Melo Trimble could have departed College Park for good and left Maryland without a returning starter for the first time since freshman eligibility was restored in 1972-73. Instead, the point guard opted at the last minute to remain with the Terrapins for his junior season and provide a boost to a program coming off its first Sweet 16 trip since 2003.
“The best thing is I think he made the right decision at this time of his life,” coach Mark Turgeon says. “Really, that’s what it came down to. It was huge for our program. He’s a guy we’ve leaned on heavily the last two years. We’re going to rely on him even more next year, probably.”
It’ll take more than just Trimble, though, for Maryland to earn its third straight NCAA Tournament trip.
All Big Ten predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2016-17 Preview Magazine, available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Mark Turgeon
2015-16 RECORD (BIG TEN): 27–9 (12-6)
2015-16 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Kansas 79–63 in the Sweet 16
2016-17 PREDICTION: Sixth in the Big Ten
F Robert Carter Jr. (12.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg)
F Jake Layman (11.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
C Diamond Stone (12.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.6 bpg)
G Rasheed Sulaimon (11.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.5 apg)
The Terps relied primarily on Robert Carter Jr. and Diamond Stone in the post last year, and both turned pro with eligibility remaining. Their backups must now fill considerably larger roles, though both have multiple years in Turgeon’s system. Senior Damonte Dodd owns 45 career starts and ranks 16th in school history with 90 blocks. Junior Michal Cekovsky shot 53.6 percent from the field over the last two seasons.
“If they would’ve played, they would’ve been good players for us last year,” Turgeon says. “I think Ceko is ready to make that big step this year. I think we’ll be better defensively. Interior defense will be better because of those two.”
Sophomore Ivan Bender, a capable defender, also figures to contribute after dealing with NCAA eligibility issues and an ACL recovery the last two years.
Turgeon also landed graduate transfer L.G. Gill, who averaged 10.1 points and 6.5 rebounds at Duquesne last season. “I recruited L.G. Gill like he was Kevin Durant,” Turgeon says. “We had to have him. He’s going to be a really good piece.”
Trimble is the centerpiece of Maryland’s offense. But Turgeon is excited about his entire backcourt, which could be as deep as the guard rotation the Terps deployed two seasons ago. “It’s comparable to that,” Turgeon says. “We don’t have a Dez Wells, but I do think we’re going to have tremendous depth at the guard spot. It could be the best backcourt we’ve had, in time.”
Freshman Anthony Cowan is more of a pass-first point guard than Trimble, and Turgeon will get both players on the floor simultaneously at times. That allows Trimble to move off the ball more frequently than in his first two seasons. Maryland is also hopeful to get sophomore wing Dion Wiley back to full strength after he missed last season with a torn right meniscus.
Jared Nickens never established a rhythm as Trimble, Jake Layman and Rasheed Sulaimon handled most of Maryland’s perimeter minutes last year. Layman and Sulaimon have graduated, and the Terps need more from Nickens, who shot just 26.1 percent from 3-point range in league play last year.
“I think he looks at it as it’s his turn,” Turgeon says. “Not that he was waiting his turn, but Rasheed and Melo and Jake were good players. Jared’s had a really good spring and a really good summer, and so he’s expanding his game. More importantly, he looks comfortable. We’re counting on him big-time to do some things for us.”
Junior guard Jaylen Brantley, Trimble’s backup a year ago, also returns. Freshman Kevin Huerter is an exceptional shooter with a good feel for the game, while Turgeon sees newcomer Justin Jackson as a point forward type with the potential to develop an interior game.
Maryland waded into the graduate transfer pool and added Duquesne forward L.G. Gill. Anthony Cowan should earn time immediately. Wing Kevin Huerter played on the USA Basketball U-18 National Team this summer, and Canadian small forward Justin Jackson was a welcome spring signee. The Terps signed the athletic Micah Thomas and Joshua Tomaic to bolster their frontcourt.
Few saw Maryland’s breakout 28–7 season coming two years ago. In the spotlight from the start last season, the Terps went 27–9 and showed minimal improvement from November to March. There aren’t the same expectations now, but Turgeon is excited about this bunch’s potential and hopes Maryland is settling in as a consistent top-25 program once again.
“I think this is a team that week by week, month by month, we’re going to consistently get better,” Turgeon says. “We’ll plateau somewhere during the season for a week or two and just be the same, but for the most part this team is just going to get better and better.”