College Park, Maryland may be home to the most influential freshman class in the Big Ten Conference.
The No. 22 Terrapins (19-2, 7-1 Big Ten) are tied with Wisconsin (18-3, 7-1) atop the conference standings thanks in large part to a strong group of freshmen that has really started to find their roles.
The young Terrapins have a trio of freshman starters in Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson, who have become Maryland’s go-to scoring options behind junior All-American Melo Trimble.
Jackson, who entered the program with the most hype, had his biggest game of the season on Saturday. The 6-foot-7 forward put up a career-high 28 points and 10 rebounds to lead Maryland to a come-from-behind win over Minnesota.
Jackson and Huerter each made five 3-pointers against the Gophers, combining to shoot a blistering 10-of-12 from behind the arc. Huerter finished with 19 points and three assists in the win, while Cowan chipped in 8 points, five assists and two steals.
Saturday may have been the best game of the season for the Maryland freshmen, but the young Terrapins have been doing it for much of the year. Some of the production has been forced on the Maryland guys, who replaced one of the most talented crop of players in school history in Robert Carter Jr., Jake Layman, Diamond Stone and Rasheed Sulaimon.
However, head coach Mark Turgeon let the young guys come on relatively slowly, allowing Trimble to dominate the action early as the rest of the roster found their roles. As the season has progressed, the three freshmen began to show their worth and increase their roles. The group has also benefited from the amount of attention opposing defenses are paying to Trimble, who is averaging 3.4 assists per game.
Jackson is second on the team with 11.0 points per game, while adding a team-leading 6.0 blocks per game. The former four-star recruit from Canada is shooting 45.6 percent from the field, including 45.0 percent from behind the arc.
Cowan gives the Terrapins a viable option alongside Trimble. The 6-foot guard is filling the stat sheet with 10.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game. At 6-foot-7, the versatile Huerter is averaging 8.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game.
The trio — along with little-used freshman Travis Valmon — are combining to score 40.8 percent of Maryland’s points this season. Iowa, Michigan State and Penn State are the only Big Ten teams that get more production from freshmen, but none of those programs are playing as big of a role as Maryland in the Big Ten title race.
Led by Miles Bridges, the Spartans are getting 59.5 percent of their points from freshmen. Iowa has made a splash with a group of freshmen that is scoring 54.2 percent of the Hawkeyes’ points, however Tyler Cook, Cordell Pemsl and Jordan Bohannon haven’t been able to complement Peter Jok quite like the Maryland freshmen have with Trimble. Freshmen account for 48.0 percent of Penn State’s scoring, led by the trio of Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins.
The Michigan State freshmen got all the hype coming into the season. For the most part, the Spartan individuals have led up to their offseason hype, but it hasn’t translated to wins quite like it has for Maryland. Bridges, who is averaging 16.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, will likely by the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but the Spartans (13-9, 5-4) have work to do to make the NCAA Tournament, let alone compete at the top of the Big Ten.
Elsewhere around the conference, Carsen Edwards has helped add a different dimension to Purdue, Amir Coffey is contributing in Minnesota and D’Mitrik Trice has carved out a role in Wisconsin, but none of those teams are truly relying on their freshmen.
It’ll be interesting to see how much Maryland relies on their freshmen down the stretch of the Big Ten season, but either way the group has been the main reason that the Terrapins have outperformed expectations this season.