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Maryland basketball preview Qudus Wahab

Qudus Wahab Brings the Size: Maryland Men’s Basketball 2021-22 Preview

College basketball is nearly back, and that means College Park will be whole again. From Maryland flag shirts to Maryland flag shorts to Maryland flag socks and literal Maryland flags, black, white, red, and yellow will fill Xfinity Center up again soon. So, with fresh faces like Qudus Wahab and Fatts Russell gracing CP, let’s preview what we can expect from Maryland men’s basketball in 2021-22.

Qudus Wahab Brings the Size: Maryland Men’s Basketball 2021-22 Preview

Maryland Men’s Basketball 2021-22 Preview: Departures

Before getting into what we’ll see this season, let’s go over what we won’t see this season.

Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell are both out the door. Wiggins left for the NBA and went No. 55 overall in the second round to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Morsell opted to use his bonus season of college eligibility to transfer to Marquette.

These are two big losses.

Wiggins was Maryland’s best player last season and would have likely been one of the premier players in the Big Ten in 2021-22 had he stayed. He was especially finding his groove in the later stages of last season, which was part of why his pro stock rose enough for him to leave early.

Morsell was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, so his departure obviously creates a hole on the defensive side of the ball for the Terps. Offensively, he didn’t have a great shot, but he often created layups for himself or shooting opportunities for others with aggressive drives to the basket. His willingness to force the issue, regardless of momentum, will be greatly missed.

Other members of last season’s team who have left are Jarius Hamilton (transferred to Western Kentucky), Galin Smith (graduation), Chol Marial (transferred to Oregon State), Reese Mona (graduation), and Aquan Smart (transferred to FIU).

Maryland Men’s Basketball 2021-22 Preview: Additions

The most-notable additions are transfers Fatts Russell (Rhode Island) and Qudus Wahab (Georgetown).

Fatts Russell was one of the best point guards in the A-10 in 2020-21 and held a key role for URI for multiple seasons before choosing Maryland for his final year of eligibility. He offers head coach Mark Turgeon the opportunity to move Eric Ayala to the off-ball role, which is better for him, and keep Hakim Hart away from point guard responsibilities. His distribution is solid, he can get to the rim at will, is excellent at drawing fouls and getting to the line, and he’s a nasty on-ball defender. His three-point shooting leaves some to be desired (23.5 percent in 2020-21), but that’s where other players in the rotation ideally fill in. What he brings defensively will be huge, too, filling the gap left by Morsell on the perimeter.

Qudus Wahab offers the Terps a true inside presence, something they didn’t have last season. He averaged a near double-double in 2020-21 on 12.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest, and having a legitimate option in the paint not only means Maryland has more opportunities to score, but it will force defenses to respect what the Terps have down low, opening up driving lanes and open shots on the perimeter for guards. His 1.6 blocks per night also gives Maryland a serious rim protector, something else it’s missed for some time. Qudus Wahab immediately solves the biggest problem from last season’s Maryland team.

Turgeon loves having a point guard/big man tandem that he can use for high ball screen-and-rolls, and Russell and Wahab allow him to run that regularly again. Russell’s perimeter shooting is an issue for the effectiveness of those movements, but Ayala is perfectly capable of handling the ball during those pick-and-roll plays, too.

Ian Martinez (Utah), Xavier Green (Old Dominion), Pavlo Dziuba (Arizona State), and Simon Wright (Elon) round out the incoming transfer class, offering solid depth off the bench, something the Terps didn’t really have in 2020-21. Freshmen Julian Reese and Ike Cornish figure to get some time as well, Reese in particular.

It shouldn’t be a seven-man rotation again this year.

Maryland Men’s Basketball 2021-22 Preview: Returners

Donta Scott, Eric Ayala, and Hakim Hart are the most important pieces part from a season ago, and if they all take steps forward, Maryland will be fairly dangerous in the Big Ten.

Scott offers excellent perimeter shootings (43.8 percent from three in 2020-21), secondary rebounding help, and aggression that will be much needed after Morsell’s departure. His decision making caused problems at times last season, and he had a tendency to disappear for long stretches. He has the potential to be one of the most potent players in the Big Ten at the four if he can clean up his inefficiencies. He was one of Maryland’s better defenders in 2020-21 as well (99.2 defensive rating) and will ideally be even better in 2021-22.

With Russell in the picture, Ayala can play off the ball, which will allow him to run off screens to get downhill or find open spots for jumpers. He scored 15.1 points per game in 2020-21 on 43.7 percent from the field, and I suspect that while his overall scoring might go down because of a stronger wealth of weapons around him this season, his quality of look and efficiency will improve.

Hart took a massive leap from his freshman to sophomore seasons, and if he takes a similar step forward into his junior campaign, he will be a legitimate scoring option for the Terps. But where he really needs to improve is defensively. He was one of the weaker defensive links in last season’s team, which relied heavily on defending as a unit to make up for little paint presence or depth. His minutes will be more limited than they could be if he isn’t able to clean up some of his defensive mental errors and footwork while defending on the ball.

Other returners who will varying levels of court time are Marcus Dockery, James Graham III, and Arnaud Revaz.

Verdict

It should be a significantly better season for Maryland men’s basketball in 2021-22 than it was in 2020-21. The Terps probably won’t be a Final Four contender like they were initially considered before Morsell and Wiggins made their decisions to leave, but a top-six Big Ten finish and top-six seed in the NCAA Tournament should be the minimum goal and expectation.

Last season, interior presence and depth were the biggest things holding the Terps back. Turgeon has addressed both of those in the offseason through recruiting and transfers. There will be no excuse if this campaign isn’t demonstrably better than the last one.

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