Huge Test For Terps In Opener

Updated: November 6, 2013

*Update: The NCAA has approved transfer forward Jonathan Graham’s appeal and he is eligible effective immediately. Normally, transfers have to sit out a year, but in special cases like this, the requirement is waived. Graham is the son of Ernie Graham, who starred for the Terrapins from 1977-1981.

Maryland basketball will begin regular season play the same way they did last season, facing an elite non conference opponent at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Nearly a year ago to the day, the Terrapins opened with a 72-69 loss to preseason No.3 Kentucky. On Friday night, Maryland opens up against No.18 Connecticut of the newly formed American Athletic Conference.

Will unranked Maryland beat #18 UConn in the Terrapins season opener? Weigh in at the DCPro reddit page!

Connecticut has one of the deepest backcourts in America, led by All Big East first team guard Shabazz Napier. Napier has an NBA future, learning his all around game from former teammate Kemba Walker. This is obviously not a great matchup for Maryland, who will be playing without injured guard Seth Allen until ACC play begins. Expect the Huskies to apply great pressure on a Maryland team playing without a natural point guard with any experience. Napier along with Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun are not only talented, but very experienced. Calhoun has good size at 6’6″, but with Napier and Boatright only 6’0″, the Terrapins could try and take advantage of a distinct size mismatches by using tall backcourt combinations of Jake Layman and Nick Faust along with Dez Wells. But the problem remains… getting the ball into the frontcourt.

The Huskies are led by coach Kevin Ollie, who went 20-10 in his first season with Connecticut. UConn will have some new faces in the frontcourt, including four-star power forward Kentan Facey, who was just cleared academically by the NCAA two weeks ago. Another freshman, seven foot Amidah Brimah may provide strong interior defense. Veteran leadership inside will come from junior DeAndre Daniels, who was one of the top players in the 2011 recruiting class nationally.

Mark Turgeon is beginning his third season in College Park and looking for that first trip to the “Big Dance”. Turgeon is no stranger to the NCAA tournament, having taken Texas A&M “dancing” each of his last four seasons in College Station. Turgeon must replace center Alex Len who departed for the NBA after just two seasons at Maryland and perhaps even more importantly, absorbing the transfer of senior point guard Pe’Shon Howard to USC for family reasons. With Seth Allen sidelined until January, it was looking as though Turgeon would be operating with only eight scholarship players on Friday night. Penn State transfer forward Jonathan Graham received last minute approval of his appeal, clearing him to become fully eligible effective immediately. The combo forward adds much needed depth, especially against bigger teams and/or in case of injury.

Graham is one of four newcomers on the Maryland roster, along with Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz (sat out last season due to NCAA transfer regulations) and incoming freshman, point guard Roddy Peters and center/forward Damonte Dodd. While there isn’t a senior scholarship player on the Maryland roster, in addition to Seth Allen, veterans returning include sophomore’s Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell who will alternate at center and a pair of swingmen in sophomore Jake Layman and junior Nick Faust. Faust is the lone remaining player from the Gary Williams era. The most important returnee is Dez Wells, who is being asked to handle point guard, until Allen is healthy, Peters is ready, or more likely both. Coach Turgeon is confident Wells will take his game to another level, regardless of position.

Countdown to #ACCTipoff courtesy

The two teams have met a total of five times, with Connecticut leading the series 3-2. The Terrapins won the last two and they were big ones, in the 2001 and 2002 NCAA tournaments, on the way to the Final Four. Maryland hopes to return to March Madness, but early “bracketology” by CBS Sports finds Connecticut as a No.4 seed, by the Terrapins nowhere to be found. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi updated his predictions on Thursday and also has Connecticut as a No.4, with the Terps on the outside looking in.

For complete rosters and season previews of both teams, choose Maryland and/or Connecticut.

ESPN’s Journey to the Tourney with former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg focus on the matchup here.

Maryland and Connecticut will be carried LIVE on ESPN2, tipping off at 630 PM on Friday.

Next up for the Terrapins, their home opener against Abilene Christian on Wednesday night @ the Comcast Center.

Follow Tom Blaz on twitter @AubieTom

Cover Photo Maryland Athletics Twitter