Feature photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.
Take a deep breath in. Hold it for three seconds. Now slowly exhale.
I know Maryland basketball can be stressful. We’re here to help.
After losing for the first time this season Tuesday night, Maryland finished its stretch of five games in nine days, taking a break until hosting Oklahoma State Saturday. It’s been an eventful start to the season to say the least, with the team coming from behind to win in the final stages of five of its seven wins.
It’s time to sit back, decompress and look back at what we learned from the first eight games.
Melo Trimble is back and better than ever.
Trimble broke out onto the scene as a freshman, dazzling fans with his drives, uncanny ability to get to the free-throw line and heart-melting smile. He was expected to have an even better sophomore campaign, but injuries and a new roster held him back. After choosing to stay for his junior season, he was tabbed the leader of this team. So far, he has been just that.
Trimble averages 20.1 points per contest, the third most in the Big Ten, and over eight free throws per game. He has scored 40 points in the final eight minutes of Maryland’s five comeback wins, including one overtime game.
Beyond points, Trimble has provided intangibles. His teammates look to him for leadership, and they’re getting it.
“He’s the leader. We definitely look up to him,” freshman guard Kevin Huerter said. “When he’s making plays, it picks up the whole team.”
Trimble knows his role.
“It’s my team,” Trimble said after the Towson game on Nov. 20. “Coach Turgeon calls a lot of plays for me down the stretch.”
When Robert Carter Jr. and Diamond Stone left Maryland to pursue professional basketball careers, it left a question mark in Maryland’s frontcourt. Junior center Michal Cekovsky has done his best to fill that hole.
The Slovakian forward missed the first four games of the year with a foot injury but has looked like Maryland’s best interior player since his debut.
As an underclassmen, Cekovsky held a defensive role.. He gave Turgeon minutes when Carter, Stone, Damonte Dodd and others needed rest.
Now, that’s changed. He has been asked to score more, and he has.
Cekovsky scores 10.3 points per game, a seven point improvement from his average last season. He also grabs nearly 5 rebounds per game, another significant increase from last year’s 1.9. In just four games, Cekovsky has scored 61 percent of the points he did in all of his 29 appearances last year.
The Three-Headed Freshman Monster
Freshmen guards Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan and forward Justin Jackson have become mainstays in the Terps’ starting lineup. Along with Trimble and Cekovsky, the three have looked like the best Maryland has to offer.
All three came to Maryland as highly-touted prospects, but that’s no guarantee of success at the next level. So far, though, it’s looking good.
Jackson is second in the team in scoring with 11.3 points per game and has emerged as an offensive alternative to Trimble. He shoots 51.7 percent from three, occasionally providing Maryland with momentum-changing triples. Jackson has come up big on the glass, one of the team’s weaknesses last year, leading the team with 6.6 rebounds per game.
Towson head coach Pat Skerry described Jackson as a matchup nightmare for his team.
“I was hoping [Jackson] was going to declare for the draft before the game,” Skerry said. “He’s a tough cover because he stretches you at the four spot.”
Huerter also crashes the boards well, contributing 5.8 rebounds per game. He’s also emerged as one of the team’s top defenders.
Huerter is second in the team in blocks (1.3 per game), in part because of how well he positions himself, and has become one of the team’s best perimeter defenders.
The most memorable of his frequent blocks seal a win over Georgetown in the closing seconds, which led Turgeon to joke that he recruited him as a shot blocker. Turgone might not have known how true it would be.
Cowan has also proven himself defensively, tying for the team lead in steals with 1.4 per game. Before the season started, Turgeon said he couldn’t imagine a faster player than Cowan in the Big Ten. His quick feet let him stay in front of ball handlers, allowing him to be a defensive pest.
He’s also been instrumental in running the offense, leading the team in assists with 3.8 per game despite splitting time at point guard with Trimble.
Turgeon and players said before the season that outside shooting would be one of this team’s strengths. The team has maintained that stance, but the numbers don’t back it up.
The Terps have taken the second-most 3-pointers in the Big Ten (197). But they’ve only made 30.5 percent of them, the second-worst in the conference.
Maryland took more threes (36) than 2s (25) despite making just 27.8 percent of its attempts in the team’s lone loss to Pittsburgh
Seven Terps have attempted a 3-pointer this season. Six of them are shooting 33.3 percent or worse. Four of them are shooting below 30 percent.
Not every team shoots well from deep, and that’s okay. You don’t have to knock down threes to win. But if they’re not going down, a high-volume of misses can waste possessions.
Missed 3-pointers often lead to long rebounds, too, which can get the opposition out on the break. This hurt the Terps against Pitt, who scored 12 crucial fast break points against Maryland.
Also, shooting is in the legs, and playing five games in nine days can drain you. It’s reasonable to think this problem can work itself out, but until it does, it might cost Maryland games.
Turnovers have been an issue for Maryland for a few years now, and this year has been no different.
Michigan State and Illinois are the only Big Ten teams to turn the ball over more than Maryland. Maryland kept its turnovers in single digits in only one game.
Maryland also isn’t getting enough assists to counteract the turnovers. The Terps are tied for last in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio.
For all the good Trimble does, taking care of the ball remains an issue. His 3.4 turnovers per game are tied for the most in the Big Ten of any player averaging more than 0.5 assists per game. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.7 also ranks toward the bottom of the conference.
It isn’t all Trimble, though. Cowan and Dodd both average more than 2 turnovers per game, and it takes an entire team to turn the ball over at the rate Maryland has.
Some of the turnover problems can be attributed to having several new players in the rotation, as well as fatigue. Turgeon knows this problem needs to be fixed.
After the Pittsburgh game, he said the turnovers are what will bother him the most. Whether or not the turnover issues will continue isn’t clear, but they will be addressed.
Trimble and Cekovsky have been excellent, but other returning players haven’t.
Sophomore guard Dion Wiley missed last season with a torn meniscus and came into this year with high expectations. But through seven games, Wiley is averaging 3.9 points per game and shooting 28.6 percent from the field. Growing pains are normal after a serious injury, but Maryland needs Wiley to turn it around before conference play.
Junior guard Jared Nickens shot well as a freshman, making 39 percent of his threes and finishing fourth in the team in scoring. Last year, though, he hit a slump in Big Ten play, and that seems to have carried over through the offseason. Nickens has shot 19.2 percent from distance and 14.3 percent from the field.
Other returning players, like senior center Damonte Dodd and junior guard Jaylen Brantley, have filled their roles and provided plenty of hustle, but the team needs more. Not having enough players who can step up puts a lot of weight on Trimble’s shoulders.
When everyone is healthy, there are 11 players who will see court time. This is a deep team in numbers. The problem is, the depth quality that truly makes a deep team has yet to be seen.
It’s November. In college basketball, non-conference play is glorified preseason. The selection committee notoriously overlooks the first two months and favors conference play. Many teams have put together much worse Novembers and still been fine by March.
There’s still so much time for this team to mature and improve. If you include sophomore forward Ivan Bender, who barely played last season, and Wiley, the Terps have six new players in the rotation from a year ago. It’ll be difficult to make decisive judgments about this team for a while.
What Terps fans have seen, though, is the best and worst this team has to offer. In the comeback efforts, Maryland has shown how high its ceiling stretches,. but the floor is shown during the scoring droughts and defensive lapses that get the team behind to begin with.
Still, the Terps are 7-1 and have proven to be a resilient bunch, and that can be one of the most valuable characteristics of any team.
Edited by Austin Kleber.