No. 7 Maryland ready to start fresh vs. Holy Cross in opener
The Maryland Terrapins have been chomping at the bit to tip this season off, and they'll get their wish Tuesday night at home against Holy Cross, a team anxious for a fresh start.
Maryland's No. 7 ranking in the preseason Associated Press poll reflects the Terps' high hopes after a 23-11 campaign and narrow NCAA second-round loss to LSU. Veteran coach Mark Turgeon has four starters back and a dynamic freshman class in tow for Tuesday's tilt in the Xfinity Center.
"We want to take the next step," said Turgeon, entering his ninth season at Maryland. "We feel like we've been really good for the last four or five years. ...We really want to take another step, maybe try to win a championship or the tourney or advance in the postseason. We have the talent. It's just us coming together and playing well at the right time."
Holy Cross, meanwhile, is in unfamiliar territory, coming off a last place finish in the Patriot League and welcoming a new coach in former Marquette assistant Brett Nelson. Nelson will scrap former Crusader coach Bill Carmody's Princeton-style offense and speed things up with a young team.
Maryland has no problem with that plan. The Terrapins love to run and Turgeon has the horses to do so with preseason All-America senior guard Anthony Cowan (15.6 points, 4.4 assists per game) returning to run the show and 6-10 sophomore Jalen "Stix" Smith (11.7 points, 6.8 rebounds) ready to emerge as one of the top big men in the Big Ten, if not the country. Along with several other veterans, freshmen forwards Donta Scott and Makhi Mitchell will be key contributors as well.
Makhi and his fellow 6-10 twin brother Makhel make Maryland bigger and stronger around the basket, creating some real problems for the Crusaders, who don't have a lot of size or experience in the paint. Holy Cross was picked at the bottom of the Patriot League preseason poll.
"We're looking to play with great effort, while being disciplined and smart," said Nelson. "We also have to keep improving on a day-to-day basis, getting better in how we operate, how we practice and how efficient we are. I expect our team to look completely different in January and February than we do in November."
Nelson has two starters back from last year's 16-17 Holy Cross squad. Junior guard Austin Butler, off his 12.6 points, 4.1 rebounds performance of a year ago, will carry a heavy load. Junior forward Matt Faw (6.7 points, 3.1 rebounds) is another important cog, and Nelson is counting on a breakout season from junior forward Connor Niego. Replacing last year's Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Jehyve Floyd is an issue, particularly against an offense as potent as Maryland, which returns five players who averaged better than eight points per contest.
Following this game, Holy Cross travels to New Hampshire on Saturday. The Crusaders' first home game is Nov. 12 against Fairfield.
Maryland plays its first five games at home, a chance for Turgeon to work the new faces into the rotation and fine tune the Terrapins. Maryland is back in action Saturday, hosting Rhode Island.
--Field Level Media
Updated November 4, 2019