COLLEGE PARK -- Questions loomed about Maryland's frontcourt when the Terrapins began last season. As the 2009-10 season opens tonight against Charleston Southern, some of the same questions are being asked, though for different reasons about different players.
When the Terps take the floor at Comcast Center for the 8 p.m. game, Maryland coach Gary Williams will go with the three-guard lineup of Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Sean Mosley (St. Frances) that he used the second half of last season. Landon Milbourne will start again at forward.
The X-factor will be which of the two freshmen, Jordan Williams and James Padgett, Maryland starts at the other frontcourt spot. Both were expected to play even before Dino Gregory (Mount St. Joseph) was suspended last week for breaking an unspecified team rule, but the Terps will certainly go through growing pains with their two prized recruits in a more expanded role.
"They came here with the idea that they were going to play; I recruited them with the idea that we wanted them to play," Gary Williams, beginning his 21st season at his alma mater, said Thursday. "They'll earn their minutes, just like everybody else earns their minutes. They're not going to play just because there's high expectations on them."
The expectations that follow Jordan Williams and Padgett into their college debuts have been there for a while, going back to last winter. As Maryland struggled to find any sort of inside presence with a frontcourt that consisted mainly of Braxton Dupree, Dave Neal and Gregory, fans clamored for the arrival of the 6-foot-10, 260-pound Williams and the 6-8, 225-pound Padgett.
"I think people talked about [our] size last year, about being too small. I think that's why the expectations were put on those two guys as soon as they decided to come to Maryland," Gary Williams said.
Now comes reality: Although Williams and Padgett have added depth and size to the frontcourt, their offensive games are more than a little raw. Padgett, who started the team's lone exhibition last week, appears further ahead of Williams, who seemed to struggle a bit with conditioning.
"I think they're ready," Vasquez said. "I don't expect them to score 20 points a game at all. They need to give us some looks on the inside and get rebounds."
Hayes, who started 11 games as a freshman, said Maryland fans should give Williams and Padgett some time.
"[The fans] definitely need to show some patience," said Hayes, one of three seniors in the starting lineup. "Nobody's going to step in right away and go off the first couple of games. It's going to be a learning process throughout the year for them."
How long Gregory will be suspended remains a mystery. Williams said Thursday that he had "no update" on Gregory's status. Despite modest stats last season, Gregory will be missed for his energy and athleticism. The 6-7 junior from Baltimore was usually good for one highlight reel dunk or block each night.
But replacing him won't be as difficult as it was last season for Gregory, Neal and Dupree trying to fill the void left by James Gist and Bambale Osby.
From a basketball standpoint, the Terps are treating Gregory's suspension as if it were a high ankle sprain.
"Those things happen during the season, where you sprain an ankle and can't play the day of the game," Gary Williams said after Maryland beat Indiana University (Pa.), 75-54, in an exhibition game last week. "We're fine."
But are they? Maryland was narrowly outrebounded by an IUP team that used only two players 6-7 or taller. The Terps were also outrebounded in a scrimmage against Temple last weekend. The Terps finished last in the Atlantic Coast Conference in rebounding a year ago and were the only ACC team to be out-rebounded by its opponents overall.
Rebounding and team defense were points of emphasis in the practices leading up to the opener.
"It takes a long time to become a good defensive team," Williams said. "We had a guy last year in Dave Neal who was outstanding in playing team defense. We have an opportunity to be a better defensive team; we've gotten better athletically."
But questions remain, particularly about the frontcourt. Neal, who became a clutch 3-point shooter in Maryland's late-season run to the NCAA tournament, graduated. Dupree transferred to Towson after two disappointing seasons. Williams and Padgett arrived on campus.
Tonight's game will begin to answer questions about the two freshmen.
Williams had one himself Thursday when asked which of the two would start the season opener.
"You got a quarter?" he asked.
CHARLESTON SOUTHERN @ MARYLAND
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: 105.7 FM,