- Ky McKeon
Key Returners: Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter, Justin Jackson
Key Losses: Melo Trimble, Jaylen Brantley, Damonte Dodd
Key Newcomers: Bruno Fernando, Darryl Morsell, Sean Obi (Duke), Josh Tomaic (Redshirt)
Postseason Projection: 8-11 seed
Outlook: Mark Turgeon has put in work the last three seasons up in College Park. Over that period, his Terp squads have gone 79-25 overall and 38-16 in the Big Ten, which is good for the second highest conference winning percentage (to Wisconsin) and highest overall winning percentage amongst Big Ten schools during that time span:
Those three Maryland teams, led by the electric Melo Trimble, earned Tourney berths resulting in 4, 5, and 6 seeds, but advanced only once to the Sweet Sixteen. Despite the loss of Trimble, this year’s version of the Turtles promises to keep the hot regular season streak alive and flip the script on recent Tournament shortcomings.
The loss of Trimble shouldn’t be understated. Maryland scored 13 more points per 100 possessions (PPP) with Trimble on the floor last season (per Hoop Lens), a significant margin and the reason Melo played nearly 33 minutes per game. However, Trimble wasn’t a great defender, particularly in pick-n-roll situations, and that weakness flowed to the whole squad. Last year’s version of the Terps was Turgeon’s worst defensive team since 2012 and ranked 7th overall in the Big Ten. Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter, the two main benefactors from Trimble’s departure, are significantly better defenders and freshman Darryl Morsell looks to be a potential defensive wing stopper.
Cowan and Huerter will be the primary contributors in the backcourt this season and represent the best breakout potential on the squad along with their sophomore cohort, Justin Jackson (discussed below). Cowan will take over full-time ball handling duties, an area he performed well in during his tutelage under Trimble. The 6’0” guard is a decent outside shooter, but he really excels at driving the ball to the cup and getting out in transition. Last season Cowan ranked 20th nationally (4th in the Big Ten) in free throw rate and led the Terps in transition opportunities. Huerter’s offensive game is quite the opposite from Cowan’s. He is first and foremost a spot-up shooter, attempting 169 threes last season (to only 85 twos), and of his 64 made three-pointers (37.9%), 95% were assisted suggesting Huerter has room for growth in the creation part of his game. Maryland will hope Huerter’s time with the USA U19 squad this offseason pays dividends in rounding out his game, as the Terps will certainly need another playmaker on the floor.
If you’re looking for a reason to tune into Maryland games this season, look no further than returning sophomore forward Justin Jackson. There’s literally nothing on the floor Jackson cannot do – he shoots, drives, rebounds, and defends at a high level. His value as a shooter (44.1% from three) is especially key for the Terps’ offense, as Turgeon usually applies a 4-out / 1-in style in which floor spacing is paramount. Jackson’s ability to match up with 4’s on the defensive end allows Maryland to enjoy an advantage on offense where everyone outside of their center is a threat to pull from distance. Defensively (along with Cowan), Jackson is Maryland’s most crucial piece. The Terps allowed .07 less PPP with Jackson on the floor, and that number expanded to .09 PPP when both Cowan and Jackson played last season. Like a lot of freshmen, Jackson had a tendency to force tough shots in the middle of the arc last year, and occasionally would go “invisible” on offense; against Northwestern last season, Jackson scored just 2 points and used only 8% of Maryland’s possessions in 31 minutes. However, he should improve on both aspects this season as he becomes a more focal point of the offense. Last year’s per game numbers don’t do this guy justice – he is going to be awesome and will likely bolt for the NBA at the end of this season.
Turgeon has himself a deep bench this season, perhaps even deeper than last year when he was capable of going nine or ten down the pine. Michal Cekovsky likely starts at center while Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley will fight for backcourt starting spots and Ivan Bender will bolster the frontcourt off the bench. Cekovsky has never really played big minutes in his career with the recent frontcourt talent Maryland has had pass through, but Turgeon will be counting on him to produce in 2017-18. Before going down with an injury, Cekovsky scored in double figures in six out of nine contests at the beginning of the year.
Nickens and Wiley both saw their minutes reduced considerably in 2016-17 from prior years, mostly due to inefficient play. Nickens’ value is as a spot-up shooter, but his percentages have dropped off since his impressive freshman campaign – he was also an enormous liability on the defensive end last season. Wiley was poor on offense last year as well, but he offers a lot on the defensive side of the ball.
The Terps have some exciting newcomers eligible this season to give the incumbents playing time competition. Redshirt freshman Josh Tomaic and 4-Star recruit Darryl Morsell likely compete for the final starting position (depending on how Turgeon wants to roll out the size), while another 4-Star, Bruno Fernando, joins the fold as well. Then there’s former Rice / Duke forward Sean Obi, who, I’ll be honest, is a total enigma to me.
I touched on Morsell briefly above – he’s basically a super athletic wing that should be able to guard at a high level right away. Tomaic represents yet another major breakout candidate for the Terps. He joined Huerter on the USA U19 squad, where he played well in the minutes he received off the bench; his 7’1” wingspan makes him a potential NBA prospect down the road. Fernando is a superb shot blocker, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get the redshirt tag given his rawness and the depth Maryland has this year – next season should be a coming out party for him. Obi averaged 11.4ppg and 9.3rpg for Rice back in 2013-14, but he’s literally done nothing since then – Coach K barely played him at Duke.
Bottom Line: I’m very surprised Maryland isn’t getting more love from the preseason polls (even our publication seems low on the Terps). Yes, Trimble is gone, but this is a deep squad loaded with talent. Justin Jackson could become a household name this season as Turgeon’s squad competes for their first ever Big Ten regular season championship.