LAST SEASON – The Terps came into the season with some believing them to be the most talented team in the nation, and that wasn’t a crazy thought. Maryland seemed to have everything…size, athletic ability, shooters, depth, and a point guard to run the whole thing. However, things never quite clicked the way they’d hoped. Early on, it was obvious that all the pieces weren’t fitting together perfectly, and then Melo Trimble got hurt and wasn’t ever the same down the back stretch of the schedule.
Expectations are a funny thing. At most places, in most years, a 27-9/12-6 year with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen would be a strong season but not when people believe you have enough to win the whole deal. The Terps lost 4 starters and it was almost 5 before Trimble decided to return. They’ve got some good incoming talent but no one will be thinking Final Four this season…we’ll see if that actually makes for a more enjoyable ride.
THIS SEASON – Melo Trimble is back. Whether that’s good or bad for Maryland remains to be seen. There had been some thought he’d leave after his freshman season and he opted to come back, but he had the look to me of a guy who had his mind elsewhere at times, and then he got hurt and was never 100% in February and March. Has he gotten a new perspective, one which might lead him to conclude that his best option is to focus on Maryland and making his team better? If that’s the case, he can be a huge positive, because regardless of what the NBA thinks, Trimble is a proven weapon at the collegiate level. When he’s right, no one is better at getting to the rim and finishing or drawing contact, and he’s a tremendous free throw shooter. His deep shooting betrayed him last year (31% from three) and his A/TO ratio was slightly below 2:1. If he can improve both of those areas and get his head right, he can be the catalyst he was as a freshman. This group also needs a leader, though…can he grow into that role as well?
On the wing, the Terps have potential. Jared Nickens is a 6’7″ junior who also saw his deep shooting decline last year (35%) but he has the potential to be better than that. 6’4″ Dion Wiley is back after missing all of last season with an injury. If he’s healthy, he can provide a big boost and perhaps even start. Wiley is a physical guard who can do some of the things that Dez Wells provided this team two seasons ago. Jaylen Brantley was brought in to caddy Trimble and though he didn’t play much (only 9mpg) he actually fared pretty well when he did see the floor, shooting over 40% and making solid decisions.
Mark Turgeon had a big recruiting haul among perimeter guys this year, which is going to make competition for minutes pretty fierce. Anthony Cowan was the headline guy, a 5’11” point guard with speed and toughness. He can reportedly stand to improve his decisions and his shot a bit, but expect him to be in the rotation immediately and it wouldn’t surprise me to see he and Trimble out there at the same time on occasions.
Kevin Huerter is a skilled 6’5″ wing with a big time shooter’s rep. He’ll need to get stronger and better defensively, but especially if some more veteran Terps don’t improve their shooting early on, I would think he’ll get some opportunities to play.
The Terps also made a late addition to their class in former UNLV recruit Justin Jackson. A native of Canada, the 6’7″ Jackson likely will play both on the wing and inside for the Terps as a freshman. He’ll definitely be in the rotation, and probably at both the wing and the 4.
Inside, it’s a bit of a different story, though not a disaster. The departure of Robert Carter was unexpected, though Jackson’s arrival took the sting out of that to some extent. Still Maryland has pieces to be competitive in the paint.
6’11” senior Damonte Dodd should be the starter at the 5 and may well be one of the better big men in the conference. He’s shown flashes over the last two years but last season had some guys in between him and an expanded role. That won’t be the case this season. He’s a defensive presence and a very good finisher at the rim. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see a 10/8 type season with a good number of blocks as well.
7 foot junior Michael Cekovsky provides solid depth at center. He saw his minutes decline from his freshman year, due to the arrival of some impact newcomers, but it should come back up this season. He’s not as strong as Dodd but also provides some rim protection and good finishing ability inside.
6’9″ Ivan Bender hasn’t been able to earn a steady role to this point in the Terp rotation. He came in with a rep as a skilled 4 guy but hasn’t been able to show much thus far.
Maryland added two frontcourt players to their roster. The big addition is Duquense 4 man L.G. Gill. Gill is a 6’8″ 225lbs player who had a lot of interest once he decided to go the grad transfer route. Maryland beat out Cincy, Texas, Iowa State and Marquette among others. He averaged 10.1ppg and 6.5 rpg and has some ability to step away from the basket and do damage (34% from three, where he took a bit over half his shots from the floor). I don’t think he’s a star and he’s not likely to be the caliber of player Carter was, but he certainly mitigates some of that loss and should combine with Jackson to give Maryland very credible play at that position.
The Terps also added 6’7″ Micah Thomas, a guy with good athletic ability and shooting touch. He needs to increase his strength and improve the other elements of his offensive game beyond shooting to really make an impact. He’s probably not going to see heavy minutes this year.
BOTTOM LINE – While nowhere near last year’s team in terms of top line talent, Maryland still has a team good enough to compete in the upper end of the Big Ten race this year. To me, the biggest questions are how guys like Dodd, Nickens, Wiley, etc. respond to being in different roles, and what mindset Melo Trimble has. If Trimble’s head is straight, this team can be very good and could finish higher than I have them here. I have to be skeptical, though, seeing what I’ve seen from him in the past.