For a few days, Maryland men’s basketball’s season seemed on the verge of collapsing.
Last year’s upstart squad that surged to 20 wins in Kevin Willard’s first season entered the 2023-24 campaign with high expectations after some exciting freshmen and a transfer joined returning contributors.
But Maryland scuffled after a season-opening win against Mount St. Mary’s. Losses to Davidson and UAB preceded a blowout to Villanova in which the Terps were held to 15 first-half points.
Maryland fell to 1-3, its worst start since the 2000-01 season. That Terps team rattled off 10 straight wins and made it to the Final Four. It’s doubtful this year’s team will replicate that success, but Willard’s team has stabilized after three straight wins over non-power conference opponents — the latest a 103-76 thumping of Rider on Tuesday.
“I kind of knew this was how the season was going to go, to be honest with you. ... I knew we were going to struggle early,” Willard said. “These guys have put in a great amount of work in practice. And so I feel good. I don’t think we’re there yet. I think we still have a lot more work to do, but they’re trending in the right direction.”
Those wins, however necessary to keep the alarm bells in College Park from escalating to a deafening roar, offer only a measure of solace. Maryland can further reestablish itself as a team with aspirations of contention with a strong performance in its Big Ten opener against Indiana on Friday.
Before that, let’s take a look at what we know about the Terps after a turbulent nonconference slate.
Maryland can’t shoot 3-pointers
Maryland ranks 351st of 362 schools after making just 23.8% of its 3-point attempts, per KenPom.
To state the incredibly obvious, that’s not good. It’s also not unexpected. The Terps ranked 238th in the metric last year and lost two of their better shooters, Hakim Hart and Ian Martinez. The lone incoming transfer, Indiana forward Jordan Geronimo, made just five 3-pointers in 27 games last season.
The Terps’ 3-point shooting percentage actually jumped after they made eight of 20 attempts against Rider — the first time all year they’ve been above 30%. Jahmir Young, who by far leads the team with 41 3-point attempts, made a season-high four against the Broncs.
“I wasn’t as worried about the 3-point percentage,” Willard said. “Jahmir’s going to make his 3′s. ... He’s going to be a [40%] 3-point shooter.”
The performance boosted Young to a 34.1% clip from deep. He and Donta Scott are the only Maryland shooters above 30%.
Scott is taking a robust 4.1 3-pointers per game and making 34.5%. If that figure holds, he could become an integral floor spacer for a team that desperately needs it.
Freshmen are getting acclimated
A Maryland trio — Willard along with freshmen DeShawn Harris-Smith and Jamie Kaiser Jr. — worked out Monday morning, in the coach’s words, “shooting the basketball and watching the ball go in” for an hour.
Neither of the freshmen had much chance to do that through the first six games of their college careers. Kaiser, a four-star recruit but still the less heralded of the duo, came in with expectations as a shooter. But entering Tuesday’s game he’d made just three of 23 3-point attempts.
He started to get on track against Rider with a pair of makes from behind the arc on three attempts.
“I never lost confidence in Jamie. I don’t think he ever lost confidence because I keep telling him to shoot. ... When you shoot with Jamie, you don’t even need a rebounder there, to be honest with you,” Willard said. “He’ll go 48 out of 50 from 3. It’s just a matter of him just getting a little bit more comfortable. ... He’s a freshman. He’s going to struggle a little bit every once in a while. But I have great confidence in his shooting ability.”
Harris-Smith, a rare starter in his first year, finished with nine points on 4-of-8 shooting. He’s making only 36.4% of his shots but has contributed in other ways. He’s second in rebounds, assists and steals, and he has a presence on the court.
Against Rider, he operated atop Maryland’s press and hounded ball handlers. His athleticism is evident, but his ability to tap into it has been inconsistent — that stability should come with time.
Julian Reese is figuring it out
In Maryland’s loss to UAB, the Blazers’ 1-3-1 defense challenged Reese, the junior said. He notched season lows with five points and four rebounds.
As he grows as one of Maryland’s offensive fulcrums, Reese has faced varied defensive looks from teams trying to slow him down.
“It just comes with reps as the season goes on. ... I‘m really just learning as I go,” he said.
He seems to have figured it out.
Reese’s scoring output has steadily climbed in every game since, culminating in a 22-point, 12-rebound explosion against Rider in which he took 17 free throws. He made 14, an encouraging sign for a 53.3% free throw shooter last year who’s up to 66.1 this season.