Maryland entered the 2016-17 season with as much uncertainty as any team in the Big Ten. However, through six conference games, the pieces have fit for a Maryland team that is 17-2 overall and tied atop the Big Ten standings at 5-1.
The key for the 25th-ranked Terrapins, who aren’t blowing anyone away with talent, has been getting everyone to play their role. And that starts at the top, where there is no question who the leader is. Melo Trimble is in his third year as Maryland’s starting point guard. The junior hasn’t lit the nation on fire, but he’s been named to the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 for the third straight season and is a likely first-team all-Big Ten honoree. Trimble is averaging 17.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the field.
Last season Trimble could disappear at times, just one of four all-Big Ten honorees amid a talented team that was expected to compete for a national title. However, the puzzle never really came together last year. The players didn’t seem to fully mesh as the Terrapins went 27-9 overall, including 12-6 in conference play. That 2015-16 team may run the current team off the court if they scrimmaged in College Park, but the current Terrapins have fit together for what they’ve needed to do thus far.
Maryland isn’t routing anyone, winning their last four games by single digits to keep pace with Wisconsin atop the conference standings. What allows them to pull these games out? Versatility. The Terrapins have someone who can do just about everything on the court, allowing head coach Mark Turgeon to put complementary pieces on the court.
Trimble is the leader and the scorer, running the offense with the ball in his hands when a play needs to be made. Unlike last year, there isn’t question as to who the go-to guy is, which can help Maryland hang on down the stretch in close games.
Trimble is somewhat unique in the conference. Much of the Big Ten Player of the Year discussion has gone to big men like Purdue’s Caleb Swannigan, Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ and Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes, but Trimble and Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig are the two guards most likely to carry a team down the stretch, when guard play and play-making is crucial. That was on display in Thursday’s 84-76 win over Iowa, as Trimble knocked down the game-tying and game-winning 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions with three minutes to play.
But all the ballhandling isn’t on Trimble. Anthony Cowan has come on strong as a solid point guard option. The 6-foot freshman is averaging 11.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.4 steals per game and has surpassed juniors Jared Nickens and Jaylen Brantley and sophomore Dion Wiley, who has dealt with injuries, in the rotation. The emergence of Cowan, combined with the veteran depth, gives the Terrapins plenty of options in the backcourt.
In the frontcourt, Damonte Dodd has returned from injuries to give the Terrapins exactly what they were expecting. The 6-foot-11 senior is the defensive stalwart and inside presence for Maryland, anchoring the middle for an otherwise undersized team that has been without 7-foot-1 Michal Cekovsky since the Big Ten schedule started.
Dodd is averaging 6.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game while shooting 57.7 percent from the field. He also provides experience, as one of just two seniors on the Maryland roster. Dodd’s experience is crucial, especially since Maryland’s other senior, forward L.G. Gill, is new to the program after becoming a graduate transfer from Duquesne.
With Trimble and Cowan in the backcourt and Dodd in the middle, the rest of the Terrapins don’t have such clear positions. The Terrapins have found success by having a group of players who can fill a number of roles. Freshmen Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson have come in and done whatever they have needed to, growing into their roles as the year has progressed.
Jackson is the third-leading scorer on the Terrapins, averaging 10.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.0 block per game. The 6-foot-7 forward, who entered the program with quite a bit of fanfare, is shooting 44.0 percent from the field, including 40.7 percent from the 3-point line. Jackson has scored in double figures in four of Maryland’s six Big Ten games, including a 12-point, nine-rebound, four-assist, six-steal, two-block performance in the win over Iowa. That ability to fill the stat sheet and play all over the floor frees up guys like Trimble to do what they do best.
While Jackson was expected to produce immediately, Huerter has been somewhat of a surprise and one of the main reasons the Terrapins are where they are. The 6-foot-7 Huerter is averaging 8.0 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game on the season and has shown the ability to be the go-to scorer at some point in his career. Huerter scored a career-high 26 points in Maryland’s loss to Nebraska, connecting on 7-of-11 3-pointers. With his size and 3-point shooting ability, Huerter can be a matchup problem.
Jackson, Huerter, Gill and Nickens all have the length and athleticism that have allowed them to fill a number of roles, handling the ball, stretching the defense, getting to the rim and defending a number of positions.
The 6-foot-9 Ivan Bender is more of a traditional big man, averaging 4.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per game for the Terrapins. The sophomore from Bosnia & Herzegovina is playing 15.0 minutes per game in Big Ten play, helping alleviate the loss of Cekovsky.
The Terrapins have filled their roles thus far, but it remains to be seen how far this will take them. The other primary contenders in the Big Ten, Purdue and Wisconsin, have more experience and big-time players on their roster. The margin for error is a bit smaller for the Terrapins, who will return to the court when they host Rutgers on Tuesday.