Maryland endured plenty of change entering last season: A massive roster overhaul coupled with entry into the Big Ten after more than six decades in the ACC. The Terrapins’ results changed, too. They won 28 games, finished a surprising second in a new league and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years.
With point guard Melo Trimble and wing Jake Layman remaining at Maryland, transfer Robert Carter Jr. eligible and touted freshman Diamond Stone in the fold, coach Mark Turgeon will field his most talented and versatile team since arriving in College Park.
“If we’re playing a smaller team, we can go small,” Turgeon says. “If we’re playing a bigger team, we can take advantage of matchups and go big. We have a lot of good pieces. We can go in a lot of different directions.”
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Maryland was forced to frequently play small last season. That won’t be necessary this winter. The 6'9" Carter, who averaged 11.4 points and 8.4 rebounds at Georgia Tech in 2013-14, dropped 18 pounds while in putting his transfer year to good use.
“We expect Robert to make a huge impact,” Turgeon says. “He has the complete game. He’s a low-post player who can shoot mid-range shots. He can shoot 3-pointers. He’s become a much better ball handler, and we’ve worked hard defensively with him.”
The Terps also return junior Damonte Dodd and sophomore Michal Cekovsky. Dodd, Maryland’s top rim protector last season, is up to 252 pounds. Meanwhile, the once-wiry Cekovsky is less likely to be pushed around after adding 25 pounds of muscle.
Stone’s addition was significant for Turgeon, who lured the Milwaukee native out of traditional Big Ten territory. But as hyped as Stone is, Maryland doesn’t need him to dominate as a freshman (though it wouldn’t complain if he did). “There’s a lot of pressure on Diamond because he’s so highly ranked,” Turgeon says. “We’re going to be able to take that off him because we have so many good players.”
No. 4 Maryland Facts & Figures
Last season: 28-7, 14-4 Big Ten
Postseason: Second round
Consecutive NCAAs: 1
Big Ten Projection: First
Postseason projection: Final Four
Trimble was an instant difference maker as a freshman, leading the Terps in scoring, assists, steals and 3-pointers made and demonstrating a knack for getting to the line. He quickly established his value and can grow it further with improvement at the defensive end.
“That’ll be a challenge, for him to do that,” Turgeon says. “His assists will go up. He’s got even more good players around him. I think offensively, he’ll still be Melo. He’ll make the plays, get to the foul line. I think he’ll become a more complete player than he was as a freshman.”
Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley mostly played reserve roles last season but could develop larger profiles as sophomores. Nickens’ shooting helped open the offense at times, while Turgeon says Wiley has matured and improved since the conclusion of his first season.
Then there’s Rasheed Sulaimon, who was dismissed from Duke’s program in January and watched his old teammates win a national championship. His second chance comes with the Blue Devils’ old ACC rival, where he will be immediately eligible as a graduate student, have one year of eligibility and help fill the void created by Dez Wells’ graduation.
“Even though he’s new, he’s doing a great job here in the summer developing relationships,” Turgeon says. “He has experience. He’s played at a high level. Defensively, Rasheed is a very good on-ball defender. Dez was a big-time defender. Rasheed gives us that to go with his offense.”
The Terps’ bolstered frontcourt gives the athletic Layman the chance to slide back to his natural wing position. The senior showed steady improvement throughout his first three seasons and already has surpassed the 1,000-point plateau for his career.
Key Losses: G Richaud Pack, F Evan Smotrycz, G/F Dez Wells
Top Players: G Melo Trimble, G Rasheed Sulaimon, F Jake Layman, F Robert Carter Jr., C Diamond Stone
The Terrapins scored a recruiting coup on late March when center Diamond Stone, a McDonald’s All-American, committed to the program. But the coveted big man isn’t Maryland’s only significant addition. Junior college transfer Jaylen Brantley could slide in as Melo Trimble’s backup at the point, and former Duke wing Rasheed Sulaimon will try to script a better ending to his career than his unceremonious departure from Durham last winter.
Maryland will begin the year as a top-10 team. The last time it started a season there, it won the 2002 national title.
These Terps aren’t prohibitive favorites nationally, and they don’t possess the same postseason experience as the 2002 champions did. But they nonetheless are creating considerable excitement about building on a breakout season.
“We have good pieces and good players,” Turgeon says. “The personalities fit. I think the pieces fit. Every indication in how they’re working in the spring and summer is showing me they want to be a great team. We’re on the right track right now.”