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Maryland aims to bounce back with the perfect storm of returners and newcomers

The Maryland Terrapins have talented players in all four classes and hope to rinse out the bad taste of last year’s postseason.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament- Maryland vs Iowa
Maryland’s Kaila Charles rises for a shot in the Big Ten Tournament championship game against Iowa. The Terps lost the game 90-76.
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Update: This story was updated on Nov. 2, 2019 to include news of Angel Reese committing to Maryland.

When you bring back all five starters (who were also your top five scorers) from a top-10 team, and you welcome in the No. 3 recruiting class in the country, one would think your team is going to be in contention for a national championship.

Maryland head coach Brenda Frese knows what it feels like to win one — it’s just that she and the Terrapin fanbase haven’t seen one in 13 years despite a plethora of talent over that span.

The Terps underachieved again last year when they lost to UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. They were ranked as high as No. 4 in the country, won the Big Ten regular-season title and earned a tournament No. 3 seed.

Kaila Charles was the team’s leading scorer, while freshman Taylor Mikesell emerged as a lethal 3-point threat. Their fellow starter Blair Watson can also hit from downtown, while forward Stephanie Jones brings a good inside and mid-range game. Meanwhile, 6-foot-5 freshman Shakira Austin averaged 9.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game during the 2018-19 campaign.

But those five returning starters all have flaws as well.

Charles is a talented driver and finisher at 6-foot who can create for herself in half-court sets and out-run defenders in transition, but she is not a great shooter. Mikesell is probably the smartest decision-maker on the floor and is capable of making a floater here and there, but she can’t drive to the basket like Charles can. Watson’s toughness on defense (she led the team last year with 48 steals) is always helpful, but she wasn’t as consistent a scorer as the other four starters, averaging a starter-low 8.3 points per game. Jones is only 6-foot-2 and doesn’t match up well with bigger players in the post. Lastly, Austin is still learning how to be a prolific scorer at the college level.

Not to be overly critical, but last year’s Maryland team didn’t have a five-tool player. It had five players who each played a unique role.

The future

Entering 2019-20, the Terps, who are No. 4 in the preseason AP Poll released Wednesday, know that the lack of versatility in any one player will change with the addition of guards Ashley Owusu (the No. 7 recruit in the nation, according to espnW’s Hoop Gurlz rankings) and Diamond Miller (the No. 18 recruit). They also add freshman Faith Masonius (No. 86), a wing player who scored 21 points in Maryland’s second exhibition game on Tuesday, and freshman Zoe Young (No. 32), who unfortunately tore her ACL in a practice and will miss the entire season.

Here’s the scoop on Owusu, Miller and Masonius from espnW’s Dan Olson:

Owusu (5-foot-9 point guard): “Strong, athletic game manager with offensive firepower; physical off the dribble, delivers to rim with body control, scores vs. contact and finishes plays at the charity stripe; shot maker with elusive mid-range game creativity, 3-point game yields results.”

Miller (6-foot-1 guard): “Athletic guard with superior size exploits mismatches; scorer’s mentality with quick release on jumper, range to the arc; rebounds and attacks coast-to-coast in transition game, distributes with court awareness; defends with distinct advantage of length, wingspan, converts plays from turnovers.”

Masonius (6-foot wing): “Agile perimeter threat buries the jumper to the arc; blue-collar toughness competes on glass; rebounds, handles and attacks in transition; shot maker in half-court set; versatile defender.”

The versatility of that freshman trio could be the difference between another early tournament exit and a trip to Frese’s fourth Final Four.

Maryland has four seniors (Charles, Watson, Jones and Sara Vujacic), one junior (Channise Lewis), three active sophomores (Mikesell, Austin and Olivia Owens) and three active freshmen (Owusu, Miller and Masonius). So it leans young and has a strong upperclassmen foundation at the same time. Lewis led the team with 182 assists (5.4 per game) last season.

The lone senior on Maryland’s 2018-19 squad, forward Brianna Fraser, was the leading bench scorer. She is the only player Maryland lost to graduation.

But Maryland got some great news in the form of Baltimore’s Angel Reese (the No. 2 prospect for 2020 in espnW’s HoopGulrz rankings) signing with the Terps on Saturday. At 6-foot-3, Reese is a dominant rebounder who also provides offense from all areas of the court. According to SB Nation’s Testudo Times, which broke the news, Reese is the highest ranked recruit to ever sign at Maryland (rankings started in 2007). With her commitment, you can expect big things from Maryland beyond this season.

Schedule and expectations

The Terps will face AP No. 8 South Carolina and No. 14 NC State in non-conference play. The game against the Gamecocks will be at home on Nov. 10, and the Dec. 5 matchup with the Wolfpack will be in Raleigh.

With defending Big Ten Tournament champion Iowa losing national player of the year Megan Gustafson to graduation, Maryland is heavily favored to reclaim that title after losing to the Hawkeyes in the championship game last year.

But after Big Ten play ends, who knows what will happen to the Terps? It took a clutch shot by Kristi Toliver to win it all in 2006. This Maryland team needs to learn how to win under pressure and with high expectations if it wants to get any closer to that goal of a second national championship.

This story was originally published on Oct. 31, 2019.