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Trimble, Backcourt Causes For Optimism At Maryland This Season

Coach Mark Turgeon has whiffed on all three chances to make the NCAA tournament, an event the Maryland Terrapins were once regulars. Melo Trimble and a revamped back court could take them back

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a hectic off-season for the Maryland basketball team.

Whether you see that as a good thing or bad ultimately depends on your point of view.

In the wake of a 17-15 season, another largely disappointing chapter in the three-year tenure of coach Mark Turgeon, five players - Seth Allen, Nick Faust, Roddy Peters, Charles Mitchell, Shaquille Cleare - transferred out, citing one reason or other, and the lineup resembles little of what it did by the end of 2014.

Given the Terps lack of success, this could be viewed as a positive; out with the old, in with the new, exciting talent Turgeon has recruited.

Or the mass exodus could be viewed as impending disaster, players losing faith in Turgeon and a once heralded program.

Only time will tell.

In the meantime, before the season tips off with Wagner on Nov. 14, here are five outlooks veering towards the sunny side for the Terps.

1. Melo Trimble

He has been on campus for less than four months, and the former Bishop O'Connell star is already being touted as the savior to a Maryland program that has been not necessarily in freefall, but not rising, either.

This has been due, mainly, to the lack of a point guard.

Terrell Stoglin was an excellent basketball player, but not necessarily a point guard, and his top backcourt mate was arguably Adrian Bowie.

After Stoglin left in 2012, Turgeon waffled between Seth Allen, Nick Faust, and even forward Dez Wells in spells at point guard.

Allen enjoyed the most success, though he didn't quite fit the mold of a traditional, pass-first, shoot-second point guard, and the backcourt troubles that have mired the program since the Greivis Vasquez era continued.

Trimble is expected to buck the trend.

On Nov. 3, the true freshman was pegged as a Bob Cousy Award nominee, an annual award doled out to the nation's top point guard.

Two days prior, he had roasted San Francisco State for 19 points in an exhibition, dropping in a quartet of threes in the process.

Varun Ram, a walk-on who served admirably last year though should see little time this year, told The Washington Post: "People always ask me, ‘What it's like to guard Melo? Does he live up to all the hype?'

"Every ounce of it, man. He's definitely the best player I've had to guard."

2. The backcourt not named Melo Trimble

Trimble is the focal point, yes, but so were Stoglin and Allen in their respective years as floor generals.

The difference? Trimble has a wealth of options surrounding him.

Allen's fellow starter at the two position was Nick Faust, a streaky shooter often criticized for a quick trigger and not so wise decision making.

Stoglin also had Faust, as well as the offensively inept Pe'Shon Howard - who transferred to USC - and defensive specialist Sean Mosley.

Which is to say: If Stoglin wasn't scoring, the backcourt generally wasn't providing much help on the offensive side of the ball.

Trimble, the former No. 1 recruit in the state of Virginia, is joined by fellow freshman Dion Wiley, the former No. 1 recruit in the state of Maryland out of state champion Potomac High, and will have options in rangy shooter Jake Layman and a ubiquitous scoring threat in Wells.

Evan Smotrycz is technically, on paper, a power forward, but he plays more like a two or a three and will provide another outside presence for Trimble to find.

Better yet, Trimble won't be required to play upwards of 30 minutes a game, as Allen and Stoglin were.

He has a more than capable backup in senior transfer Richaud Pack, who scored 15 in the San Francisco State exhibition and helped the Terps to 14 of 27 shooting from beyond the arc, an area that has been a glaring weakness since Vasquez and Eric Hayes left the program in 2010.

3. Michal Cekovsky

Alex Len was never fully appreciated in his time as a Terp. His numbers were rarely the gaudy type one might expect from a 7-foot NBA lottery prospect - he averaged 11.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game his senior year - but his presence significantly altered what opposing teams could do in the lane.

His absence was certainly felt last year, in a sort of "you don't know what you got ‘till it's gone" type of way, because without Len, it was evident how much he covered up for his frontcourt teammates.

Cekovsky is no Len, a point Turgeon has harped on since the 7-foot-1 Slovakian moved stateside, but adding a player of that size in the paint shouldn't go underappreciated again.

He arrives at a particularly crucial juncture, in the wake of big men Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell both clearing out to transfer.

And aside from Smotrycz, who is currently recovering from a broken bone in his foot, Cekovsky is essentially the only current option in the frontcourt.

4. Turgeon actually likes this team

Since making the move to the Terps from Texas A&M in the 2011-2012 season, Turgeon has sacrificed little candor when speaking about his team.

He's tough on them, unafraid to call a player out for poor play or dumb mistakes, which may have been a cause for the wave of transfers that marred this off-season.

That doesn't seem to be the case this year.

Granted, the Terps haven't yet played a game with any significance, unless you're one of those people who would count the San Francisco State exhibition game in that category.

But with how blunt Turgeon has been in the past, he comes off as genuine when he told reporters at Big 10 media day: "We're excited about the year, obviously. We've had a great spring, summer and fall. It's been really good for us and our guys have really improved. You're going to love covering this team because you all like to be around winners and I know you like being around good kids. This has been a low-maintenance team and a lot of fun to coach. You're going to have fun covering them just like I'm having a blast coaching them right now."

5. Athleticism

Between Dez Wells, Jake Layman, Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley, freshman Jared Nickens, and Michal Cekovsky, this may be the most athletic team Maryland has had since it won the national title in 2002.

Wells is a horse of a power forward, capable of challenging big men at the rim, knocking down mid-range jumpers, and guarding positions one through four.

Layman, though a bit aloof on the defensive end, is excellent on the break and arguably Maryland's best spot-up shooter from anywhere on the court.

Trimble, Wiley and Nickens are all fairly similar, bringing with them the ability to score from inside or outside, slash or pull up. And Cekovsky runs and shoots as well as most any big men in the Big 10 not named Frank Kaminsky.

There is nothing one-dimensional about this team. Whereas schools such as Villanova have been traditionally reliant on the three and Michigan State on a powerful frontcourt, Maryland has the ability to play fast, slow, inside or outside.

It'll be interesting to see how Turgeon uses the many versatile pieces he has at his disposal.