The OC: Maryland

Streeter Lecka

Today we begin our OC series that will break down UConn's seven toughest out of conference opponents this 2013-2014 men's basketball season.

Story of last season

25-13, 8-10 ACC. NIT semifinal loss to Iowa.

Maryland struggled to find consistency in conference play during what was deemed to be a down year for the ACC. Most of College Park felt the team underachieved, as has been the case for the last four years when the Terrapins have failed to finish better than seventh in the ACC. As coach Mark Turgeon continually searched for a stable rotation, the Terps finished their year with 10 different players who averaged double-figure minutes.

Similar to this upcoming season, Maryland tipped off last year with a game at the Barclays Center, where it lost 72-69 to Kentucky. Afterward, the Terrapins breezed their way through a weak non-conference slate, before dropping three of four to Florida State, Miami and North Carolina. The wheels began to spin off once they failed to string together conference wins, particularly against Virginia and Boston College.

Though most Terp fans will inevitably and fondly remember their pair of victories over Duke. Maryland slayed the Blue Devils at home 80-78, and once more in the ACC tournament by a final of 83-74. Then, the Tar Heels sent them packing in a heartbreaking semifinal defeat, 79-76. Prior to their loss to the Hawkeyes, the Terps knocked off Niagara, Denver and Alabama in the NIT.

How they look

As told by stat savant Ken Pomeroy, Maryland ranks 44th this preseason out of all Division-1 college basketball clubs and eighth within the confines of the ACC. He forecasts the Terps will win roughly 80 percent or 24-26 of their games this season with a balanced attack (48th-ranked offensive efficiency and 44th on defense).

The media's ACC preseason poll has projected Maryland seventh in the conference behind Duke, Syracuse, UNC, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. The Terps welcome back three of their top five "starters" and highest scorers from a year ago. Junior forward Dez Wells makes his return after averaging 13.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and three assists per contest.

The biggest loss will undoubtedly be center Alex Len. Len was taken in last June's NBA draft and leaves behind a significant hole in the paint. The current Phoenix Sun racked up nearly 12 points and eight rebounds a game last season, in addition to 78 blocks. Other losses include guards Logan Aronhalt and Pe' Shon Howard and big man James Padgett. Aronhalt and Padgett graduated, while Howard took off for USC to be closer to home. He averaged 22.8 minutes per game, good for fourth on the team, but shot just 22.8 percent from the floor on 110 attempts.

Exlcuding Wells, the strength of this team figure to its backcourt, which should grow both simply from time passing and the collective experience gained last year. Sophomore Seth Allen and junior Nick Faust will take the floor after combining for almost 18 points and 48 minutes a game one year ago. Neither can boast to being a superb outside shooter, but they're both very steady hands to guide an offense. Freshman Roddy Peters will back them up.

Fellow freshman Damonte Dodd figures to compete for playing time much sooner. He'll be joined up from by sophomores Jake Layman, Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare. Cleare was rated as a top-30 recruit coming out of high school one year ago, but reportedly played much more like a project in his first season. He'll be relied upon heavily if Maryland is to make it back to the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, Layman and Mitchell each averaged five and a half points a game in 2012-2013. Mitchell is more of a prototypical big man, while Layman, a Wrentham, M.A. native, stands at 6' 8" and can shoot from distance.

Projected starting line-up (courtesy of collegehoopsmadness.com)

G—Seth Allen, Sophomore, 7.8 ppg

G—Nick Faust, Junior, 9.4 ppg

F—Dez Wells, Junior, 13.1 ppg

F—Jake Layman, Sophomore, 5.5 ppg

C—Shaquille Cleare, Sophomore, 3.7 ppg

Game prediction: UConn wins by a healthy margin. We'll call it a 10-point season opening win.

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