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Five key questions heading into Maryland's 2014-15 men's basketball season

Maryland's fan base is itching for Mark Turgeon to take the Terps back to the NCAA tournament.
Maryland's fan base is itching for Mark Turgeon to take the Terps back to the NCAA tournament. (Matt Hazlett, Baltimore Sun)

The Maryland men's basketball team begins its fourth season under coach Mark Turgeon on Friday night with a home game against Wagner. After having five scholarship players transfer in the offseason, the Terps will be working in a talented group of newcomers as they prepare for their first season in the Big Ten Conference. Here are the five biggest questions facing the team as it tips off the 2014-15 campaign:

Is this year "NCAA tournament or bust" for Mark Turgeon?

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There is certainly more of a sense of urgency for Turgeon than at any other time in his tenure in College Park. Whether that translates into Turgeon's job being in jeopardy should the Terps fall short of making their first NCAA tournament since 2010 is still up for debate.

That said, Turgeon will certainly be under more pressure than at any point since succeeding Gary Williams and possibly more pressure than at any point in his 16-year career as a head coach. Given how young the Terps will be, with potentially two freshmen in the starting lineup, that could temper the expectations.

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Some progress is needed after last season's disappointment.

Aside from point guard Melo Trimble, which of the freshmen should make the biggest impact?

While there was some early hype surrounding Michal Cekovsky because he chose the Terps over Louisville and Arizona, the 7-foot Slovakian is still getting used to the speed and physicality of the U.S. college game as well as playing with his back to the basket for the first time.

Based on what the freshmen showed in Maryland's two exhibition games, the McDonald's All-American Trimble is not the only perimeter player who has a chance to make a significant contribution. Shooting guard Dion Wiley and small forward Jared Nickens should as well.

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Wiley has shed more than 20 pounds since high school and has shown that he is far more than a 3-point shooter. The lowest-rated player in the freshman class, Nickens has added 25 pounds and gives Turgeon another shooter who's a solid backup on the wing.

How will Evan Smotrycz's injury affect the early-season schedule?

Smotrycz has his critics for his laid-back manner and defensive lapses. While losing Smotrycz for the first few weeks of the season due to a broken foot is not addition by subtraction, it could allow the newcomers more time on the court to get acclimated during the non-conference portion of the schedule.

And while Turgeon loses Smotrycz's experience and 3-point shooting, he gains athleticism by moving Jake Layman to the power forward spot and Dez Wells from shooting guard to small forward. It should make Maryland a better defensive team, yet it does hurt the Terps' defensive rebounding.

Even without Smotrycz, the Terps need to get a couple of wins out of their big non-conference games — the trip to Kansas City for the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, a home game against Virginia in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and a trip to Oklahoma State — in order to have something on their NCAA tournament resume before the Big Ten play opener Dec. 30 at Michigan State.

Of the five players who transferred after last season, who will the Terps miss the most?

From a statistical standpoint, it's probably combo guard Seth Allen. As a sophomore, Allen averaged 13.4 points after coming back from a foot injury that kept him out nearly half the season.

Allen carried the Terps with a career-high 32 points in a home win over Florida State and also played a pivotal role in helping beat Virginia in the last ACC regular season game.

They won't miss miss Allen's defense. And while the Terps also need someone to step up and replace leading rebounder Charles Mitchell, they will likely get better free-throw shooting from just about anyone else.

Who will ultimately be Maryland's go-to guy at crunch time?

Most expect Wells to continue in that role, since the 6-foot-5 guard usually takes over in tight spots, and it has been Turgeon's inclination to put the ball in Wells' hands.

Going into this season, you get a sense that Wells is more willing to share the ball if he doesn't have a shot, and Turgeon is counting on Layman to be a leader on the court.

Don't be surprised to see the ball in Trimble's hands as the season progresses. The 6-3 freshman point guard is used to those moments playing for his high school and Amateur Athletic Union teams.

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