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Maryland 2016-17 Preview: the Backcourt

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NCAA Basketball: Jimmy V Classic-Maryland vs Connecticut Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In the weeks leading up to the 2016-’17 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing its preview series breaking down each Big Ten team. These will come in a set of series previewing the overall team, the team’s backcourt, wings, and big men, and the team’s schedule. Each post will take a look at its topic in-depth and give predictions on the upcoming season.

This post looks at Maryland’s guards, a unit that will be led by one of the most-talented, experienced guards in the country. His running mate from last season is one of the four Terrapins who have moved on to the professional ranks. If Maryland can get a couple of their juniors to blossom and play off their point guard, the Terrapins could remain a Top 25 program.

'BTPowerhouse Preview' - Maryland Guards:

2015-16 All-Big Ten Qualifiers: Melo Trimble, Second Team

Key Departures: Rasheed Sulaimon, Varun Ram

Key Additions: Dion Wiley, Kevin Huerter, Anthony Cowan

Top Player: Melo Trimble

For the third straight year, Trimble will be the head of the Maryland attack. However, Sulaimon became Maryland’s vocal leader last season, while providing accurate 3-point shooting and a hounding defensive attitude. While Trimble is expected to be one of the top players in the Big Ten, the success of Maryland will likely be determined by how the rest of the roster complements him. Juniors Jared Nickens and Jaylen Brantley will likely see an increase of minutes after being key contributors on last season’s Sweet 16 team, while redshirt sophomore Dion Wiley returns after sitting out last season with a knee injury.

Starting Rotation

Trimble is the lone starter returning from last season. The 6’3” junior point guard has shown he can do it all in his two years at the helm of Maryland.

Although, last season he didn’t quite live up to the expectations placed on him after averaging 16.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.3 steals per game as a freshman. He had a solid sophomore season – great season for most players – but left a little to be desired for Maryland fans who were expecting him to lead them to a national title. His scoring numbers didn’t plummet, as he averaged 14.8 points per game, but his shooting percentages took a significant hit.

Trimble’s at his best when he’s living at the free-throw line, where he is an 86.5-percent (365-for-422) shooter in his two years at College Park. Last year, he saw his free-throw attempts drop from 240 as a freshman to 182 as a sophomore. In contrast, Trimble fired up 36 more shots from behind the arc, seeing his 3-point percentages drop from 41.2 percent (61-for-148) in 2014-15 to 31.5 percent (58-for-184) in 2015-16.

This change in style can partially be explained by the loaded roster surrounding Trimble last season, with Sulaimon, Jake Layman, Robert Carter and Diamond Stone all requiring shots of their own. That quartet benefited from Trimble’s 4.9 assists per game.

It’ll be interesting to see how Trimble adjusts to being the focal point once again. It’s tough to determine how a player will fit with a specific lineup, but Trimble appears to be someone who likes to make plays with the ball in his hand – whether setting up himself or his teammates.

Trimble has the ability to be among the nation’s best players once again, although he might be a little more off the radar as the Terrapins likely won’t be in the national title picture again.

There will be experience – and talent – joining Trimble in the backcourt.

Nickens is likely the most ready to take on a lead role. The 6’7”, 205-pound swingman has appeared in all 71 games since he’s been at Maryland, starting nine games as a freshman before serving primarily as the sixth man last year after the arrival of Sulaimon.

Nickens averaged 5.4 points and 1.7 rebounds per game last season. He did most of his damage from the outside, shooting 36.7 percent (65-for-177) from the field, including 34.7 percent (52-for-150) from the 3-point line. A long athlete, Nickens will also likely match up defensively against the bigger guards in the conference.

With Trimble and Nickens entrenched in the backcourt, the Terrapins should be able to compete with anyone in the Big Ten at the top of the rotation.

Bench Rotation

The development of depth will likely determine how Maryland fares this season.

Mark Turgeon and the Terrapins should have a pair of guards vying for significant playing time in Brantley and Wiley.

Brantley appeared in 32 games last season, averaging 2.3 points per game on 47.4 percent (27-for-57) shooting, including 42.9 percent (12-for-28) from behind the arc.

The 5’11” Brantley got big-time experience in the NCAA Tournament, hitting a key free throw in the final seconds to help the Terrapins hold on to beat South Dakota State in the first round. Nickens was also big in that first-round win, hitting four 3-pointers and totaling 14 points.

The Terrapins will also welcome the return of Wiley, a sophomore who was forced to redshirt last season after suffering a meniscus tear in October. Wiley showed promise as a freshman, appearing in all 35 games – including two starts -- and averaging 4.1 points and 1.5 rebounds per game. If the 6’4”, 210-pound Wiley has made a full recovery, he should play a huge role in the Terrapins backcourt.

Eventually, Kevin Huerter should be able to help, it’s just a matter of if that happens this year. The 6’7”, 190-pound freshman enters as a four-star recruit and the 49th-ranked player in the ESPN 100 for 2016. Huerter, the Gatorade Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball award winner in New York last year, chose Maryland over a number of top-flight programs, including Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Notre Dame, Villanova and Virginia.

The Clifton Park native got a head start on college when he competed for the United States at the FIBA Americas Under-18 Championships in Chile this July. Huerter averaged 6.8 points per game for the gold medal-winning U.S. team.

Mark Turgeon and the Terrapins also have a promising future point guard in Anthony Cowan. The 6’0” Cowan was a four-star recruit coming out of Olney, Md., choosing the Terrapins over schools like Florida State, Penn State, West Virginia and Xavier.

Maryland should be able to get decent bench production from the guards, as Brantley and Wiley both bring experience and a different skill set to the floor. The development of this group and their ability to play together and fill roles will determine how impressive the backcourt becomes.

Overall

How will Trimble be as a leader? Who will surprise in their increased role? Will there be enough outside shooting? Those questions will all need to be answered if the Terrapins hope to compete at the top of the Big Ten again. Another thing that will be interesting to watch is how Maryland functions defensively. The Terrapins were at their scariest last year when they used their athleticism and versatility to get out and pressure opponents, forcing the action. With four three-year players likely to be at the top of the rotation in the backcourt, the Terrapins should be able to gel and develop into an imposing group once they grow comfortable in their roles.