If someone was told two years ago that the Maryland Terrapins would possibly be the number one ranked team in either the AP or Coaches poll entering the 2015-2016 season, they would have thought it was a Key and Peele skit. Nonetheless, here we are and this isn't a dream.
The Terrapins have a very talented roster from top to bottom and no doubt have the best team on paper they have had since winning the national championship in 2002. As such, the recent developments with the team even have incoming recruits feeling an national championship vibe surrounding the team. But just because the Terrapins have a lot of talent, doesn't mean the team doesn't have significant questions to answer.
1.) Can The Terps Get Used To Being The Hunted Instead Of The Hunter?
The Terrapins finished with a 28-7 overall record last season, losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Nobody saw that kind of success coming for the Terrapins as they were even picked to finish 10th in the conference before the season. However, this year, they won't be sneaking up on anybody.
Sophomore point guard Melo Trimble is a favorite to win this year's Big Ten player of the year award, senior small forward Jake Layman is looking to raise his NBA draft stock anywhere from a mid first round draft pick to a lottery pick, and both freshman center Diamond Stone as well as junior power forward Robert Carter Jr. are looking to form one of the most lethal front courts in the country.
The excitement surrounding this team in Maryland has been contagious for Terrapins fans. The true test for the Terrapins will be in a non conference game early on in December against their old ACC rival North Carolina Tar Heels. If the Terrapins can go into North Carolina and and impose their will, it will be a statement heard around the entire country.
2.) What Makes The Terrapins Such A Threat To Win The National Championship?
Even though Trimble is arguably the best player in the Big Ten right now, the biggest x factor as to why the Terrapins are such as threat to win it all is because of their front court, starting with Stone and Carter. Both Stone and Carter are very skilled offensively with the threat of scoring from the perimeter to inside the paint.
Along with this, defensively, both players provide a lot of athleticism to mix and match with help defense in zone and man to man defenses, especially when forward/center Damonte Dodd - an excellent shot blocker last year- is factored into the equation. Dodd is a guy who can provide 4-6 points a game and give the team everything they need defensively. In many ways, Dodd is somewhat of an emotional leader for the Terrapins.
Forward/center Michal Cekovsky is another player in the front court who will have a lot to do with how far the Terrapins go this season. As a matter of fact, Cekovsky is a player that would really define the Terrapins peak value because a lot is really expected out of him this season. Last year, Cekovsky was a guy who showed flashes of talent early on in the 2014-15 season, especially against non conference opponents, but as the season went on, he struggled a bit and in certain situations, it didn't look like he was ready.
But against the Wisconsin Badgers in a nationally televised game, Cekovsky showed up big time against Frank Kaminsky. Cekovsky is a guy who is very skilled at alley-oops, but now, he is someone that is going to have to refine his game inside the paint offensively and know when to use his size at 7'0" and weighing 250 pounds.
The Terrapins don't want to see a significant drop off in offensive efficiency when Carter or Stone go to the bench and when Cekovsky enters the floor. The Terrapins know what they are going to get out of Dodd, but nobody can be completely sure what they can expect to get out of Cekovsky.
Cekovsky isn't expected to be as skilled as Stone or Carter, but it is expected for Cekovsky to show that he needs to be respected in the paint. In fact, there were many times last season when opposing defenses didn't even bother to check Cekovsky down low and instead opted to double team Trimble or Dez Wells. If Cekovsky can prevent this, it could really make Maryland a dynamic offensive team.
3.) How Versatile Can The Terrapins Be?
This will be the fun part watching this team, even for those who may not be Terrapin fans. Let's look at the core guys who will see important playing time this season:
- PG: Melo Trimble, Jaylen Brantley, and Rasheed Sulaimon
- SG: Rasheed Sulaimon, Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens
- SF: Jake Layman and Jared Nickens
- PF: Robert Carter Jr.,Diamond Stone, Damonte Dodd, Michal Cekovsky and Jake Layman
- C: Robert Carter Jr, Diamond Stone, Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky
The Terrapins have formed a team that Maryland fans have dreamed of for a very long time and one that will be giving plenty of opposing coaches nightmares all season. The only thing stopping the Terrapins is if they lose focus. It's hard to see that happening especially with the way they lost in the NCAA tournament last season.
No team is unbeatable, but the Terrapins might be the only team in the country this upcoming season that could stop themselves more than their opponents and that's scary to think about.