A new beginning has arrived for Maryland men’s basketball as new head coach Kevin Willard and his inaugural Terps squad will open the 2022-23 campaign against the Niagara Purple Eagles Monday night. The Terps return eight players from the 2021-22 campaign that marked the first losing season in 28 years, but a new sense of energy and retooling in the transfer portal has opened the door for a rather clean slate.
The game won’t be on TV. Maryland, a 17-point favorite, and Niagara are set to tip off their respective college basketball seasons Monday at 7 pm on BTN Plus (subscription).
“I think we’re all a little behind at this time of the year,” Willard said. “Unless you’ve got a team with four juniors and four seniors that have been with you for three years, then you’re probably bored. The rest of us are not really sleeping well at night just because it’s just one thing after another you’ve got to try and get done.”
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Willard and his players have described the new-look offense as “fast” and with his prior teams being strong defensively thanks to some natural toughness fans are looking forward to seeing the group in action against a real opponent.
“It’s very exciting, for me at least,” transfer guard Don Carey said. “It’s my last go-around, so being able to have an impact on winning right away for coach Willard and my team is very exciting to me. I’m excited to see what we look like come Monday.”
Niagara Purple Eagles
Last season: (14-16, 9-11 MAAC)
Head Coach: Greg Paulus (4th season)
Players to Watch: Guard Noah Thomasson (6-foot-3, SR), Guard Braxton Bayless (6-foot-2, JR), Forward Sam Iorio (6-foot-7, G-SR), Forward Touba Traore (6-foot-11, JR)
Strength: Backcourt experience… Niagara has five guards who are juniors or older, providing plenty of college-level experience in the backcourts regardless of prior numbers on the floor. Thomasson is the lone double-digit returning scorer for the Purple Eagles and was named to the preseason Second Team All-MAAC ahead of this campaign.
Weakness: Height… The Purple Eagles, similar to Maryland, have lackluster height in the frontcourt with just two players listed above 6-foot-8. Both teams should be aiming to thrive off of speed and guard play, but whichever side is able to take control inside and on the boards in particular will likely take control.
“We’re not the biggest team,” Willard said. “We’ve done a good job, and that’s why playing Virginia was really good to see where we matched up against a team that had bigger size than us, I think we did a good job of rebounding for the most part. But that’s going to be our biggest key and our biggest weakness all season long; we have to rebound the basketball. Can’t play fast if you’re not getting rebounds.”