There are eight Maryland Division I men's basketball teams that do not regularly play in College Park. Here's a look at how each one is expected to fare this season.
Coach: Michael Grant, second season
Last year: 12-20; finished seventh in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
Outlook: Coppin State made good on its promise to be more explosive on offense last season, leading the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in scoring at 71.6 points per game and connecting on a program-record 294 3-pointers.
The Eagles were also one of the worst rebounding teams in the MEAC. They surrendered a league-high 42.8 rebounds per game and were outrebounded an average of 10.7 boards per game, worst in the conference.
But Grant is optimistic that the team will be more prolific on the glass this winter.
"I think we have guys that are mid-major type players that can really compete at that level and really want to go after rebounds and make things better," he said. "… We have guys that are just better rebounders this year."
The Eagles did lose their top six rebounders from last year, including forward Arnold Fripp (who averaged 5.6 rebounds before graduating) and guard Sterling Smith (who averaged 4.9 rebounds before transferring to the University of Pittsburgh).
But the team features four players standing at least 6 feet, 8 inches — including 6-9, 218-pound senior center Lawrence Fejokwu. Grant thinks the growth spurt will help Coppin State improve on last season's numbers.
"I think a lot of it was our size," he said. "If you looked at it, we ended up starting a 5-7, a 5-9 and a 6-1, and we just weren't getting anything out of our post guys last year. I think we're a whole lot more athletic this year, we're a whole lot more longer."
Coach: G.G. Smith, third season
Last year: 11-19, ninth in Patriot League
Outlook: After successive 11-19 finishes in Smith's first two years as head coach, Loyola seems poised for better days.
"It would be nice to switch those numbers around and go 19-11," Smith said. "Our goal is a winning record. Injuries the last two years made a tough start to my career. We've just got to get over the hump."
The Greyhounds return all five starters and 11 lettermen from a backcourt-rich team that went 7-11 in conference play. Back are guards Eric Laster and Tyler Hubbard, both seniors, and sophomore Andre Walker, all of whom averaged 10 points a game. Up front, Loyola looks to Jarred Jones (John Carroll), a 6-foot-7 redshirt junior who missed most of last season (broken wrist, bad knee) after averaging nine points the year before.
"We have balance. We're not going to feed the ball to one guy," Smith said. But two players, Jones and Walker, are keys to a turnaround.
"Jones makes all of the winning plays that you don't see in the scorebook — intangibles like diving on the floor, blocking out and motivating the team. He brings leadership," the coach said.
"He's going to have a big year," Smith said. "He has improved his decision-making and is taking better shots. If he can take that next step, he can lead us to the promised land."
Smith is the son of Tubby Smith, the Texas Tech coach who led Kentucky to an NCAA title in 1998. He's confident enough of the Greyhounds' chances that he'll wager a dinner with his father on whose team has the better record at season's end.
"My goal is to host the Patriot League championship at Loyola," Smith said. "We have a chance to do it here."
Coach: Todd Bozeman, 10th season
Last year: 7-24; tied for 11th in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
Outlook: Morgan State's slide in the MEAC last season was exacerbated by an offense that averaged 61.3 points, which ranked eighth out of 13 teams in the league. The offense shot 35.9 percent from the floor (last in the MEAC) and 62.5 percent from the free-throw line (11th).
So, it's no surprise that Bozeman prioritized reviving the offense.
"We were bigger last year, and you try different things, and I don't know if that experiment worked well," he said. "So we'll go back to playing a little bit smaller and trying to play faster. … The priority was really just not necessarily guys that can score, but guys that we were looking for athleticism and IQs and better defenders, and I think we got what we were looking for."
The university's certification snafu that made senior forward Cedric Blossom and senior guard Rasean Simpson ineligible for five and six games, respectively, might hurt. Blossom, a Columbia resident who played at Hammond before transferring to Montrose Christian, was the team's leading scorer at 14.3 points per game, and Simpson averaged 4.2 points.
Bozeman said the Bears' ability to crash the boards (fourth in the MEAC at 35.4 rebounds per game) also will be key.
"If you watched a lot of times, teams will get second shots, and that will improve their percentages over time," he said. "So it's not always just the first shot. It's the second shot increasing your chances of scoring a field goal."
Mount St. Mary's
Coach: Jamion Christian, fourth season
Last year: 15-15; fourth in the Northeast Conference
Outlook: While Christian guided Mount St. Mary's to the Northeast Conference tournament final in his first season and to the league championship and NCAA tournament the next season before a fourth-place regular-season finish a year ago, he says this is the year he's been pointing toward.
"We have a group of guys who've all been through it with us, guys who have an understanding of what it takes," he said. "It's a great feeling."
With seven players who averaged at least 15 minutes per game returning, including three of their top four scorers, the Mountaineers were picked to win the NEC in the preseason coaches' poll. Christian not only has one of the most experienced teams in the league, he has a roster full of players he recruited that he thinks can play the way he wants to play.
"We're absolutely looking to get back to playing an up-tempo style, shooting a lot of threes," Christian said.
The Mount boasts a pair of preseason, first-team all-NEC picks in senior forward Gregory Graves and junior guard BK Ashe. Graves averaged 10.1 points and 7.4 rebounds last year. Ashe averaged a team-high 11.9 points per game and came on strong in the second half of the season. Sophomore point guard Junior Robinson, only 5 feet 5 but one of the quickest players in the league, started every game a year ago. Also back are junior sharpshooter Will Miller (39.7 percent on 3-pointers) and 7-foot senior Taylor Danaher, who provides interior defense and rebounding.
The Mountaineers open at No. 3 Maryland and then go to Ohio State, Washington and No. 9 Gonzaga.
"Everything is about us understanding the process of becoming a great team," Christian said. "You can't do that unless you play against some of the best coaches and programs in the country."
Coach: Ed DeChellis, fifth season
Last year: 13-19; tied for sixth in Patriot League
Outlook: In 2014-2015, Navy increased its win total for the third straight season and doubled its number of conference victories. DeChellis said it's time to take the next step of posting a winning record overall and in the Patriot League.
"We're not even close to where I want this program to be. We want to be a team that can win the Patriot League and get to the NCAA tournament. It's been baby steps so far, but hopefully we make more of a leap this season," said DeChellis, who has a 33-89 record at Navy.
The Midshipmen lost their top two scorers in forward Worth Smith and guard Brandon Venturini. DeChellis believes Navy will be more balanced this season and noted that six players reached double figures in a scrimmage against William & Mary.
Senior point guard Tilman Dunbar, a starter since his freshman season, is the floor leader. He averaged 9.1 points and had 105 assists a year ago.
Senior swingman Kendall Knorr started 16 of the 20 games he played after missing the first month of last season with a knee injury. The left-hander is likely to start on the wing along with sophomore Shawn Anderson, who may be the team's most improved player.
Will Kelly, a 6-foot-9 shot blocker, is expected to increase his scoring after providing just 6.1 points per game last season. Sophomore Jace Hogan, who played in eight games as a plebe, likely will be the other front-court starter.
"I'm very pleased at this point. I think we've made some progress in some areas and the guys are starting to jell," DeChellis said. "It's a young team, but they've got a pretty good attitude and demeanor about them. They're learning to play somewhat on edge. I think that's important, especially defensively."
Navy was picked to finish last in the 10-team Patriot League in a preseason poll of head coaches and sports information directors. Army, which lost to Navy three times last season, was tabbed to place fourth.
"If we're going to finish where they think we are, then I would like to see our league. That would mean we're going to have an awfully strong league," said DeChellis, whose squad opens on Friday night against Florida in the Veterans Classic at Alumni Hall in Annapolis.
—Bill Wagner, Baltimore Sun Media Group
Coach: Pat Skerry, fifth season
Last year: 12-20; ninth in Colonial Athletic Association
Outlook: After ending last season with a 74-69 loss in overtime to Elon in the first round of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, Skerry and his staff were back in the office three days later trying to accelerate the team's pace of play.
"We lost to Elon on a Friday night and went to work on making those changes on Monday," Skerry recalled. "We made the changes we needed to make right away and went back at it."
No one is saying the Tigers are going to remind anyone of the Los Angeles Lakers' "Showtime" era, but the coaches and players are committed to playing faster.
Turning defensive stops into fastbreak chances. Playing with as many as four ball handlers on the court at the same time. Refraining from calling plays and instead allowing the players to be fluid in their offensive sets.
"We're talking about just playing faster and calling fewer plays, calling fewer sets when we come down the court," sophomore guard Mike Morsell said. "We're just playing more freely, going through our offense and just cutting. We're not just running set plays."
Towson has led the league in field-goal percentage defense and rebounding the last three years, and Skerry said the team must repeat that effort to feed the new style of play.
"We've got to be committed to defending and rebounding," he said. "If we can do what we've normally done on the backboards and defensively, I think we'll be good because we've got some pieces on offense."
Coach: Aki Thomas, fourth season
Last year: 4-26; tied for eighth in America East Conference
Outlook: Of the 14 players on UMBC's roster, seven are new to the program this season. Six are freshmen and sophomore guard Jairus Lyles is a transfer from Virginia Commonwealth.
Despite the number of fresh faces, Thomas said acclimating the newcomers has been easy.
"These guys seem like they've been around for a little bit, and I give some credit to our returners," he said. "Our returners have been very vocal with them in getting them up to speed. I think having the guys in here for a session of summer school really helped on and off the court. So it just seems like they're a little further along than most first-year student-athletes."
Freshman guard Joe Sherburne said the adjustment has been smooth.
"It seems like it's been pretty seamless," the 6-foot-6, 215-pound Wisconsin resident said. "The guys who are returners have done a pretty good job of taking us in and showing us the ropes."
Of the newcomers, Sherburne, freshman forward-center Sam Schwietz and freshman guard Joel Wincowski could get significant playing time this winter. And they will be held to the same standards as their older teammates, according to Thomas.
"I know there's a learning curve, and I know mistakes are going to be made," he said. "The game of basketball is a game of mistakes, but the teams that make the least amount of mistakes are usually the teams that do well. So my expectations are we're going to make the least amount of mistakes and execute."
Coach: Bobby Collins, second season
Last year: 18-15; third in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
Outlook: Collins doesn't mince words on the importance of the point guard position.
"If the basketball team's not doing well, they look at the point guard for a lot of the reasons," he said.
The point guard spot figures to be pivotal for the Hawks this season after the graduation of last winter's starter. Ishaq Pitt ranked fourth in the MEAC in assists per game (4.2) and second on the team in steals (38).
Juniors Thomas Rivera and Marc Seylan and freshmen Maurice Coleman and Ahmad Frost are competing for the right to open the season as the point guard, and Seylan said the players understand Collins' expectations.
"Really, you have to be an extension of Coach Collins on the court," said Seylan, a native of Paris, France, who is debuting with UMES. "You have to take on his personality and his mindset so that when it comes to a jam or a tight moment in a game, he can be comfortable knowing that you're thinking the same way that he's thinking, that your thinking process is the same as his."
Collins likes what he has seen from the four players thus far, but acknowledged that replacing Pitts will be a challenge.
"He did a lot of good things, and the most importantly, he bought into what I wanted," Collins said. "… We'll still somewhat be the same, but we'll have more opportunities because I will have some point guards who can push it and create in transition."
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