Sophomore Justin Jackson (21) controls the ball and breaks away from Randolph-Macon freshman Terry Woods (12). (Sarah Sopher/The Left Bench)

Emerging players, new additions make for a deeper Maryland basketball team this season

Melo Trimble isn’t walking through the doors of the Xfinity Center and suiting up for Maryland any time soon.

For three years, Trimble graced the Terps with a rare type of talent. He helped consistently put Maryland at the top — or close to it — of national and conference polls with his ability to score with ease and play both ends of the floor.

Now, life without Melo is upon College Park, but as the Terps prepare to officially begin their season against Stony Brook at East Garden, New York, head coach Mark Turgeon is confident in what his team has to offer in the 2017-18 season.

“I like my team, we are off to a good start in practice,” Turgeon said. “We are working extremely hard. We’ve been getting better. It is a fun team to coach and we are much more experienced than we were last year.”

Maryland finished the 2016-17 season 24-9, including a 12-6 record in the Big 10 — good enough for a second-place finish tied with Wisconsin. The Terps received a bid to the NCAA Tournament as a sixth seed, where they were eliminated by No. 11-seeded Xavier.

Last year, the Terps were ranked No. 25 in the AP preseason poll. This year, you won’t find Maryland on the list to start the season but the team seems to like the lower expectations.

“It’s not really any new territory for us,” said sophomore guard Kevin Huerter. “We know we’re capable of beating anyone that we step on the floor with. We’ll just let our playing do the talking.”

The team’s goals this year are simple: improve what they can and keep the season alive for just a bit longer this year.

“We would like to finish at the top, obviously,” Huerter said. “We thought we had too early of an exit last year [in the NCAA Tournament]. That’s definitely a team goal of ours. Make the NCAA Tournament and hopefully win a few more games.”

A young, but more experienced roster

There is a common belief that Maryland has a large amount of youth, and it does, but Turgeon doesn’t believe that has an effect on what the Terps can do this year.

“I’ve heard people say we have a young team,” he said. “I feel like we’re much more experienced than we were last year.”

That experience comes in the form of eight of Maryland’s top players returning. The freshman class includes guard Darryl Morsell and forward Bruno Fernando — newcomers that coaches and teammates alike are excited to see in action this year.

“He is such a hard worker and doesn’t take plays off,” said sophomore guard Anthony Cowan. “I have never seen a big man like him be so vocal. He has a lot of different things he can bring to our team.”

Fernando, who is recovering from an ankle injury, said being vocal helps him and his teammates get better.

“Being a big guy…in a basketball game requires you to talk,” he said. “You see things a lot better than other people do. Being vocal helps make my job and my teammates job much easier.”

Morsell will be the backup point guard this season. Despite playing the point sparingly in high school, he is already off to a good start. Morsell scored 14 points in Maryland’s exhibition game against Randolph-Macon.

“I’m a big guard, they didn’t have that last year,” the 6-foot-4-inch, 205-pound Morsell said. “I don’t think they had a guard like me who is versatile, as big as me. I can defend multiple positions, play multiple positions.”

Maryland’s two seniors — Jared Nickens and Michal Cekovsky — return to a squad that welcomes their experience and familiarity with the team. Nickens has appeared in 104 games in his career with the Terps — including all 33 last year — and has 10 starts.

Cekovsky — a 7-foot-1-inch player from Kosice, Slovakia — missed the final six games of the season after fracturing his left ankle in February. Turgeon said Cekovsky started moving at full speed about two weeks before practice started, and that’s a good sign for the Terps, who plan on using their post game more this season.

“He’s been hurt a lot,” Turgeon said. “He was hurt every day last year. But he’s heading in the right direction right now.”

Turgeon added that more post opportunities should give Cekovsky more confidence. That includes the opportunity for alley-oop plays, which Cekovsky said can hurt defenses.

“I love those plays,” he said. “Fans love those plays, everybody loves those plays. They’re easy baskets that destroy zones, so we’re definitely looking forward to that.”

Maryland also has another graduate transfer this year — center Sean Obi. Obi played at Duke for two seasons but his last full season was at Rice, where he averaged 11 points and 9 rebounds.

“Coach loves to play through his big guys,” Obi said. “He has a number of big guys he can trust this year. It’s very similar to Rice. It’s been fantastic so far.”

A larger role for the sophomores

If the Terps have any hopes of competing this year, they’re going to be led by their sophomore class.

Justin Jackson, Cowan and Huerter all played vital roles as freshmen, and Turgeon is going to ask more of them this season.

“We’re going to rely on them, but we relied on them quite a bit last year, too,” Turgeon said. “They’re much more prepared in practice and much more prepared in the summer with how they handled things.”

Confidence was a main focus for all three players this offseason. Two of the three — Jackson and Huerter — will be playing different positions. Fans can expect Jackson to play more at small forward, which Jackson said will help him put his teammates in more scoring opportunities.

“I’m a guy that likes to set my teammates up,” Jackson said. “Playing the three will help me with that since I’ll have the ball in my hands a bit more than last year. Just making the right decision and making great plays for my teammates. I’m trying to be more aggressive and trying to score with the ball.”

Huerter, who played forward last year, will be playing guard more often, which he says is more of his natural position.

“There might be smaller guys guarding me, so you can expect more post-up opportunities,” Huerter said. “Maybe I’ll be able to get my shot off a little easier.”

Cowan, who started all 33 games last season, has been focused on getting bigger and stronger in the offseason. The 6-foot guard averaged 10.3 points and 3.7 assists last season, and he finished eighth on Maryland’s freshmen single-season assist list with 123 assists.

Cowan said he is determined to be more of a leader this year.

“I am trying to be vocal as well as leading by action,” he said. “I’m working hard in practice and doing the extra stuff to show the guys I can be a leader.”

A quicker start to the conference schedule

The Big 10 conference schedule will start in early December this season, which is nearly a month earlier than last season. The Terps will play two Big 10 opponents — Purdue and Illinois — in order to give the players more of a break for Christmas.

The Big 10 Tournament, which started in early March last season, will start in late February.

“It’s going to be a grind for us this year,” Turgeon said.

As a result, players are adapting to a quicker transition.

“We have to get ready a lot quicker,” Huerter said. “Those teams are going to be ready for us, so we have to be ready for them. But we’re excited about it. Anytime you get to play good competition, you’re excited. Hopefully we’ll get a couple of good wins to start off.”