Following TCU's home game against South Dakota State on Saturday afternoon, the Frogs hopped on a plane and headed to Mexico to begin preparing for the 2015 Cancun Challenge. TCU will open the tournament on Tuesday evening against Rhode Island before facing the winner of Maryland vs. Illinois State on Wednesday. To preview this year's tournament, I caught up with Alex Kirshner of Maryland's Testudo Times.
1. Maryland will enter the Cancun Challenge as the #2 team in the country. They were named the preseason pick to win the Big Ten and are a popular Final Four choice during this early part of the season. What do you think the ceiling is for this year's Terrapins team? Can they make it to Houston in March?
Absolutely, Maryland could make the Final Four and win all the marbles this year. It's not likely, just because there are so many teams that participate in the NCAA Tournament. But this is a well-rounded roster with no clear flaws, so there's no ceiling.
2. The Terps enter the season as one of the deepest and most talented teams in the country, but are already facing a bit of adversity with Dion Wiley's season-ending injury. How do you think his loss will impact Maryland moving forward?
The main concern with Wiley's injury is backcourt depth. Maryland has two elite guards in Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon, but the only proven backup with Wiley injured is sophomore Jared Nickens, and he's more of a shooter than someone who's going to drive an offense. He's also not as good a perimeter defender as Wiley. Meanwhile, Maryland doesn't have a proven backup point guard, as sophomore junior college transfer Jaylen Brantley hasn't quite adjusted yet. So if Maryland has an injury in the backcourt, there could be a problem.
3. Maryland has a pretty strong non-conference schedule this season. The Terps were in a dogfight against Georgetown last week and will face both North Carolina and Connecticut before opening the gauntlet that is Big Ten play. What are your expectations prior to conference play? What are you looking for from the Terps during the non-conference portion of the season?
Ideally, there'd be some cohesion. Maryland has three new starters this season, and it's hard to imagine that everything will totally click right away. Maryland shouldn't lose any non-Carolina games until Big Ten play, but that's less important than the team coming together and gelling.
4. Let's shift gears to the Cancun Challenge. This is unquestionably Maryland's tournament to lose. How would you size up the rest of the tournament's field? Which team do you think could potentially cause the biggest challenge for the Terrapins?
Rhode Island strikes me as a pretty good team, but EC Matthews being out for the year really hurts. That was probably Maryland's greatest threat, but I do think TCU could do some damage. The Frogs are reasonably long, and that's important against Maryland's team of giants.
5. And finally, if we do end up with a Maryland vs. TCU Championship Game on Wednesday night, what's your score prediction? How do you think things will shake out in Cancun?
I'd expect Maryland to win, probably by 10ish points. But it's certainly doable for TCU. That's college basketball.
I'd like to extend a big thank you to Alex and the team over at Testudo Times. Seriously, go take a look at their college basketball content. It is some of the best out there.
Stay tuned right here for continued coverage of the Cancun Challenge as we prepare for Rhode Island!