Playing two young point guards – Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes – at the same time for much of 2006-07 looks like a smart move. The Terps will need both sophomores to play heavy minutes with the departure of starting guards D.J. Strawberry and Mike Jones, who combined to average 28.7 points a game as seniors.
The flamboyant Vasquez finished sixth in the league last season with 4.6 assists a game. A good penetrator with deceptive quickness, Vasquez excels at setting up teammates with easy scoring opportunities. The Terps need the native Venezuelan to emerge as more of a scoring threat and improve his outside shooting. He shot 31.6 percent (31 of 98) from 3-point range last season.
Hayes is also a pass-first type and a good decision-maker. But he's a better outside shooter than Vasquez – shot 39.3 percent (22 of 56) from 3-point range last season – and will be asked to look for his shot more.
There are no other guards on the roster with any experience, which probably means freshmen Cliff Tucker, who was ranked the No. 91 prospect in the class of 2007, and Adrian Bowie will earn action in backup roles.
Maryland's James Gist is one of the ACC's top returning big men.
There are big expectations surrounding senior power forward James Gist, who earned one of the 12 spots on the Pan-Am team this summer. The athletic veteran, who has raised his scoring and rebounding averages each year, will be counted on as a go-to scorer on the inside with the loss of Ekene Ibekwe (10.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg).
Senior Bambale Osby is expected to take over Ibekwe's starting job. The wide-bodied big man (6-8, 250 pounds) showed plenty of promise as a reserve last season, averaging 5.8 ppg and 3.9 rpg. Sophomore small forward Landon Milbourne, who played sparingly last season, could make the leap into the starting lineup as well. A versatile and athletic product, he has the tools to replace some of the scoring that Strawberry and Jones provided from the wing.
The Terps were capable of matching just about any team basket for basket last season. They averaged 79.0 points a game, which ranked second in the ACC and 13th nationally.
The Terps don't have the shooters to match that kind of production again, but expect them to continue to boast one of the top offenses in the ACC.
With Vasquez and Hayes on the court together even more, the Terps will continue to try and force a fast tempo and create fast-break opportunities. The key will be whether Gist and Osby can emerge as reliable scoring threats in the post.
This was the area where Strawberry and Ibekwe made their biggest impacts. A terrific one-on-one defender, Strawberry often guarded the opponents' top perimeter player and averaged 2.0 steals a game last season. Ibekwe did a good job protecting the basket, averaging 2.7 blocks a game.
Without that athletic duo in the lineup, it will be easier to score on the Terps, who forced opponents to shoot 39 percent from the field last season, which ranked tops in the ACC and eighth nationally.
Still, expect the Terps to be solid defensively and create a good amount of turnovers. Williams prefers to employ a variety of presses. Plus, Gist, an underrated defender, is capable of replacing Ibekwe's interior presence. Gist averaged 2.1 blocks a game last season.
Outlook with postseason forecast
The Terps are a difficult team to gauge. Losing three double-digit scorers suggests they will regress, possibly by a wide margin. But, Hayes, Vasquez and Osby form a promising young nucleus and most players tend to make their biggest improvements from their freshman to sophomore seasons. The return of a proven veteran in Gist and the addition of a handful of big men will create a deep frontcourt. More than likely, Williams will find a way to turn all those parts into an NCAA Tournament team, but don't expect another high seed this time around.
Shoes to Fill
G D.J. Strawberry. The Terps' leading scorer was also their best defensive player. His production and leadership will be sorely missed.
Must Step Up
F Landon Milbourne. An inside-outside scoring threat, Milbourne may go from spending most games on the bench to being a full-time starter. How he handles the transition could ultimately decide whether the Terps get back to the NCAA Tournament.
C Braxton Dupree. There is talk of this hefty big man being the first player off the bench.
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Andrew Skwara is a college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.