Ready or not, Maryland and visiting Old Dominion tip off the 2020-21 basketball season Wednesday afternoon in College Park, Md.
The Terrapins are coming off a 24-7 season in which they won a share of the Big Ten Conference regular-season crown before all postseason play was shut down. Two starters are gone, including forward Jalen Smith, the 10th player selected last Thursday in the NBA Draft, and all-conference point guard Anthony Cowan, off a team ranked 12th in the final 2019-20 Associated Press poll.
In addition to a lot of new faces, the Terrapins, like all of college basketball, are dealing with the pandemic as they begin the season, testing players six times a week and taking all manners of precaution, including keeping fans away.
"We've asked our guys to wear their masks even in their rooms," said 10th-year Maryland coach Mark Turgeon. "We wear our masks except when we're on the floor, and the players wear them to the floor and the coaches wear them (in practice). Testing doesn't keep you from getting it ... so we're washing our hands, just doing everything people say.
"Our guys really sacrifice," Turgeon said. "No more than seven in the locker room. Grab-and-go food. We're never all in a room together except in our team room and we're six feet apart. Our meetings are less than 15 minutes...The real key is if someone does get it, it doesn't spread and that's really what will determine our season."
The emergence of some key players will also determine if the Terrapins can continue their recent successes - 23 or more victories in five of the past six seasons. Junior guard Aaron Wiggins (10.4 ppg) is the team's leading returning scorer and reigning Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year. He should move into the starting lineup and could become an NBA Draft prospect, too. Guards Darryl Morsell (8.5 ppg) and Eric Ayala (8.5 ppg) and forward Donta Scott are returning starters and the late-NCAA eligibility awarded 6-8 Boston College transfer Jairus Hamilton is a boon for the Terps.
Meanwhile, the Monarchs, coming off their worst season (13-19) under 8th-year coach Jeff Jones, are projected as an upper division finisher in Conference USA. Old Dominion was 9-9 in the league last year after a slow start, and returns three starters who averaged double-figure scoring last year: Senior swingman Xavier Green (12.8 ppg), sophomore guard Malik Curry (13.4 ppg) and junior guard A.J. Oliver (11.3 ppg).
Curry is a top talent, but he'll need to improve on his 40.7-percent shooting (29.5 percent from 3-point range). As a team, ODU shot a dismal 40.5 percent, ranking the Monarchs 325th in the nation.
Their experience, though, should make them undaunted against their big-name foe on Wednesday.
"Playing at Maryland is a great opportunity for our team," said Jones, who has come back strong from prostate cancer. "As well as in-state rivals William Mary, Norfolk State, James Madison, VCU, George Mason and Virginia Wesleyan -- the biggest priority is the health and safety of our players. Hopefully, we can complete the schedule without any complications due to COVID-19."
--Field Level Media