Who: Maryland (17-15 in 2011) vs. Kentucky (38-2, NCAA national champions.
When: Friday, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Coaches: Terps — Mark Turgeon (Second season, 17-15). Wildcats – John Calipari (Fourth season, 102-14).
Basketball season has finally arrived, and what better way to tip off than against the defending national champions in a shiny new arena? Kentucky and Calipari have certainly generated the offseason buzz, what with their fancy dorms and all-access television shows, but enter with a young, inexperienced lineup, just like Maryland. Granted, the Wildcats will likely start three heralded freshmen, a transfer from N.C. State and a returning sophomore, while the Terps’ lineup is still up in the air. Maryland received a massive boost when Dez Wells was deemed eligible by the NCAA, and he figures to start alongside Nick Faust, Alex Len, Pe’Shon Howard and James Padgett, though the freshmen quartet of Seth Allen, Charles Mitchell, Shaquille Cleare and Jake Layman will all see substantial minutes at the Barclays Center. The Terps aren’t exactly hyping this up as a coming-out party by any stretch. Rather, they know they’re underdogs with a chance to make some noise and begin the season with a statement, or at the very least cement the building blocks for a future run.
1. Bright lights, big stage? Turgeon will likely go with a 10-man rotation (the starters are anyone’s guess at this point), which will include four freshmen, three sophomores, two seniors, one junior and zero partridges in any type of pear tree. The incoming recruits have certainly flashed their charisma and at times potential this preseason, but how will they respond to the bright lights, ESPN cameras and national attention certain to descend upon Brooklyn?
2. Len versus Noel? The marquee matchup in the post will be Len, Maryland’s 7-foot-1 sophomore shot-blocking machine, against Nerlens Noel, Kentucky’s 6-foot-10 freshman shot-blocking machine. Calpari’s highly prized recruit will likely be tasked with guarding the bulked-up Len, whose much-improved perimeter game could draw Noel away from the basket, freeing up space in the lane for penetration from Wells and his backcourt mates. After missing the first 10 games of his freshman season, Len could be primed for a breakout campaign, and a strong performance in Brooklyn could help set the Ukrainian ship sailing for open waters.
3. Fill up the Wells? This game just got far more interesting with the addition of Wells, who learned Wednesday morning that he had been granted an eligibility waiver by the NCAA. The only active Maryland player with NCAA tournament experience, Wells is a veteran by Terps standards at this point, and put on a show in Maryland’s open scrimmage, hitting all seven of his shots and dazzling the crowd on the fast break. He’s practiced all preseason like he would be ruled eligible, but how will he perform in his first action as a Terp?
36.7: Percent of Maryland’s 2011-12 scoring that returns this season. Nick Faust is the leading returning score at 8.9 points per game.
6.7: Percent of Kentucky’s 2011-12 scoring that returns this season. Then again, inter-season stability isn’t exactly Calipari’s modus operandi.
70.7: Points allowed per game by the Terps in 2011-12, worst in the ACC.
“Let’s don’t get carried away. We’re 17-15 last year, we have a lot of young kids who are still going to play. Going into Friday’s game, Kentucky’s still rolling out players we couldn’t even get involved with. Let’s be realistic here.” – Turgeon.
“Now, I could start four freshmen tomorrow night. And you goofballs are saying we’re in the top five in the country. Are you crazy? We don’t know what we’re going to be. I like my team. We just don’t know what we’re going to be right now. They work hard, they’re good kids, they do well in school, they know they need to focus in practice every day.” — Calipari
THE TERPS TUNE OF TODAY
“Brooklyn,” by Mos Def.