Sam Cassell Jr. (Rivals.com)Even though Maryland is well-positioned to contend for a Final Four bid as soon as March 2014, the Terps will need good fortune this season to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for a third straight year.
The quest will likely get a bit more difficult, too, if Maryland is without freshman-to-be Sam Cassell Jr.
According a report from Inside MD Sports, the son of ex-NBA guard Sam Cassell has been ruled academically ineligible to play for the Terps next season. Maryland reportedly has filed a last-ditch appeal, but history suggests it's unlikely the ruling will be overturned.
Since Maryland cannot accept partial qualifiers, the only way Cassell will ever suit up for the Terps is if he attends a junior college first. Otherwise he can transfer to a school that allows partial qualifiers to enroll immediately and begin competing during their second year in the program.
A combo guard whose perimeter jump shot is probably his greatest strength, Cassell would have provided much-needed outside shooting and depth next season for a Maryland backcourt riddled with question marks. He was an ideal insurance policy in case fellow freshman Seth Allen isn't ready to contribute or Albany transfer Logan Aronhalt's chronic knee problems sideline him again or veteran Pe'Shon Howard can't return at full strength from last year's torn ACL.
The wild card in all this is Xavier transfer Dez Wells, who chose Maryland last week and is hoping to receive a waiver from the NCAA that would make him eligible right away.
If Wells receives his waiver, he'd likely start at small forward with Howard at point guard and emerging star Nick Faust at shooting guard. If Wells can't play until next season, then Aronhalt or Seth Allen will have to take on an increased role in Cassell's absence and provide the Terps with outside shooting.
Maryland also has some promising young frontcourt talent, with sophomore Alex Len hoping for a breakout season and promising freshmen Jake Layman and Shaquille Cleare set to make their debuts. Still, unless Wells is available, it's likely the Terps are a year away from being anything more than a fringe NCAA tournament contender.