After its first three trips to the NCAA tournament under coach Mark Turgeon, the Maryland men’s basketball team was either undervalued or virtually ignored in the way-too-early Top 25 polls that traditionally come out immediately after the national championship game.
This year, the Terps are getting a lot of respect after a 23-11 season that ended with a last-second loss to LSU in the second round of the NCAA tournament, largely because of the number of key players returning.
Despite the expected loss of sophomore center Bruno Fernando, who appears likely to be a first-round pick in this year’s NBA draft, Maryland is being mentioned mostly among the top 15 teams headed into the 2019-20 season.
The announcement Monday that forward Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) will return for his sophomore year — especially after his performance in the NCAA tournament — certainly helped the Terps in these polls.
The Athletic had the Terps at No. 8 — the highest of any of the way-too-early Top 25s — and Seth Davis, the site’s managing editor, wrote that Maryland “will be in position to contend for the Big Ten title.”
It won’t be easy, considering that The Athletic rated Michigan State at No. 1 and Michigan at No. 2. Several of the way-too-early polls had the Spartans as the top team coming back and the Wolverines in the top five.
ESPN put Maryland at No. 9. Citing Monday’s announcement that Smith was coming back, Jeff Borzello wrote, “Had both bigs left, Mark Turgeon's group probably drops out of the top 25. … Turgeon brings in some reinforcements up front, especially in the form of ESPN 100 center Makhi Mitchell.”
Sports Illustrated had the Terps at No. 11, with Jeremy Woo writing that “Anthony Cowan, Darryl Morsell, Eric Ayala and potential breakout Aaron Wiggins can all improve. There’s enough here to handle Fernando’s absence, particularly if Smith takes a big sophomore leap. This is a talented group with more left to prove.”
USA Today rated Maryland No. 14.
The only skeptic appears to be Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News, who had the Terps barely in the Top 25 at No. 24. DeCourcy had five other Big Ten teams ranked ahead of Maryland — No. 2 Michigan State, No. 4 Michigan, No. 9 Purdue, No. 15 Ohio State and No. 21 Iowa.