The Regular Season Is Finally Here; Terps Open On Long Island Friday Night
The day that college basketball fans have been waiting for all summer and fall is finally here, with the regular season set to begin Friday night. Unlike a decent percentage of teams in power conferences, Maryland will open its season away from home with a matchup against Stony Brook at Nassau Memorial Veterans Coliseum. Stony Brook’s been a good program in recent years, with Steve Pikiell taking on the massive rebuilding project and Jeff Boals filling the vacancy when Pikiell took the Rutgers job in 2016.
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Boals led the Seawolves to 18 wins last season, exceeding the expectations of more than a few given the personnel lost from the 2016 team that made the program’s first-ever Division I NCAA tournament appearance. This year’s team has to account for the loss of two of the top three scorers from last season’s team in Lucas Woodhouse and Roland Nyama, with the former graduating and the latter deciding to turn pro. Senior forward Tyrell Sturdivant, who averaged 10.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season, is back as is sophomore guard Akwasi Yeboah.
As a freshman Yeboah averaged 9.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, earning America East All-Rookie team honors as a result. Yeboah and Sturdivant, who was a third team all-conference selection last season, are the players to watch Friday night, and there’s a little more on the Seawolves in the brief Q & A below.
As for Maryland, the Terrapins move on from finalizing a high-level 2018 recruiting class in guards Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins, and forward Jalen Smith (with there being room for more additions) to the start of the 2017-18 campaign. The sophomore class of guards Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter, and forward Justin Jackson will be asked to lead the way after performing well as freshmen. While all three experienced the momentary rough patches that most freshmen have to deal with, all three showed signs of being players head coach Mark Turgeon can rely upon to lead the way.
That leadership role will be most important for Cowan, given his position and Maryland’s lack of depth at the point. Freshman Darryl Morsell has the ability to play either on or off the ball, which will help matters, but Cowan is the key for this team. If he’s effective and doesn’t have issues with foul trouble or injuries, Maryland has the potential to be a very good team. If there are problems, Maryland doesn’t have many places it can turn when it comes to handling the lead guard responsibilities.
How Cowan runs the show will be one thing to keep an eye on Friday night, with the performances of Huerter and Jackson being key as well. After averaging 9.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game last season, can Huerter expand his offensive game and be more aggressive on that end of the court? Of the eight field goals Huerter attempted per game as a freshman, 5.3 of those came from beyond the arc. With Melo Trimble no longer in the fold, Maryland will need a more aggressive Huerter on the wing.
As for Jackson, the 6-foot-8 forward who tested the NBA Draft process ultimately decided that another season in College Park was best for his pro prospects down the line. Jackson will be asked to lead the way in the front court, and with his athleticism and skill set he affords Maryland the opportunity to play “big” with Jackson at the three. If anything the front court players to keep a close eye on Friday night are the other players competing for minutes, including Michal Cekovsky, Ivan Bender and freshman Bruno Fernando.
Maryland has numbers in the front court, with Duke grad transfer Sean Obi and freshman Joshua Tomaic joining the ranks as well. The question is which of those bigs can step forward when it comes to defending and rebounding, with some scoring being welcome as well. Bender led the team with nine rebounds in the exhibition win over Randolph-Macon, with Obi adding eight points and eight rebounds off the bench. Bender and Cekovsky started alongside Jackson in the exhibition, with Fernando out with a high ankle sprain. Fernando’s status for Friday has yet to be determined, but if he can’t go Maryland won’t lack for other options.
With two winnable games in Stony Brook and Maryland-Eastern Shore preceding next Wednesday’s matchup with Butler in the Gavitt Games, there’s the potential for Maryland to get off to a good start. But games like these will also test the maturity of Turgeon’s group, as they’ll need to avoid looking ahead to the higher profile opponents on their schedule.
With Stony Brook being the first team on the schedule, I reached out to John Templon of NYC Buckets to get some of his thoughts on the Seawolves and how they look entering Friday’s contest.
Q: Stony Brook’s been a successful program in recent years, but there’s a good amount of turnover on the roster from last season. What are the expectations, and what is the biggest area of concern for this group entering the season?
A: Expectations were actually pretty low coming into Jeff Boals’ first season as head coach. He’d lost Jameel Warney and Carson Puriefoy from Stony Brook’s first ever NCAA Tournament squad, so finishing 12-4 in America East and going to the College Basketball Invitational was definitely a surprise. This season the expectations are once again not too high, the Seawolves are generally expected to finish somewhere between third and fifth in America East behind perennial powers Albany and Vermont.
The biggest area of concern is definitely on the offensive end. The Seawolves lost their most reliable guard and three-point threat when Lucas Woodhouse graduated. They’ll need to figure out how to fill that void in a hurry to prevent defenses from collapsing in on them all season.
Q: Stony Brook lost two of its top three scorers in Lucas Woodhouse and Roland Nyama. What will SBU miss from those guys besides the scoring, and who besides Tyrell Sturdivant has the ability to step forward?
A: Woodhouse, besides his scoring, just gave Stony Brook a savvy, veteran presence at the point guard position who had been around the college game for a long time as a fifth-year senior. Boals could rely on him to make the smart plays on offense. Nyama, who decided to go pro in Europe instead of using his final year of collegiate eligibility, was Stony Brook’s best defender last season thanks to his athleticism. The guy to watch this season is Akwasi Yeboah. He showed some good things as a freshman and has the talent to take another big step forward this season. He’s also an excellent rebounder.
Q: Is there an area, or areas, that you believe SBU may be able to hurt Maryland Friday night?
A: Stony Brook wants to play a low-tempo, grinding game where they rely on their defense. Considering it’s the season opener I expect Boals to have some looks to keep the Terrapins off-balance on that side of the ball. Ultimately though I think the offense is going to struggle enough in finding continuity with all the new pieces early in the season.