Conference: Big Ten (At-Large)
Record: 24-8 (12-7)
NCAA Tournament Seed: 6 (West)
How they got to the Big Dance
After losing four of its five starters from last year, Maryland was picked to finish 10th in the Big Ten and seen as a probable bubble team. The team has blown those expectations up.
The season got off to a nerve racking start: Maryland won its first seven games, but five were by two possessions or fewer, requiring late-game comebacks to secure the victories. A home loss to Pittsburgh in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge tempered expectations, but would be the team’s only non-conference defeat.
After blowing the doors off of Illinois 84-59, Maryland lost at home to Nebraska, forfeiting a 12-point lead in the game’s final five minutes. But the Terps responded, winning their next seven to solidify themselves among the Big Ten’s best.
A one-point loss to Purdue ended the winning streak and started a new slump. Maryland dropped five of seven, culminating in an 83-69 home beating courtesy of Iowa. Again, Maryland battled back, winning its next two and finishing the season tied for second in the conference, the third consecutive year it has finished in the Big Ten’s top two.
Why they’re a legitimate contender
Guard play is all the rage in college basketball, and boy does Maryland have an abundance of it. Of course, the Terps boast Melo Trimble, who has had more last-second heroics than a cheesy superhero film. But Maryland has more than just Trimble. Freshmen Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan have been in the starting lineup all year, and they’ve done it without looking like freshmen. Cowan can be the primary ball handler when in the game, allowing Trimble to come off of screens and open driving lanes. Huerter and Cowan are both tremendous defenders, often matching up against opposing team’s best backcourt weapons. Combined with Jared Nickens, Jaylen Brantley, Dion Wiley and Justin Jackson, a forward who can stretch to the perimeter, Maryland can stroke from deep. With so many potential scoring options, it can be impossible to shut them all down. Even when one player isn’t scoring, another can pop up and enter the fray.
Why they’re not a legitimate contender
Maryland’s frontcourt got much thinner when Michal Cekovsky fractured his left ankle against Wisconsin in February, keeping him on the sideline for the rest of the season. Now the Terps have to include Justin Jackson and L.G. Gill in the five-spot rotation, not a natural position for either player. With all the injuries to Maryland’s big men throughout the season, Jackson and Gill have gotten experience playing center, but it will be difficult to fully replace Cekovsky’s 7.6 points per game and 7-foot-1 shot-altering frame.
For as many sharpshooters as Maryland has, sometimes the team can rely too heavily on the three. If the ball isn’t moving or things aren’t going the team’s way, they have a tendency to settle for perimeter shots. Maryland’s rebounding isn’t good enough to make up for the misses, so the bad habits to lead to a lot of wasted possessions.
Player to watch: Guard Melo Trimble
Everyone in the country knows Trimble is Maryland’s guy, and yet he still does things like this:
Trimble is fifth in the Big Ten in scoring with 16.9 points per game, the highest mark of his illustrious collegiate career, and tied for tenth in assists with 3.7 per contest. His shooting from game to game can be inconsistent, but when he’s on, he’s unstoppable. On Feb. 15 at Northwestern, Trimble went for a career-high 32 points, draining shot after shot regardless of what the Wildcats did. Even in games when he’s cold, though, he can bite you in the end. He was 5-of-14 from the field and 1-of-5 from beyond the arc against Michigan State before pulling up and sending a dagger into the heart of the Spartans. When it’s winning time, you want Trimble on your side.