Brooklyn, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Brooklyn is the backdrop for an intriguing season-opening clash, as the 18th-ranked Connecticut Huskies and Maryland Terrapins meet at the Barclays Center to tip off the 2013-14 campaign.
Kevin Ollie is in his second season at the helm of Connecticut and enters off a strong debut, as the Huskies went 20-10 in 2012-13. The 20 wins were the most by any first-year coach in UConn history. Now in the American Athletic Conference, Connecticut hopes to take the next step under Ollie and with a core of veterans led by All-American candidate Shabazz Napier, the sky is the limit in Storrs this season.
Mark Turgeon's third season in College Park could be his best to date. That is certainly encouraging for a team that won 25 games a year ago and advanced to the semifinals of the NIT. Problems for Maryland however, arose in conference play, as they were just 8-10 against the rest of the ACC, plagued by inconsistent play. This will be the last season in the ACC for Maryland, which will make the move to the Big Ten next year.
This marks the sixth all-time meeting between these two squads. The Huskies own a 3-2 series advantage, but Maryland won the last meeting, a memorable 90-82 shootout in the 2002 NCAA Tournament Elite Eight.
The strength of the 2013-14 Huskies is the backcourt. Napier is one of the 15 players on the Oscar Robertson Trophy Watch List and for good reason. As complete a guard as there is in the country, Napier is coming off a season in which he averaged 17.1 ppg, 4.4. rpg, 4.6 apg and 2.0 spg. Ryan Boatright (15.4 ppg, 4.4 apg) can fill up the basket as well and is a solid defender. Omar Calhoun (11.1 ppg) is a valuable contributor in the backcourt also. Improving up front is what could push UConn into the upper echelon of championship contenders. DeAndre Daniels (12.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.5 bpg) and Tyler Olander (4.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg) could see their numbers rise on a team that likes to get everyone involved.
The Terrapins must overcome several key losses from last season, none more important than lottery pick center Alex Len (11.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg). Still, there is plenty left in the cupboard in College Park. Backcourt play should be headlined by junior Dez Wells. The 6-5, 215-pounder was the team's leading scorer a season ago at 13.1 ppg. Sophomore Seth Allen (7.8 ppg) was expected to handle the point this season, but Allen suffered a fractured foot in the preseason and his sophomore debut will be pushed back. Other guards that should contribute and make things interesting for Maryland include lanky sophomore Jake Layman (6-8, 205) and junior Nick Faust (6-6, 205). The frontcourt should be physical this season, anchored by the 6-9, 260-pound Charles Mitchell (5.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and 6-9, 265-pound Shaquille Cleare (3.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg). Neither has shown much at the offensive end, but the addition of Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz (6-9, 235) should help in that regard.