Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Marylandsports.
What is going on with all the injuries on Maryland's defense and can the Terps weather the storm?
Jeff Barker: If there is one Maryland unit I figured to be improved, it was the defense. The unit should still be better than last season – players seem to be taking to new coordinator Brian Stewart's 3-4 – but the Terps have taken a big preseason hit.
Defensive lineman Andre Monroe is out for the season. Also expected to miss varying amounts of time: Defensive end Keith Bowers, linebacker Kenny Tate, safety Matt Robinson, cornerback A.J. Hendy and cornerback Isaac Goins.
Coach Randy Edsall said today that Tate will be out three-to-four weeks with a cartilage issue in his knee – but not the same knee that sidelined him most of last season.
It sure is puzzling. Some fans have wondered if the new Byrd Stadium FieldTurf might be to blame, but I'm not buying that. The injuries have occurred on different fields. Then you've got Goins, who is out with mono.
What's that old saying? "If I didn't have bad luck, I'd have no luck at all."
The defense still has experience on the line (Joe Vellano, A.J. Francis) and some talented linebackers. Alex Twine, Tate's backup, is a real hitter.
If you're a Maryland fan, you hope the team can hold up early and then start to get some of the injured players back.
The nonconference schedule is not too punishing. Oh, except for West Virginia on the road Sept. 22.
Is Mark Turgeon underrating his young team with its non-conference schedule?
Don Markus: I'm sure Turgeon didn't want to overwhelm a team that will be trying to incorporate five or six freshmen into the regular rotation, along with trying to figure out how to compensate for the loss (at least offensively) of Terrell Stoglin, the ACC's leading scorer a year ago.
Having said that, I thought Turgeon could have given the Terps – not to mention the team's fans – at least one more marquee December matchup. It would also help the second-year coach better gauge the progress his young players make beween opening night against Kentucky on Nov. 9 and the ACC opener against Virginia Tech on Jan. 5.
Turgeon deserves credit for taking the offer to play the defending national champions right off the bat, even on a neutral setting at Brooklyn's new Barclays Center against a team that has undergone even more of a roster overhaul.
The one thing about playing Kentucky is that if Maryland can somehow pull off an upset, it will give the Terps a major chip to cash in come March if they are in contention for an NCAA tournament bid. It reminds me of the 1993-94 opener against Georgetown at the old Capital Centre.
That team was made up mostly of freshmen and sophomores, like this one. That team also played Massachusetts in Springfield, Mass., and Oklahoma in Oklahoma City early on -- losing to both -- but still wound up making the Sweet 16 after being a bubble team in early March.
I would have liked to see some of the freshmen, particularly Shaquille Cleare and Jake Layman, take on a little more competition in December before moving into the ACC. I would like to see how sophomores Alex Len and Nick Faust have grown since last year.
A year ago the Terps started 10-3 playing against even better competition than they'll face this season and I asked Turgeon if the record was reflective of the team's talent level. It was one of the few times all season that the brutally honest Turgeon declined to answer.
I haven't checked out all of Maryland's non-conference opponents for the upcoming season to see if a Morehead State is the kind of NCAA Cinderella team it was a couple of years ago, but I would have rather seen the Terps take on Morgan State.
The one thing noticeably lacking is any local teams aside from UMES and George Mason. If the Terps are going to recruit Baltimore, as Turgeon has done with Sam Cassell Jr., why not play at First Mariner Arena against a national opponent or even Loyola?
Turgeon has shown since the day he took over for Gary Williams that he knows what he's doing, and I'm sure that's the case here. But what this kind of schedule does is put just about everything on how the Terps fare in the ACC.
We've seen that happen before, and we've seen other Maryland teams be disappointed come March because they didn't build up enough of a resume in December.
How beneficial will James Padgett's recent overseas experience prove to be for his senior year with the Terps?
Matt Bracken: The anticipation over the debuts of Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell has been building for months, but discounting what Padgett could potentially provide in his last year in College Park would be a mistake. Mark Turgeon said in an interview last week that Padgett is "much improved." After coaching Padgett earlier this month during a five-game exhibition tour in Belgium, Germany and France, Loyola assistant coach Greg Manning is inclined to agree.
Manning, son of the former Terps player with the same name, grew up a Maryland fan and still watches the team whenever he can. Because Maryland's 2011-12 season featured an offense dominated by Terrell Stoglin, Manning wasn't sure what Padgett would provide for his team.
"I know these guys from afar, but you don't really know people [until you coach them]," said Manning, who led the 11-man squad through Europe via the Global Sports Academy. But "obviously him and the kid from Providence [LaDontae Henton] were the two best players on the team. He plays so hard every game. He brought it every day. He plays extremely hard. He's very skilled inside. He knows how to play hard and get tip-ins. We got him the ball and he had good post moves. He doesn't have a lot of elevation off the ground, he's not super explosive, but he's so strong. … He's so much stronger, physically [than the other big men on the tour]. He's just an animal. He played really hard."
Manning's squad – which featured players from Loyola, Mount St. Mary's, Brown, Wake Forest, Portland and UNC-Greensboro – finished the eight-day tour 5-0, with the closest result a two-point victory for the Americans. But despite the spotless record, Manning said the competition they faced was tough. All five opponents were EuroLeague teams, many of which featured former U.S. college stars. Padgett took advantage of playing against more finesse big men by averaging 11.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.
"They had some big kids, bigger than us," Manning said. "[Padgett] was so much stronger than that. They're built to shoot the 3. But he bullied them and was stronger than those guys. A couple of those kids could play high-major."
Everyone expects so much from Cleare, a borderline five-star center, and Mitchell, a four-star power forward. Turgeon raved about both in my Q&A with him last week, and said he's counting on them to make contributions as freshmen. But he also mentioned Padgett unprompted, and I get the sense that dismissing him from conversations about the starting five would be foolish. He took a big step last year in averaging 8.8 points and 5.8 rebounds, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he ups those numbers again as a senior.
Based on everything he saw from Padgett last week, Manning has little doubt that the senior from Brooklyn, N.Y., will be a factor for Maryland this winter.
"I think anytime you have freshmen coming in, it's not easy. It's a big learning curve," Manning said. "[Padgett] being through so much, he knows the system, he knows the competition and he knows the league. I don't think he'll have any problem being in the rotation this year. You know how smart he is and he picks things up quick. The top-level kids, everything [is undetermined] until they get to campus. I'm confident James will have a lot of minutes."
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