A year makes a huge difference for Mark Turgeon's Maryland Terrapins heading into the 2020-21 college basketball season.
Entering the coronavirus pandemic, the Terps were riding high as a co-Big Ten champion and en route to another NCAA Tournament bid. This year? Making the tournament seems to be a long shot.
This offseason Maryland lost its two biggest stars and contributors to the roster. Jalen Smith (NBA Draft) and Anthony Cowan Jr. (graduation) were responsible for over 44% of the Terps offense last year and there is no obvious player to fill in their shoes. With a few guys also transferring out, Maryland only enters the season with four players on last year's roster that averaged more than seven minutes a game.
There are two transfers, Jarius Hamilton and Galin Smith, who each come to College Park without the experience of carrying a big load in their previous stops. Hamilton's eligibility status is still unknown if he can play this season. Neither, though, present a huge case for being one of the top players to lead the team.
Aside from them, the Terps have a large chunk of wing players that were great pieces on a Cowan-Smith led offense. The trio of Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell bring a mix of skills to the wing - where a majority of the team's depth lies. But it's difficult for any team to have March aspirations with only their wing depth being the biggest asset. Others will have to step up to pick up where the previous group left off.
Here are three questions the Terrapins will need to answer to be successful this season:
Will Chol Marial take the next step forward?
Of all the players on Maryland's roster, Chol Marial easily has the most hype of anyone. At 7-foot-2, the South Sudanese player is easy to spot on the Terps roster. It's hard for fans not to be excited about what he could potentially bring to this roster once you have a glimpse of his massive, lanky frame on the court.
With Smith's departure, there is a massive hole in the paint that wasn't replenished during the offseason. Transfer forwards Hamilton and Smith, if the former is eligible, were rarely put in position as the biggest player on the floor at their previous two schools. Even if they can play this season it would be tough to rely on them. And the only other player taller than 6-foot-7 is freshman Arnaud Revaz.
That really leaves a lot of the responsibility on Marial, who averaged five minutes in 13 games last year, to carry the post. Much of his limitations were due to stress fractures in both of his legs. Once healthy, there wasn't much time left on the season to efficiently move him into the rotation.
Expectations shouldn't be him producing at a Jalen Smith-type level - although Turgeon has had success developing big men with Smith and Bruno Fernando. Still, Maryland will need something out of him and something greater than when he fouled more than he scored in 2019-20.
Who can take over Anthony Cowan's role as the top PG?
Cowan had locked down the point guard position ever since he stepped on campus in 2016. Four years is a long time to be set at one of the most pivotal positions in college basketball and quite frankly they were spoiled with his efficiency and availability at the position.
Now there are several directions they can go. Junior Eric Ayala (recruited and played primarily as a two-guard) garnered some facilitator responsibilities last season with Cowan at his side. There are also two freshmen, Aquan Smart and Marcus Dockery who look to contend for minutes as well.
Given some restrictions in place due to COVID, likely Ayala will be thrust into that role at the start of the season. It's not a spot that he'll necessarily thrive in, but one where he will be more than adequate for the Terps needs. Ayala doesn't provide the same 3-point threat as Cowan or downhill attacking mentally that he brought, however, he is the best ballhandler of the returners.
If all goes well Smart and/or Dockery, who are more natural point guards, will quickly develop to Turgeon's system and gain the confidence to get significant minutes in the rotation.
Either way, someone has a big hole to fill in the roster and a lot of weight will be on whoever it is without another established playmaker on the roster.
What version of Aaron Wiggins will the Terps get?
Wiggins had a lot of attention early on during his sophomore season due to his ability to knock down shots from range. Before long, many acknowledged him as the team's best 3-point threat. Yet, despite some incredible single-game performances, he was only the fourth-best deep-ball shooter for Maryland.
There were several inconsistencies from the 6-foot-6 guard throughout the year. By the middle of the season - where it culminated with a goose-egg zero-point performance against Iowa - he was benched and was regulated there for the rest of the season. It necessarily wasn't a demotion though since he still had starter's minutes in Turgeon's rotation. But, it definitely reflected some of his play.
During the season he shot 31.7% from three and was only slightly better from the field (37.7%). He's inconsistent, but don't mistake his talent. There was his explosive 17-point outing against Northwestern that was eventually one-upped with his 20-point, six 3-pointer night against Ohio State.
Those were typically the norm, but there were far too many bad nights that offset those.
Bad nights from Wiggins are going to have to be limited with the scoring burden likely falling on him. He's the only scorer coming back after scoring 10+ points a game and likely the biggest playmaking threat on the roster. Wiggins will likely need to be the go-to guy for the Terps to have any chance of making a deep run this year.