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Staying afloat early will be tough for Maryland without Alex Len

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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The 10-game suspension the NCAA handed Maryland freshman Alex Len on Wednesday essentially leaves us with one question that will define the Terps season.

Can woefully shorthanded Maryland win enough non-league games to still be relevant by conference play when Len makes his debut and injured guard Pe'Shon Howard returns to the court?

It will not be easy for the Terps to survive a non-conference schedule that includes Illinois, Alabama and Notre Dame since they'll only have seven scholarship players available for each of those games.

Maryland announced last week that Howard will miss up to 10 to 12 weeks as a result of a broken bone in his left foot. Len will be back either Dec. 23 against Radford or Dec. 28 against Albany depending on whether Maryland's lone exhibition game counts toward the 7-foot-1 freshman's suspension or not.

"Alex has been working very hard to prepare himself for this opportunity," new Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said in a statement. "We look forward to having him on the court and to see how he'll fit into what we want to do offensively and defensively."

The roster Maryland will field in November and December will lack big men capable of complementing the perimeter trio of talented point guard Terrell Stoglin, defensive-minded wing Sean Mosley and top freshman Nick Faust. Junior forward James Padgett will need to elevate his level of play considerably until the Terps have Len and Howard back in the fold. {YSP:MORE}

Any notion of redshirting Howard seems less likely now that Maryland knows it will have Len for all of ACC play. The Ukrainian 7-footer is talented enough that an Eastern Conference executive had this to say about Len in an interview with Yahoo! Sports: "I don't know that he's a really good basketball player yet, but he's a pogo-stick right now. Down the road, he has a chance to be very good."

If Maryland can defeat the lesser teams on its non-conference schedule and maybe spring one early-season upset, the Terps are capable of playing well enough in conference play to contend for an NCAA tournament berth. If the season crumbles early and becomes a rebuilding year by February, at least Len and the young backcourt will have time to hone their skills in preparation for next year.

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