Welcome to “Good Morning, Illini Nation,” your daily dose of college basketball news from Illini beat writer and AP Top 25 voter Scott Richey. He’ll offer up insights every morning until practice tips off.
The preseason tour through the Big Ten continues with Maryland. Beat writer Emily Giambalvo from the Washington Post has today’s insight on the Terrapins.
What are the expectations internally or from the fan base for this year’s team?
Expectations feel quite high. This is a team that just missed out on the Sweet 16 last year and is bringing back seven of eight rotation players. A lot of them are freshmen who could and should take a significant jump in year two. I think from the fan base’s perspective, anything less than finishing second or third in the Big Ten and making it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament would be a disappointment.
How much of the team’s success is tied to Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith?
I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to put everything on these two players, especially because Maryland should be quite deep. That said, if Maryland is able be a top-10 team like many people are projecting, I think it’ll be because these two developed into the players this team needs them to be. Anthony Cowan needs to be a reliable point guard who makes good decisions. Jalen Smith, the lanky freshman last year who seems to have made great physical strides in the offseason, needs to build off what he showed late last season and firmly establish himself as one of the best players in the Big Ten. Smith wasn’t too consistent last year, especially early, but neither was Bruno Fernando as a freshman. Even though they have different qualities as players, Smith should have a similar year-two leap.
Who could be a surprise breakout player this season?
I don’t know how much of a surprise it would be for those around Maryland, but people who don’t watch the Terrapins as much could be surprised by Aaron Wiggins. He’ll be a sophomore and averaged more than 20 minutes per game off the bench, but he should have an increased role this year and further develop as one of Maryland’s dependable scorers.