Is Maryland back among the nation's elite?
The men's basketball team's hopeful march to the Final Four begins Nov. 13, when it hosts Mount St. Mary's. Five months later, the Terps may find themselves national champions for the first time in 14 years.
North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke and Kansas once more face an opponent long absent from the title hunt but now gunning for one of those Final Four slots in Houston. However, the Terps aren't just one of the 68 NCAA tournament invitees hoping for a moment or two of glory. That was last season.
Maryland is ranked throughout the top five by various media outlets, including No. 1 by ESPN. With a roster of seasoned veterans and NBA-prospect underclassmen, the Terps are a rare mixture of talent that has the potential to capture its first championship since 2002.
Some fans may believe Maryland's title chances start with guard Melo Trimble, who's on many watch lists for every postseason honor imaginable. Trimble is certainly the team's pulse as the only true point guard after averaging a team-best 16.2 points per game as a freshman last season.
And certainly Jake Layman will be closely looked for leadership as the senior forward. But Layman played poorly during the postseason last spring. He's a complementary piece, not the main one.
Maryland's march to the Final Four centers on a freshman getting ready to play perhaps his one and only season in College Park, Md. -- center Diamond Stone.
Watching Stone on the court is remindful of Marvin Williams, a sixth man on North Carolina's 2005 national championship before being drafted No. 2 overall following his freshman year. And Stone is also a little like Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed, who could be a Pro Bowler if healthy.
It's that rare athleticism that separates Stone. Every movement is in tandem from head to toe throughout the 6-foot-11, 255-pounder. Maryland hasn't seen such a talented big man since Chris Wilcox in 2002.
This is where head coach Mark Turgeon earns his money. The team is talented enough to win 20-plus games and advance a round or two in the NCAAs. But if Turgeon can unlock Stone into a more aggressive version of predecessor Alex Len, then Maryland is headed to the Final Four and Stone will leave for the NBA soon afterwards.
Maryland won't be pressured by Mount St. Mary's. The final score bears watching, though. If the Terps simply win by 10 or 20 points, then Turgeon is still testing combinations. If Maryland wins by 30 or more, Turgeon has decided his rotation and lets the reserves get their minutes, too.
The Terps go at least eight deep, maybe 10. Turgeon not only needs to fine-tune his rotation, but keep the entire roster happy during a long season. That means letting reserves pile on the victory margin in 12 nonconference games before facing Penn State in the Big Ten opener Dec. 30. That said, there's also the crosstown rivalry against Georgetown resuming Nov. 17 that Maryland will surely be emotionally high to play.
It's a long season, but it can provide a lifelong memory if the Terps play well.