I sure hope so. With the news that Stefon Diggs and Wes Brown will be out with ankle injuries for the Clemson game this weekend, we need something more positive to look forward to. Luckily for us, the Maryland Basketball season begins tonight. Luckily for us, freshly cleared Dez Wells should give the Terps a boost in facing the #3 Kentucky Wildcats tonight. Look, football has been interesting this year. The team has performed better than most expected, especially when you throw in all the injuries. The truth of the mater is, injuries or not, these last three games were going to be the toughest on the schedule and winning any of them was a tall task. But all the injuries have made a statement, it is clearly time to shift our focus to a fresh start and a different sport.
It is no doubt, one of my favorite times of the sports season. I have always been a huge college basketball fan. Going to Maryland helped fuel that, but even before that, college hoops was one of my favorite sports. This year, Terp fans have something to be really excited about. Four new highly regarded freshman, and two transfers eligible to play immediately help add to that excitement. Add in the fact that they open with the defending national champions, and you could say this is the most excited a lot of Terp fans have been in nearly a decade.
Let’s get a closer look at tonight though. Kentucky of course lost 5 players to the NBA last season off of their championship team. Fear not though if you are a Kentucky fan reading this. John Calipari managed to bring in 4 of the top kids again, including Nerlins Noel. Is he Anthony Davis? Hopefully not, but he is drawing comparisons, and he was the #1 ranked center so expect him to be handful for Alex Len and Shaq Cleare tonight.
Like Maryland, Kentucky is learning to play as team on the fly. I expect this to be an up and down game, where the youthful exuberance and inexperience shows through at times, and the raw talent shows up just as often. These teams are only going to get better from here on out.
Taking a closer look at the game here are somethings to watch out for. Alex Poythress is a 6′-7″ forward who can play as many as three positions, and is also a McDonalds All- American. Who do the Terps put on him. Someone like Jake Layman may be a good match up, but do you want Layman getting thrown into the fire right away? I suspect we will see a mix of James Padgett and Nick Faust, or Dez Wells depending on how big Kentucky goes. The little I have seen of Poythress tells me those aren’t great match ups for Maryland.
Another area to watch is for Noel and the tandem of Alex Len and Cleare. Noel is a projected lottery pick. If Alex Len wants to be thought of in that same breath, tonight is as good a time as ever to stand up and declare it. For what it’s worth, the play of Len in the exhibition game showed him to be much the same player as last year. Look, I am not going to base a players future on one game, but that game did not show me a whole of of Len, or Cleare for that matter. This could be the biggest test of the season for the two centers on the Maryland roster, and we need to see that they can answer that challenge.
On the Maryland side, there are a couple of questions as well. Who starts at point guard? I think Turgeon has to go with Pe’Shon Howard, but Seth Allen made a statement that he is going to push for Pe’s playing time. I still think Turgeon will want to go with experience in this game, but as the season wears on, don’t be surprised if you see those minutes start to slide more and more into Allen’s stat line. Does Dez Wells start? I think you have to. He is one of, if not the most talented player on the team. Sure he hasn’t played with the first team guys much, but he was there all summer, and has been able to practice all preseason as well. I think he needs to be on the court as much as possible. Does James Padgett start? This game is in his hometown. I think he gets the nod, but based on Charles Mitchell’s effort and rebounding in the exhibition game, he is going to get his share of minutes. If Maryland lacks any toughness inside early, Mitchell will be the first one off the bench. Finally, what does Dez’s clearance do to Jake Layman’s minutes? I was banking on Layman being a possible starter at the three, but now his minutes may have been severely cut. Does he play more at the four? Possibly, but you have to think the Terps will go with Faust and Wells primarily at the 3. If one of those guys needs a breather, it is quite possible the Terps could move Allen to the two and play with both he and Pe’Shon on the court at the same time.
This depth thing is a nice problem to have, and what we see tonight, will almost 100% not be the rotation we see by the time the ACC Season starts. These things have a way of working themselves out. Until that time though Turgeon will tinker, and may make moves based on match ups until he really finds out how these guys react under the lights. It is an exciting time. I will say if you want to play Kentucky, it is probably better to get them early before they start clicking. The problem is, the same could be said about the Terps. They are not nearly as good as they will be at the end of the season. My guess for tonight is Kentucky’s talent might be just a bit too much for the Terps to handle, but win or lose, I am really looking forward to this. The same can not be said for Saturday’s football game!