The Baltimore Sun's Don Markus, Jeff Barker and Jonas Shaffer weigh in on three topics in Terps athletics this week.
What’s the biggest difference between this year’s season opener against Connecticut at the Barclays Center and last year’s opener against Kentucky in the same building?
Don Markus: Last year, nobody gave the Terps a chance to beat a then-very overrated Kentucky team that came into the season ranked No. 3 after winning the national championship the previous season.
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Many were surprised that Maryland actually had a chance to win the game at the end, or at least force overtime, despite a pretty erratic performance.
While the No. 18 Huskies are still favored tonight, few will be surprised if the Terps win. Despite losing starting point guard Seth Allen with a broken foot last week, Maryland still has a lot of talent and probably more experience overall than the Huskies. I think the difference will come down to the performance of Dez Wells and Nick Faust.
A year ago, Wells learned a couple of days before the Kentucky game that he had won his eligibility waiver case with the NCAA, allowing him to play immediately after transferring from Xavier. Even though he had spent the preseason practicing with the Terps, he had to get his mindset on playing after thinking he had to sit out the year.
It showed, in how nervous Wells looked and how out of control he played at times. Though he had some other games during his sophomore year when he seemed to be moving too fast on the court, that was particualrly the case against Kentucky. It didn’t help that the Terps had a bunch of freshmen and another sophomore, Faust, who seemed just as nervous and out of control.
Going into Friday’s game, the Terps are a much more experienced and talented team.
Sophomore Jake Layman looks like he’s about to become a star. Junior forward Evan Smotrycz, a transfer from Michigan, is the heady, steady player Maryland lacked last season. With Allen sidelined, Maryland might have the tallest team in college basketball.
But it could come down to how Wells plays, and whether Faust can shut down Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier. Faust, who came to College Park from Baltimore with a reputation as a scorer, has been productive in his first two seasons. This year's role as the stopper is far more important.
This will be Maryland's second trip to the Barclays Center and third trip to New York in the past year, after reaching the semifinals of the NIT at Madison Square Garden last season.
There is no excuse for the Terps to be blinded by this spotlight as they were a year ago.
What was your take on the media and public-relations campaign that Maryland embarked on in support of its decision last year to join the Big Ten?
Jeff Barker: Reading Maryland officials' emails from that period, you get the sense that the school knew just what it was in for -- that its fans were going to be stunned by the move to leave the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The school was in the position of already having decided the Big Ten was too good to pass up -- and then going to its community and selling it on why the move made sense.
A question could be posed as to why Maryland would sign a Big Ten deal if it knew fans would be opposed. But it’s not that simple.
There had to be an education process involved. The school knew fans would react with their hearts. Maryland wanted them to react with their heads.
I used to cover politics, and some of what Maryland did reminded me of an election campaign -- the daily analysis of what the media was writing, the talking points prepared for school leaders.
What’s that old saying? You never get a second chance to make a first impression? Maryland wanted to make sure it got it right.
Before President Wallace Loh took the microphone at the student union to formally announce the move, he had been prepped by answering 30 questions that the staff anticipated the media would pose, according to one email.
But Maryland was hamstrung to a degree. Because it wanted to keep the details of the deal secret, it couldn’t publicly provide specifics to make its point that the Big Ten was so lucrative.
Maryland wouldn’t comment at the time on a Sports Illustrated report that the school would realize about $100 million during its first six years in the Big Ten.
The emails I saw -- obtained under a Public Information Act request -- confirm that the figure comes in just a little shy of $100 million.
Just how big of a recruiting weekend is this for Maryland?
Jonas Shaffer: Offensive lineman Damian Prince and cornerback Jalen Tabor will take their official visits to Maryland this weekend. They are, depending where you look, somewhere between high four-star and low five-star prospects in the Class of 2014. In other words, recruiting targets 1A and 1B will be in College Park together.
So I don't think it would be unfair to say that this weekend is as important for Maryland's recruiting as Saturday's game is for Maryland's national perception. But what do I know?
In case it's very little, I asked InsideMDSports.com's Jeff Ermann for his expert take on their recruitments, and what their visits might, or might not, mean.
"Recruits rarely choose a school based on the result of one game, so it’s an overstatement to say this is a make-or-break game for Maryland to get Tabor or Prince," Ermann wrote in an email. "These kids are well acquainted with the school and the program, so they’re not as prone to knee-jerk reactions as nonlocal recruits basing their opinion on one visit. Still, losing to a lackluster Syracuse team at home during their visit wouldn’t bolster Maryland’s sales pitch.
"Randy Edsall’s put together a solid class that could conceivably be ranked among the nation’s top 25 recruiting hauls with Prince and Tabor in the fold. Without signing at least one of them, though, it will lack the elite-level star power Maryland needs -- not only from a talent perspective, but also for general perception of the program. Most believe Maryland leads Florida for Tabor, while Prince is closer to a toss-up, with the Terps fighting the Gators and Florida State."
There you have it. If you're Randy Edsall, you win and you go bowling, and maybe impress a blue-chipper or two, too.
If you lose ... well, it's not like the Seminoles need any more ammunition. But they'll probably be happy to take it.