Last season was supposed to be the crowning moment in Maryland basketball’s return to the national spotlight. After all, it was loaded with future NBA talent and raced out to a 15-1 start. The key word is supposed to.
Instead, that 15-1 start to the season ended without Maryland making much of a true wave. It failed to win a Big Ten championship of any kind and was bounced in the Sweet 16 by Kansas. No doubt that finish left a lot of bad tastes in the mouths of those who are back for another go in 2016-17.
With Melo Trimble making the decision to stay in school over try the NBA route, the Terps have plenty of hope left that it can be a Big Ten force once again this season.
Can that hope be equalled by production and trophies in the case? Let’s explore the 2016-17 version of the Maryland Terrapins men’s basketball program.
Burning Question: Who Is This Team?
As we’ve said, Melo Trimble is back. His return gives this program a mighty boost. But, there are also four other players that have to fill out the starting roster..none of which are returning starters from last season.
That means this is a team full of a lot of questions, but chief amongst them is how they are going to find leadership and an identity when so much has gone. One can’t underestimate the help that was Rasheed Sulimon and his leadership along with his clutch play at times. Diamond Stone’s ability down low and the ability to play inside-out basketball was the identity of the Terps team last season.
What is this version of the Maryland basketball program’s identity? It’s the most glaring question and one that likely won’t be answered until the Big Ten season gets going thanks to that soft schedule we talked about above.
Most likely, the identity of this team is going to be one of immense talent but wholly inconsistent thanks to the youth that will be present. A five play recruiting class comes to College Park, with three 4-star players (Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter, Justin Jackson) leading the group.
Their ability to grow and find their own identity is what will likely drive this team to success some don’t see coming or heartache once again. Either way, there may not be a more interesting team to watch this season than Maryland.
Biggest Strength: Melo Trimble
Simply put, this team is going to go as far as Trimble can take them. It is his chance to shine bright on a team that is filled with players few outside of the program have really heard of. That’s not to say they aren’t talented and potential stars, but few have the experience and the game that Trimble has.
He has shown the ability to take over games in the past and that will be needed more this season than ever before. So will his off-court leadership, of which he never has been tested on as much as he will be this season.
Maryland had the talent to be an exceptional team last season and it all fell apart. How does Trimble get this team over the finish line in his final season in College Park?
Biggest Weakness: Frontcourt
This should be an obvious weakness, as the team lost both Robert Carter and Diamond Stone, not to mention senior Jake Layman who was crucial to this team off the bench last season and likely would’ve been a starter for any other team in the conference last season.
How do you replace all that scoring (34.6 points per game), rebounding (17.6 rebounds per game) and talent when they also combined to play an average of 67 percent of the available minutes a game last season?
It likely means relying on names like Damonte Dodd and graduate transfer L.G. Gill are going to have to be the guys leading the way. Gill has experience, transferring in as a graduate from Duquesne, but can he step up in the rough game that is Big Ten post play?
*2015 stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com
G: Anthony Cowan, Fr. — n/a
G: Melo Trimble, Jr. — 14.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.9 apg, 41% FG
F: Jared Nickens, Jr. — 5.4 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 0.5 apg, 36.7% FG
F: LG Gill — 10.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.0 apg, 43.9% FG *at Duquesne
C: Damonte Dodd — 2.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 0.3 apg, 63.1% FG
This is likely to be the group that Maryland goes with to start the season. It also is likely to be a lineup in flux as the coaching staff tries to figure out a starting five and rotation that works best to get this team to be competitive at the highest level possible.
Don’t be surprised to see Kevin Heurter and Justin Jackson get cracks at starting at some point in time if things aren’t going well.
This is a team with a senior leader, but a lot of moving parts. It also is a team that has continued to recruit well and that means a lot of talent is coming and going from this program on a nearly annual basis. Can Trimble be the glue that gets this team to play together in 2016-17?
One look at the Terps schedule this season tells us that Turgeon and Co. put together. There a few challenging matchups to point to in the non-conference season. Only games against Georgetown, Pittsburgh and Oklahoma State really will challenge this team (unless something really strange happens).
Will the easier slate allow this team to grow enough confidence to match its talent at the same time? At the end of the day, this team is going to likely struggle to be a top contender in the Big Ten. Look for this team to contend for the NCAA tournament, but don’t expect them to be a player in the regular season B1G title race.