tech). Maryland also entered the mix for a handful of high school big men, some in the 2020 class and some who could reclassify from 2021, but hasn’t landed any of those prospects. The Terps’ staff pushed for some free agents harder than others, of course, but the end result has been consistent.
Basketball recruiting is an elaborate game of musical chairs, with every player’s music stopping at different times and plenty of other variables flying around. No singular recruiting miss is ever an indictment on a coaching staff, and it’s possible for several close calls to all go the wrong way for a particular team. Still, an offseason this filled with strikeouts is rare for Mark Turgeon and Maryland. And with May winding to a close, the result is a roster still littered with holes.
As It Stands
The current roster has its bright spots, but ultimately, the outlook isn’t all that inspiring.
Maryland does return four of its top six players from the 2019-20 season in Eric Ayala, Darryl Morsell, Aaron Wiggins and Donta Scott. It’ll need all four to ramp up their production with Cowan and Smith gone, but that certainly isn’t out of the question. Ayala is expected to shift to the point guard spot full time, while Wiggins seems like the leading candidate to become an ace scorer. Morsell and Scott were solid two-way players in 2020 and will need to become more consistent offensive threats.
After that, though, there simply aren’t any known quantities. Chol Marial, who played just 65 minutes across 12 games in his freshman season, is suddenly the only traditional center on the roster. The 7-foot-2 Sudan native certainly has promise, but he’s also battled injuries for several years now, and the pandemic costs him a chance to work extensively with Maryland’s strength and training staff this offseason.
The projected bench includes two freshmen (Dockery and Smart), a sophomore who saw limited minutes last season (Hakim Hart), a senior who’s never been more than a rotational big man (Smith) and a transfer whose eligibility is still uncertain (Hamilton).
It’s much less than ideal to have three open scholarships after Memorial Day. The latest names floated as possible transfer additions include Utah guard Both Gach and Indiana forward Justin Smith. Maryland is in the mix for several 2021 recruits who could potentially reclassify to 2020. But the pressure is on Mark Turgeon and staff right now. They’ve made quality additions late in the offseason before, and they’ll need to do it again.
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