Friday marks the beginning of the 2011/12 college basketball season for two of Washington D.C.'s prominent teams, and since this is a college hoops-crazy city, we're long overdue for some sort of preview. That means we're going to have to resort to the cliche "list of predictions" format to discuss the prospects of Maryland, Georgetown, George Mason and George Washington. Sorry in advance, all.
Here are those five predictions.
1. Mark Turgeon's first Maryland team will be better than you think
On paper, this year's Terps team looks much worse than the one that missed postseason play for the first time since 1992/93. Jordan Williams is gone, and the only real hope as a replacement is newcomer Alex Len, who has to sit out the first 10 games. Starting point guard Pe'Shon Howard is out for at least three months with an injury, which hurts the Terps' backcourt. All these signs point to a bad team.
But keep a few things in mind here. First, new coach Mark Turgeon is the kind of coach who does well with little talent. He'll slow the ball down, insist on his teams playing outstanding defense and squeeze as much juice out of his roster as he can. There is still talent here too -- Terrell Stoglin is poised for a jump, Sean Mosley should have a bounce-back year with a new system and Nick Faust is the real deal (more on him in a second). There may be a few games against teams like Duke or North Carolina where the Terps will simply be outclassed, but I don't expect them to beat themselves too much.
That should get them to a better place than they were at last year. Maybe they still miss the NCAA Tournament, but I strongly doubt Maryland misses the postseason altogether again.
2. The DMV will soon fall in love with Nick Faust
The makeup of the Terps is setting up perfectly for Faust to be a difference-maker. With only one other shot creator in the starting lineup, Faust will have the ball in his hands a lot. He's already a tricky pick-and-roll player because of his ability to shoot off the dribble, and in Turgeon's slowdown system, Faust will get plenty of chances to create in the halfcourt. I don't think it's a huge stretch to suggest that he could lead the team in scoring.
There will be growing pains and bad shooting nights until Faust proves he can drive as well as he can shoot, but given the opportunities he'll get, I think Faust will have plenty of huge games too. Combine those huge games with a decent season, and Faust will soon get plenty of love around here.
3. Georgetown will take a step back
Gotta say, I'm not feeling the Hoyas ... this year. It's reasonable to be disappointed with the tournament failures of the outgoing senior class of Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Julian Vaughn, but those are some big personnel losses. Jason Clark returns and Hollis Thompson could step up, but the loss of Wright especially stings. Georgetown was lost without him in the lineup last year, and pardon me if I'm not especially confident in Markel Starks' ability to fill in. The frontcourt is also very young, and a young frontcourt in this system could be problematic.
The future does look pretty good, though. The Hoyas will welcome a strong recruiting class next year, and those young big men will have one more year of experience. If it all comes together quickly, Georgetown could be dangerous. My guess, though, is that it'll take some time.
4. George Mason will go as far as Ryan Pearson will take them
It's so hard to project George Mason this year under new coach Paul Hewitt. This was supposed to be their year to make a big push, but then Luke Hancock transferred and Andre Cornelius got himself suspended. The loss of Hancock especially stings, because his idiosyncratic game made the Patriots so tough to defend. Without him, they had no chance in their NCAA Tournament loss to Ohio State.
So now, it all comes down to another idiosyncratic player: Ryan Pearson. The 6'7'' forward plays better facing the basket and will provide matchup problems if he is able to build on last year's promising season. But of course, he has to actually build on it. It's one thing to produce with Cam Long shouldering the scoring load and Hancock as the playmaker. If Pearson can become a more complete player, the Patriots' offseason turmoil will be forgotten. If not, we're looking at a pretty disappointing season.
5. George Washington as the area's best team? Don't be surprised
It's really not a stretch to suggest that the Colonials will be the area's best team. Part of that is because the other three teams in the area suffered key losses, but part of that is because the Colonials are trending upwards. GW finished with 10 league wins last year despite playing without guard Lasan Kromah, who averaged 11.8 points per game as a freshman, for the entire season. This season, Kromah is back, along with pretty much every other key player.
That includes Tony Taylor, a senior guard who was a second-team all-league selection after leading the squad in points and assists. Dwayne Smith and Nemanja Mikic are back at the forward positions and provide matchup issues with Smith's slashing ability and Mikic's ability to shoot from deep. The Colonials are a bit weak inside, but everyone is back up front as well. New coach Mike Lonergan certainly has plenty of ammunition to use in his first year on the job.
Outside of Xavier and Temple, the Atlantic 10 is wide open. There's no reason the Colonials can't challenge those two for a league title. In a projected down year for local hoops, that could be enough to be top dog in the city.