The second ranked team in the nation Maryland Terrapins (6-1) suffered their first loss of the season in a very exciting 89-81 game against the number nine ranked North Carolina Tar Heels on the road. The game was never out of reach for Maryland as they took multiple leads in the second half. But it is clear that Maryland will be a team that most likely finds themselves clicking later rather than early in the season.
I expected this season early on to be a learning curve as everyone is learning to play together and the fact that Maryland hasn't had this amount of high expectations since their 2002 national championship run plays a role that I think is a bit underrated. So this is new for head coach Mark Turgeon as well as the rest of the staff. Well, except for Juan Dixon of course.
But having said that, this team is not overrated. They are a work in progress with high potential. If they ever reach that potential remains to be seen, but Maryland is not overrated. The talent is certainly there and anyone who thinks they are overrated is basically insulting North Carolina as well considering they were the preseason number one to start the year. I don't know if there is any shame in losing to the Tar Heels but apparently a lot of people in social media think it is.
With that, let's take a look at what we learned.
What We Learned
1. Melo Trimble is the real deal.
Terps point guard Melo Trimble has the character traits to be a quality NBA player. He's probably going to leave for the NBA draft after this season and here is glimpse of the reason why:
Ankles https://t.co/jE5QVxnUrE— HoopMixtape (@HoopMixOnly) December 2, 2015
Now, he does need to cut down on the turnovers and his defense can be improved, but at the same time, I think those two things will work itself out in the long run. Trimble had 21 points and 12 assists slicing the Tar Heels defense at will especially during the beginning of the second half.
So far from what we have seen, as Trimble goes, Maryland goes. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but against top 10 opponents, Maryland is going to need more than Trimble to step up. Shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon and power forward Robert Carter Jr. are doing their parts but one player is missing from this equation which leads to the second thing we learned about Maryland.
2. Jake Layman needs to get himself going.
I'm a fan of Jake Layman and I think he's a talented player, but he needs to be more assertive and attack the basket more often. Layman has fallen in love with mid range and perimeter jumpers to start the season and has never really gotten into the flow of the offense all year long. Notably, Layman is shooting 28 percent from the three point line. Layman has the size to be a stretch four and he has looked a bit comfortable when he is posting up.
Layman is the x-factor for this team. Late in October I wrote that the small foward position would be key for Maryland. I felt like the position allows Maryland to be very diverse on offense and defense. Layman was big reason for that and he still is. But he needs to show up.
I thought that Maryland would be very dangerous this year because I thought Layman would be a consistent contributor to this team and right now he looks like a role player off the bench.
A lot of the close games Maryland has had this year wouldn't be close if Layman was playing close to the level of expectations. That doesn't mean that the close games were solely due to Layman, but it speaks more to his value to this team more than anything.
I think Layman will turn it around eventually. He's too good of a player not to.
3. Maryland probably misses Dion Wiley a lot.
There hasn't been a lot of talk about the Dion Wiley injury over the last week or so, but it's still something that is showing itself on the court for the Terps. This is something that will plague Maryland for the next few months and could cost them a few more games.
Wiley is the additional ball handler Maryland has been missing. Wiley's absence due to a torn meniscus has allowed opponents to double team Trimble along the perimeter which has caused Maryland to create more high ball screens. Sulaimon has helped Trimble control the point guard duties but Wiley would have made things a lot easier as Maryland could go with a three guard set on offense.
Wiley is also the best defender Maryland has in the backcourt. His absence has really trickled down to the entire offense and he is expected to be out for four months. He could return when the NCAA tournament begins.
Maryland is still one of the best teams in the country but this is a team that still needs time to grow and probably won't play it's best until later in the season. I still hold the belief that if this team can stay more disciplined on defense and cut down on the turnovers, they will be a problem for everyone.
The problems Maryland has had in certain stretches to start the year don't look like anything they can't fix. So that is the good news for this team. But they need Layman to show up. If he starts playing well, they are a legit top five team. Without Layman's production, Maryland is probably a top 10-top 15 team at best.