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Five things to watch as the Maryland men’s basketball team begins the 2020-21 season

From Maryland’s ability to replace two All-Big Ten stars to the potential for the coronavirus pandemic to upend another season, here are five things to watch as the Terps start the 2020-21 season Wednesday afternoon against Old Dominion.

Replacing Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith

With the graduation of guard Anthony Cowan Jr. and the departure of forward Jalen Smith, who was selected No. 10 overall in the NBA draft, Maryland will have to account for approximately 32 points, 14 rebounds and six assists each game, not to mention the clutch play and leadership that the two brought.

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As coach Mark Turgeon and several players said at the team’s virtual media day in early November, there is no sole answer for filling the void of two first-team All-Big Ten players, and in the case of Smith, an All-American.

The more likely scenario is a committee approach from the entire team, led by the trio of upperclassmen guards Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell.

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Ayala is expected to take on more ball-handling duties and could help the Terps by regaining his shooting touch from his freshman season. Ayala shot 40% on 3-pointers as a freshman but that figure dropped to below 30% as a sophomore.

Wiggins, the team’s most talented scorer, experienced a similar regression even as he received Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year honors. After shooting 41% on 3-pointers as a freshman, Wiggins shot 31% as a sophomore while attempting one more 3-pointer per game.

Morsell has typically served as the team’s top perimeter defender but might need to assert himself as a legitimate scoring option for the first time in his career at Maryland. The Mount Saint Joseph graduate has never been a threat as a shooter but could assist the team just by becoming a bit more efficient scorer from all areas on the court.

Turgeon said that “the torch was kind of being passed” in the team’s final game last season, an 83-70 win against Michigan to clinch a share of the Big Ten regular-season title in which Wiggins and Ayala combined for 34 points.

“They know that they need to step up and do more,” Turgeon said Tuesday. “Now, they don’t have to do it every night because we have a lot of good players. [But] just the mentality needs to be a little different when it comes to that and I’ve seen it.”

New frontcourt additions

Between the departure of Smith and transfers from Ricky Lindo Jr., Joshua Tomaic and Makhi and Makhel Mitchell, the Terps have lost five frontcourt scholarship players in the past calendar year.

Maryland went to the transfer portal in the offseason, bringing in former Boston College forward Jairus Hamilton and former Alabama big Galin Smith. Turgeon spoke highly of Smith’s physicality and Hamilton’s versatility.

The 6-foot-9 Hamilton averaged 9.5 points and 4.3 rebounds last season as a sophomore, while the 6-foot-10 Smith averaged just 2.1 points and 2.3 rebounds this past season but appeared in 94 games for the Crimson Tide.

Both players are expected to be a key part of the rotation, joining returning sophomores Donta Scott and Chol Marial in the frontcourt.

Turgeon’s rotation

Throughout the 2019 season, and particularly after the transfer of the Mitchell twins, Turgeon relied heavily on a six-man rotation consisting of Cowan, Ayala, Morsell, Scott, Smith and Wiggins.

As Maryland inched closer to its first Big Ten regular-season title, Turgeon doubled down on his short rotation and was ultimately rewarded for it.

This season, Maryland has a roster that, while not as top-heavy as last season’s, could potentially go 10-deep by the time the team is in the thick of its conference schedule.

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It would be no surprise to see Turgeon fiddle more with his lineups and rotations during the team’s truncated seven-game nonconference schedule before embarking on the 20-game Big Ten slate.

“[The team] is a little more experienced than I’m used to, which is nice,” Turgeon said. “And then the young freshman just have a lot of energy. They’re good players, they’re ready to help us.”

Freshman impact

Maryland welcomed a pair of freshmen to the program in guards Marcus Dockery and Aquan Smart, and later a third this summer in 20-year-old Swiss forward Arnaud Revaz.

While Turgeon said Revaz still needs to develop physically and might not be a factor immediately, Dockery and Smart are both players who could serve as pieces to the puzzle to compensate for the loss of Cowan.

Dockery, a combo guard from Washington, has drawn comparisons to Cowan with his smaller stature and ability to score. Turgeon has been impressed by Smart’s length as a guard and ability to defend.

The duo will play behind three experienced guards but give Turgeon a handful of options in the backcourt.

COVID-19: Round 2

College basketball was one of the first sports to experience the wrath of the coronavirus pandemic. The Big Ten tournament was canceled before Maryland could even board its plane to Indianapolis and the NCAA tournament was canceled not too long after that.

The pandemic has already forced several programs to back out of multi-team events and postpone their season openers. The NFL and college football have had to reschedule and cancel games after making the decision to conduct their seasons without a bubble.

The Terps experienced their own coronavirus scare in the summer, as an outbreak sidelined the team for several weeks. With smaller rosters on a basketball team and the ability for COVID-19 to easily spread, an outbreak could force a team out of play for several weeks of what is already a shortened schedule.

“Each day that we test and my trainer says, ‘Hey, we’re clean, everybody’s negative,’ I’m excited that we get to practice another day,” Turgeon said. “We know what lies ahead. We’re just one day at a time. Hopefully, everybody wakes up and everybody’s negative on both teams and we’re able to play the game. ... It won’t be [athletic director] Damon Evans’ decision. It’ll be the doctors’ decision. And we’ll follow whatever they say.”

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