Maryland moves forward after disappointing finish
Thursday marked the end of the 2016-17 basketball season for the Maryland Terrapins, as they fell in disappointing fashion to Xavier by the final score of 76-65. While turnovers, which had been an issue for much of the season weren’t a problem in the loss defensive rebounding was. The Musketeers rebounded nearly 35 percent of their missed shots, and when combined with Sean O’Mara’s first half performance and Trevon Bluiett getting going in the second half that spelled doom for Maryland.
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Also of issue for Maryland was their 7-for-27 night from beyond the arc, with Melo Trimble making just one of his nine attempts on the evening. Half of Maryland’s field goal attempts Thursday were three-pointers, and while that percentage isn’t extreme given their rate for the season as a whole (41.1%) it once again shows the impact that the lack of an interior scoring threat had on Mark Turgeon’s offense down the stretch of this season. With Damonte Dodd and L.G. Gill being the lone Terps who have exhausted their eligibility, there will be some important questions to address this spring.
Who’s coming back and who may be headed elsewhere? How will the newcomers help Maryland in 2017-18? What are the expectations for next season? And how will the 2016-17 season be viewed? Below are some thoughts on the Terps heading into the offseason.
1. How will this season be judged?
This is a more complicated question than some may want to admit. With Maryland jumping out to a 20-2 record, 8-1 in Big Ten play, it appeared as if the Terps were poised to exceed the preseason expectations and contend for — if not win— a Big Ten title. However, seven of those nine Big Ten games were against teams that would ultimately finish in the bottom half of the standings, with Michigan and Minnesota (both wins) being the exceptions. During the second half of conference play Maryland’s deficiencies rose to the surface, with turnovers and rebounding woes proving costly. Add in a freshman class that tailed off some in February — to be fair, they weren’t the only ones — and the season-ending injury suffered by Michal Cekovsky, and it isn’t all that difficult to figure out why Maryland’s season ended after just one game in the NCAA tournament.
Does that make the season a disappointment? I wouldn’t say that at all. This is still a team that won 24 games, and given the personnel lost after last season and the questions entering this campaign, it was a “bridge year” that has more positives than negatives. According to kenpom.com Maryland ranked 315th nationally in experience, with just two seniors (Dodd and grad student Gill) in the rotation. In freshmen Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson, Maryland has three underclassmen who have shown signs that they’re capable of being key figures for the program moving forward.
2. What will Melo Trimble do?
This is the big question for Maryland heading into the offseason. The NBA was a possibility for Trimble after his sophomore season, but he made the decision to return to College Park for his junior year. Trimble earned first team All-Big Ten honors and spent time both on and off the ball thanks to the arrival of Cowan, which helped relieved some of the pressure upon his shoulders offensively. However, Trimble is still projected as a late-second round option with regards to the NBA Draft, and given the league’s preference for “upside” being 22 years old can be seen as a detriment by some franchises.
That will have to be considered by Trimble and his family as they consider their options this spring. And truth be told, there are times when a player simply decides that getting paid to play anywhere is better than staying in college for another year. We’ll have to wait and see how this all plays out for Trimble, but at minimum given the rule changes regarding early entry deadlines (ten days after the completion of the NBA Draft Combine) and how many times a player can declare during their career (unlimited) it wouldn’t hurt to get informed feedback. But after going through the process last spring, what more can Trimble be told by NBA scouts and executives regarding his game and fit at the next level?
3. How will the rest of the roster shake out?
With Dodd and Gill moving on, and freshmen Darryl Morsell and Bruno Fernando joining the program, as it presently stands Maryland would be right at the 13 scholarship mark entering next season. But as we all know, a lot can change between now and the start of the fall semester.
How do redshirt sophomore Dion Wiley and junior Jared Nickens, who both averaged just over ten minutes per game this season, fit into Maryland’s plans moving forward? With the return of Cowan, Huerter, Jackson (who saw plenty of time as a stretch four) and Jaylen Brantley, Maryland will have four experienced players capable of playing minutes on the perimeter. Add in Morsell, and Trimble should he return for his senior season, and that makes six. There’s also 6-foot-7 wing Micah Thomas, who redshirted this season with designs of getting better prepared for the physical rigors of major college basketball.
Wiley’s struggled with injuries throughout his time in College Park, and while he’s been on the floor more Nickens has failed to consistently tap into the perimeter shooting ability that made him such a valuable prospect upon his arrival on campus. So where does that leave Wiley and Nickens with regards to next season? Possibly in a spot where their roles are diminished even more than they already were.
As for the interior, this is the area where Maryland will need to do some work. Not so much from a numbers standpoint should all available players return, with Fernando and redshirt Joshua Tomaic joining the ranks, but in finding consistency. Consistency in both rebounding and scoring, areas that were an issue for the Terps this season. Maryland doesn’t necessarily need Cekovsky or Ivan Bender to suddenly be the next Joe Smith or Lonny Baxter — that would be cool, though — but it would help the offense if there were a big capable of taking some pressure off of the guards by being able to consistently score in the paint.
The game has changed, with offenses predicated on spreading out opponents to create driving lanes are more prevalent. But that doesn’t mean there’s no need for an interior option who can consistently deliver double-digit scoring nights. Having that kind of player would make things a lot easier for Maryland’s perimeter scorers when it comes to creating looks for themselves and others.
4. What should the early expectations for next season be?
The answer depends upon two factors: what Trimble does, and how much Cowan, Huerter and Jackson develop this summer. While Trimble returning for his senior season would be a nice boost, the development of the soon-to-be sophomore trio is critical if Maryland is to make another NCAA tournament appearance. All displayed flashes of what they can be this season, and should Trimble not return they’ll be asked to do a lot more when it comes to production and developing cohesion/chemistry on the court. If Cowan, Huerter and Jackson are ready for the challenge, Trimble returning or not, Maryland should be an NCAA tournament team.