Terrapins move on to 2018-19; Maryland has one big question to answer
The 2017-18 season officially came to a close Monday night, but to be fair many programs have already been working towards the 2018-19 season. That includes Maryland, with the Terrapins’ season having come to an end after the team was not selected to participate in the Postseason NIT. While Ken Pomeroy’s numbers like Maryland, with the team ranking 39th out of 351 teams, the other metrics that determine a team’s postseason fate did not.
With no major non-conference wins outside of home triumphs over Butler and Bucknell, Mark Turgeon’s team entered conference play needing to do a lot of work in order to get into the postseason conversation. And while Maryland was a bit better with regards to the turnover issue throughout the entirety of conference play, the team’s struggles when it came to executing late in close games proved costly.
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After going 2-1 in its first three league games, all decided by six points or less, Maryland was 1-5 in such games before losing to Wisconsin by five in the Big Ten tournament. Losing Justin Jackson in early December certainly didn’t help matters, especially when taking into consideration the team’s overall lack of depth (Ivan Bender’s season-ending torn meniscus was a factor as well). Addressing the turnover issue and the depth will be keys for Maryland heading into next season, but when it comes to the latter it appears at first glance as if Maryland should be in good shape.
As of right now Maryland has five definite departures: Michal Cekovsky, Jared Nickens and Sean Obi are out of eligibility, Jackson has turned pro and will hire an agent, and Dion Wiley is going the graduate transfer route. Jackson’s decision, even with the shoulder injury that he attempted to play through early on before having season-ending surgery, doesn’t come as much of a surprise and the same can be said for Wiley as well.
Jackson gave Maryland a versatile option at the four, a player who could get some things done in the paint while also having the ability to pull guys who may be more comfortable defending from 15 feet and in away from the basket. There’s no denying the fact that Jackson will be missed, but with 5-star forward Jalen Smith headed to College Park it’s fair to say that this is something Maryland has addressed in recruiting.
Wiley missed what would have been his “true” sophomore season due to injury, and he also missed time the following year for health reasons. When on the court, the shooting ability that made him such a valuable member of Maryland’s 2014 recruiting class simply wasn’t there on a consistent basis. With the guards/wings currently on the roster, and the arrivals of Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins, at minimum Wiley would have had a serious fight on his hands with regards to simply getting into the rotation had he decided to stick around. Hopefully, a change of scenery will result in Wiley producing in the way Maryland fans hoped for when he made his commitment as part of the 2014 recruiting class.
So, what’s the biggest question Maryland faces heading into the offseason? Simple: the status of Bruno Fernando.
Fernando has yet to make a decision regarding the 2018 NBA Draft, making him Maryland’s biggest unknown at this time. The 6-foot-10 freshman has until April 22 to put his name into the draft, and at that point it will be a question of whether or not he hires an agent. Not doing so allows the prospect to go through the pre-draft process with the ability to return to school if he doesn’t like what NBA team executives and scouts are telling him. The positive of this process is that a player can get in front of actual decision-makers and receive the feedback, as opposed to relying on what an advisory committee tells them (serious: note how many guys get “late-first to second round” projections in the coming weeks).
Not only would such a situation help a player when it comes to the NBA, but also to their ability at the collegiate level should they make the decision to return. In the case of Fernando, or any other player for that matter, the message(s) received from NBA types could fall in line with what the Maryland staff believes he needs to improve upon. Hearing it from a different voice and not the one(s) you’ve heard every day throughout the season could prove valuable. Should Fernando decide to enter the draft without an agent, he would have until May 30 (ten days after the completion of the NBA Draft Combine) to withdraw per NCAA rules.
Fernando is clearly a big part of Maryland’s plans for 2018-19: if he returns this is a team that at minimum will find itself in most early Top 25 projections. With Ivan Bender and Joshua Tomaic both expected back, the addition of Smith and Mississippi State transfer Schnider Herard becoming eligible in January, Maryland would be in a position where not only would it have bodies in the post but it would have productive ones at that.
There’s also the recruitment of St. John’s transfer Tariq Owens, a high-energy post presence who while slender in build is a very good shot-blocker. Given Owens’ productivity as a defender and the fact that he’ll be eligible immediately, he doesn’t lack for suitors but Maryland’s in the mix. Adding him to the front court rotation would be a big deal, and unlike the Obi addition ahead of last season Owens is a player who’s been productive and stayed healthy at his last stop.
Maryland has three scholarships to work with going into the spring, and it will be critical that Turgeon and his staff make use of them. Doing so will ensure that Maryland has the bodies needed to handle the occasional injury hit, which was not the case in 2017-18.