The 2017-’18 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview' series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2017-’18 season with analysis on each program's previous season, offseason departures, new additions, strengths, weakness, top player, and top storylines. Each post will also include predictions on each team's starting lineup, season performance and commentary from a local "insider" who covers said team.
Since the most recent round of realignment, Maryland has been one of the brightest stories in college basketball. Perhaps no program saw a more drastic rebranding than the Terrapins. While the program was already trending in the right direction before it joined the Big Ten, Maryland suddenly became a national contender. After just one 20-win season in four years, Maryland has now reeled off four 20-win seasons in a row.
Although it’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly changed for the Terrapins, it seems like the program finally got some oxygen after spending years in the shadow of Duke, North Carolina, and others. Perhaps Maryland had been struck as a sapling in the ACC, fighting for its moment in the spotlight and finally got its opportunity in the Big Ten.
But if Maryland is a sapling finally getting oxygen, fans are now waiting for the full bloom. After three seasons with at least 24 wins, three NCAA Tournaments, and plenty of elite recruits and hype, Maryland hasn’t seen the massive breakthrough. The Terps have failed to win any league titles and went just 3-3 in the NCAA Tournament and 2-3 in the Big Ten Tournament during that run. Far from terrible, but far from elite too.
That three-year run will leave head coach Mark Turgeon and Terp fans in an interesting situation heading into this season. Maryland has operated like a top 25 program over the last three seasons, but needs some banners and/or postseason success to legitimize that progress. While fans have been (and remain) excited, there is a little angst for the first time in a few years. And that should make things interesting.
The good news is that Turgeon will have some serious talent to work with this season. Maryland may have played above its head with a group of young contributors last year, but the team now enters the fall with depth and talent across the lineup. Expectations will be raised and fans are hoping that Turgeon can finally get the postseason breakthrough that he’s clutched at over the last few seasons.
Let’s take a look at whether Maryland can do just that.
BTPowerhouse Season Preview Podcast
Along with reading BTPowerhouse's season preview post for the Maryland Terrapins, make sure to check out the site's podcast preview of the Terps, featuring BTPowerhouse Manager Thomas Beindit and Testudo Times’ Thomas Kendziora breaking down Maryland's roster, incoming recruits, schedule, and season outlook.
1. 2016-’17 Season Performance
- Record: 24-9 (12-6)
- KenPom Team Rating: #46
- RPI Rating: #34
- Postseason Appearance: NCAA Tournament (R64)
Maryland had a really interesting profile last season. The team won 24 games and had a plethora of quality wins by Selection Sunday. The Terps beat Georgetown, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State in non-conference play and Indiana, Michigan, and Michigan State in league play. There’s little debating it was an impressive overall resume.
However, despite that resume, Maryland never had the profile of a nationally elite team. The Terps were certainly good. After all, a team can’t go 12-6 in the Big Ten and be terrible. But it’s also hard to argue that a team that finished 46th on KenPom with a handful of major wins was elite. Notably, Maryland had more losses to teams outside the top 50 on KenPom than wins against top 25 competition.
So, what gives?
Why did Maryland’s resume and statistical profile diverse so much?
Breaking down advanced stats is never easy. However, there’s a pretty clear explanation as to why Maryland assembled such an impressive resume, but failed to translate that resume to its statistical profile. The team played an underwhelming schedule and narrowly skated through much of it. Instead of blowing out mediocre opponents, Maryland often found itself locked into tight contests.
To put this in perspective, consider that Maryland’s non-conference and conference schedules ranked 188th and 54th respectively. Nonetheless, Maryland won 16 games by 10 points or less. Those narrow victories included wins over Georgetown, Richmond, Saint Peter’s, and Towson. Four of Maryland’s first five Big Ten wins also came by 10 points or less. Maryland was winning, but usually in narrow fashion.
By this point in our analysis, there are likely a multitude of Terp fans screaming about “clutch” play, Melo Trimble, and how advanced stats are overrated. To a certain extent, those criticisms have merit. Wins and losses are, ultimately, what matters in college basketball. The rest doesn’t matter. Coaches are hired and fired based on whether they win games, not whether they produce impressive KenPom ratings.
However, advanced stats profiles are important for putting those wins into context. For example, look at Michigan State’s performance during the 2015-’16 season. Despite making the NCAA Tournament, Michigan State faltered in the first round and lost to Middle Tennessee State. That was a horrible finish, but when one considers that the Spartans also went 29-6 overall, won the Big Ten Tournament, and finished fifth nationally on KenPom, we can accept that Michigan State was actually a really good team that just played badly on one night. The inverse can also be true.
Maryland was a really solid team, but played above its head. While the Terps were probably better than 46th in the nation last season (Maryland’s KenPom rating), it’s hard to believe Maryland was a “24-win” team. This was a case where the Terps were just really good at taking care of manageable opponents and winning close games. Those are skills, but also reasons why Maryland went 2-5 against top 40 opponents to finish the season. Maryland lacked the extra gear that many of its marquee opponents had in March. Fans will hope that changes this season.
Individual statistical leaders were Anthony Cowan, Damonte Dodd, Justin Jackson, and Melo Trimble. Cowan led the team in assists and steals. Dodd led the team in blocks. Jackson led the team in rebounds. Trimble led the team in minutes, points, usage, and win shares.
2. Offseason Exits
Generally speaking, Maryland was a very young team last season. The Terrapins started three true freshmen and ranked 315th on KenPom’s experience metric. The roster was largely composed of underclassmen and the team relied upon that young talent to carry it through Big Ten play and the postseason. Much of that talent will be returning for Maryland next season.
But, even if the roster was young, Maryland still had some crucially important players that it is losing this offseason. Think of these old players as the dressing, fruit, and cheese in a salad. The salad is still functional without those items, but it looks entirely different. While each item may appear small, it’s crucially important.
The biggest departure this season will come from Trimble. There’s little debating that Trimble will go down as one of the greatest players in Maryland school history. His career statistics are mind boggling. I have included a few of his achievements below.
Melo Trimble Career Statistics:
- 104 games played
- 92 games with double-digit scoring
- 1,658 points (13th in Maryland history)
- 402 assists (12th in Maryland history)
- 125 steals (19th in Maryland history)
- 503 career free throws (2nd in Maryland history)
Of course, Trimble came up enormously for the Terps during last season. He averaged 16.8 points, 3.7 assists, and 3.6 rebounds per game, including double-digits in his final 22 games. Trimble also received KenPom MVP honors in eight separate games last season and accounted for 29.2 percent of the team’s offense in league play.
Even if you believe Maryland will have capable guards next season, it’s hard to imagine them replacing those numbers. This is especially true in the lane, where Trimble was dynamic at getting to the bucket and forcing fouls.
Along with Trimble, Maryland is also losing Damonte Dodd, LG Gill, and Micah Thomas from the frontcourt and Jaylen Brantley from the backcourt. The most significant loss of this bunch will be Dodd. He averaged 19.5 minutes per game and was the team’s primary option upfront, leading the roster in offensive rebounding and block rate. Dodd was not an elite player offensively, but he was a great screener, could move without the ball, and was a plus defender for the Terps. Don’t underestimate Dodd’s departure.
The remaining three players had mixed contributions for the Terps. Brantley played the most minutes, but his skillset was limited and he had been passed by a few underclassmen. Gill also operated in a similar role. While he got some respectable minutes off the bench, he was never close to being a star player. In fact, Gill was solidly locked behind Justin Jackson and Dodd for the vast majority of the season. Finally, Thomas saw no playing time during last season and, as such, will not be a major loss.
Overall, Maryland is losing its best player, another starter, and two depth options off a roster that played above its head last season. Maryland will also return plenty of talent, but that’s a lot to overcome. Simply put, regardless of your conceptions of what’s to come, analysis of the upcoming season has to start with what is leaving the roster.
3. New Additions
This season, the Terrapins will be adding two new recruits and one transfer. These recruits are Bruno Fernando and Darryl Morsell. Both are rated as four-star prospects by 247Sports. Morsell is listed as a combo guard and Fernando is listed as a center. The lone transfer is Sean Obi, who is a graduate transfer center from Duke.
There’s little debating that both Fernando and Morsell will arrive on campus with their fair share of hype. Both are rated as top 100 prospects and as top 10 players at their position. There will be depth on Maryland’s roster in front of both players, but their profiles indicate that they should be good enough to play early.
Morsell is the highest rated of the two and projects to see minutes behind Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter. His 6-foot-4 stature along with his ability to create scoring opportunities will permit him to see time anywhere in the backcourt. The only question will be whether he can beat out upperclassmen Dion Wiley for bench minutes. Early indications would imply that he can do just that this season.
However, Fernando will have a much easier path to playing time than Morsell. With the departures of Dodd and Gill, Maryland will have some serious questions about its frontcourt this season. There are some returners like Ivan Bender and Michal Cekovsky, but there is an opening for Bender to see serious minutes.
And Fernando could be prepared to seize that opportunity.
Despite flying under the radar as a recruit, Fernando’s profile has gradually been increasing this summer. He’s listed at 6-foot-10 and has the size to play upfront. He previously played for Angola’s U-16 team, where he got significant interest from American coaches. Fernando averaged 20.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game for IMG Academy and has put on 25 pounds over the last two years. Expect him to, at least, see some bench minutes.
The final addition for Maryland comes in the form of Duke transfer Sean Obi. I wrote about Obi extensively last spring soon after he committed to joining the Terps. Here’s some of what I wrote:
“Similar to Cekovsky, Obi has had an injury-filled collegiate career. Obi began battling knee problems with Duke during the 2015-’16 season. As a result, Obi played only a total of 27 minutes in 10 games that season. Then, Obi had knee surgery during the following offseason and proceeded to miss the entire 2016-’17 season before transferring to Maryland.
While health is a major red flag with Obi, the statistics imply that the 6-foot-9, 255-pound big man can do some major damage when healthy.
Obi’s freshman season at Rice was the only season during the center’s NCAA career that wasn’t affected by an injury. Though this was back in the 2013-’14 season, Obi was dominant.
The center led the Conference USA in rebounding for Rice with an average of 9.3 boards per game. Obi also averaged 11.3 points per game and collected 11 double-doubles as a freshman. Obi scored over 20 points on two separate occasions and was on the floor for 791 minutes for Rice.”
Realistically, Obi projects to play somewhere around 15 to 25 minutes a game. The biggest thing he will add to the roster is an experienced forward that can play at the four and the five spots. He will be able to slide around depending on how some of Maryland’s other pieces progress and/or if a player gets into foul trouble. However, Obi does not project to be a star player this season. Terp fans will have to hope he stays closer to 15 than 25 minutes.
With so many returners, Maryland will not be adding many players to its roster this offseason. But even if the class lacks in numbers, it is deep in quality. All three of these players should be in contention for minutes this season and will, hopefully, be the final push for a talented group.
4. Points of Optimism
As I have stated several times in this preview so far, it’s my opinion that Maryland played above its head last season. I will avoid needless repetition, but the primary reasons I believe that is because of the team’s underwhelming advanced stats profile and its mixed results against quality competition. The Terps had a good 2016-’17 season, but there’s also a reason why the team finished 39th in KenPom’s luck metric.
The good news, though, is that Maryland can improve enough to compensate for some regression to the mean. As a team gains depth, talent, and experience, it can begin to match its profile to its resume. Simply put, Maryland is looking to match its resume with the “eye test”. Instead of a seared steak, Maryland hopes that it can be cooked well throughout.
And P.S., I do realize that I misused that steak analogy, but I don’t care.
During last season, Maryland relied on three true freshman starters and finished 315th in KenPom’s experience metric. There’s little debating that losing players like Dodd and Trimble will hurt, but Maryland was a young team last season and the vast majority of the roster is set to return. It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that a roster filled with underclassmen will improve over an offseason. It’s one of the stronger constants in college sports.
The locus of that improvement starts with Cowan, Huerter, and Jackson. All three were freshmen last season and still managed to start 30 games and average at least 27 minutes per game. While none received All-Big Ten Freshman team honors, all were in serious contention and Turgeon felt strongly enough about their absence that he even voiced his displeasure at the time. Not exactly a regular occurrence for awards season.
Perhaps the biggest player to watch among these three will be Jackson. While Jackson played the fewest minutes among the three, he was dynamic when playing. Jackson improved over the course of the season and earned five KenPom MVP honors. He was particularly impressive in Maryland’s regular season finale, where he scored 15 points and had six rebounds in a win over Michigan State. If Maryland is going to hit its potential, it needs Jackson to evaluate his level from good freshman to Big Ten star.
On top of the three returning starters, Maryland also returns a great deal of depth and young talent. To start, Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens are proven bench pieces in the backcourt and on the wing, respectively. Additionally, Bender and Cekovsky are coming back with experience and Maryland is adding three more talented players this offseason. It’s also worth noting that Verbal Commits currently rates Maryland as having the third-most talented roster in the Big Ten heading into next season. Flawed metric or not, that’s an encouraging stat.
Maryland will certainly have some questions entering next season, but three returning starters, some proven bench contributors, and plenty of talent should work to alleviate those concerns. Turgeon has also shown that he can turn a roster full of talented pieces into a top 25 unit. Expect no differently this season.
5. Points of Concern
While Maryland was a young team last season that projects to take a step forward, there are still a few areas that could be trouble spots. Terp fans will have to keep these in mind before getting carried away with prognostications about the team’s goals.
Let’s start with the obvious. If Maryland played above its head last season, that means the Terps were not your typical 24-win team that went 12-6 in a pretty solid Big Ten. That doesn’t mean Maryland was a bad team. It just means that the Terps may be starting from a lower point than the general measures might indicate. And that’s an important distinction. After all, there’s a substantial difference between trying to improve from a top 30 level and improving from a top 50 level.
Whether fans want to admit it or not, Maryland’s advanced stats profile was not impressive last season. The Terps relied on a lot of close wins against underwhelming competition in putting together those 24 wins and the team’s 12-6 record in Big Ten play. For some perspective, simply consider that half of Maryland’s league wins came solely against Illinois, Ohio State, and Rutgers.
That’s not going to get people excited.
Moreover, while three starters return from last year’s Maryland team, one can’t overlook the two starters that are leaving. Dodd and Trimble were mainstays for the Terps over the last few years. Try to imagine where Maryland would have been last season without both (or even one) of those players. Would the Terps have even made last year’s NIT? Probably not and that doesn’t even account for LG Gill and Jaylen Brantley, who averaged 12.7 and 16.8 minutes last season and are both now gone.
Losing a few players doesn’t guarantee that a team will struggle, but Maryland is looking at replacing two starters and two of its better bench players. Oh, and there aren’t any clear frontrunners to replace those two, either. If Maryland wants to continue to play Jackson at the four, it’s going to need to find another starting guard. That will likely mean starting a true freshman in Morsell or a player that averaged 3.1 points per game in Nickens. Not encouraging.
And the frontcourt is an even bigger question. Maryland has plenty of depth, but no frontrunner to replace Dodd in the starting lineup. Obi is the most proven option, but his college career has been mixed, to say the least. Moreover, Bender and Cekovsky have yet to show enough consistency to feel great about those options and Fernando will be a true freshman this season. This spot will probably be “ok”, but Maryland needs more than “ok” if it’s going to move forward.
It’s also worth noting here that Maryland was an extremely weak defensive rebounding team last season. The Terps rated 300th in defensive rebounding rate and no Maryland players were among the top 20 in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding rate either. Perhaps this is an area where a frontcourt overhaul can pay dividends, but the loss of Dodd and Gill could raise some red flags in this regard as well.
Maryland has the talent and coaching to overcome these concerns. However, any one of these issues could hold the Terps back from once again finishing among the league’s best teams.
6. Top Player
Heading into last season, there wasn’t much debate as to Maryland’s best player. Here’s what I wrote in this section last fall:
“Trimble remains the easy pick this year. Unless he regresses even further from his freshman numbers, it’s hard to imagine anyone else passing him. If anything, Trimble will likely trend up after a sophomore slump and turn into a legitimate All-American candidate.
Outside of Trimble, the top candidates to challenge for the role of Maryland’s best player should be LG Gill, Jared Nickens, and Dion Wiley. None of the three look like serious All-Big Ten candidates, but could be in position for stellar years with moderate improvement. Gill was a proven option before he transferred to Maryland both Nickens and Wiley have shown promise, despite limited playing time.
The wildcards for Maryland in this category will be Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter, and Justin Jackson. Although all three players figure to be stars for Maryland down the road, each is still a true freshman this season. Perhaps one or two can surprise and lock down a starting spot, but this will likely be a growing year for these three. Although the talent is there, it will take some time for it to develop.”
But even if Trimble was the easy pick for the team’s best player last year, there is no easy pick now. The frontrunners are Cowan, Huerter, and Jackson, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how these three improve. Jackson probably has the most potential, but all three had very similar profiles last season. In fact, all three finished between 3.1 and 3.3 total win shares in 2016-’17. They were and remain different players, but their overall contributions were very close.
The key for separating these three will be seeing who expands their offensive role with Trimble gone. Jackson had the highest usage rate while on the floor, but his role should (largely) stay the same. However, Cowan and Huerter should get far more looks in the backcourt with Trimble moving on. Whoever gets to take some of those shots Trimble took last year figures to be the frontrunner for the team’s best player.
The darkhorses figure to be the team’s newcomers. Frankly, it would be pretty shocking if anybody ended up being the team’s best player other than the three listed above. They were great as freshmen and should be even better this season. However, if someone can push those three, it will be the two freshmen and Obi.
Fernando might have the most potential of the darkhorses to make a run considering his positional fit. Even if Morsell hits the ground running, he’s going to be stuck behind Cowan and Huerter. Moreover, Obi has already shown he has limitations in his prior stops. As such, Fernando appears to have the most upside in this category of the darkhorses.
All told, expect a tight race among Cowan, Huerter, and Jackson for status as the team’s best player.
7. 2017-’18 Schedule Breakdown
- 11/1 - Randolph Macon College (Ex.)
- 11/10 - vs Stony Brook (East Garden City, NY)
- 11/12 - Maryland Eastern Shore
- 11/15 - Butler
- 11/18 - Bucknell
- 11/20 - Jackson State
- 11/24 - St. Bonaventure (Destin, FL)
- 11/25 - New Mexico/TCU (Destin, FL)
- 11/27 - at Syracuse
- 12/1 - Purdue
- 12/3 - at Illinois
- 12/7 - Ohio
- 12/9 - Gardner-Webb
- 12/12 - Catholic University
- 12/21 - Fairleigh Dickinson
- 12/29 - UMBC
- 1/2 - Penn State
- 1/4 - at Michigan State
- 1/7 - Iowa
- 1/11 - at Ohio State
- 1/15 - at Michigan
- 1/18 - Minnesota
- 1/22 - at Indiana
- 1/28 - Michigan State
- 1/31 - at Purdue
- 2/4 - Wisconsin
- 2/7 - at Penn State
- 2/10 - Northwestern
- 2/13 - at Nebraska
- 2/17 - Rutgers
- 2/19 - at Northwestern
- 2/24 - Michigan
Perhaps no Big Ten team is set to have a more intriguing non-conference schedule than Maryland will have this season. The Terps should have a challenging schedule filled with mid-major landmines, a few intriguing neutral site matchups, and a huge road trip to face off against Syracuse. It’s a schedule built for a team that thinks it’s going to be in serious NCAA Tournament contention.
To put this schedule in perspective, take a look at how Maryland’s upcoming opponents ranked on KenPom during last season:
- 1-50: Butler (25); TCU (29)*
- 51-100: Syracuse (55); Bucknell (76); St. Bonaventure (91)
- 101-150: Ohio (105); New Mexico (119)*
- 151-200; Gardner-Webb (181)
- 201+: UMBC (201); Stony Brook (214); Fairleigh Dickinson (267); Maryland Eastern Shore (321); Jackson St. (329)
There’s little debating that schedule is a challenging one. Butler figures to be a tenacious opponent and Maryland still has a road trip to Syracuse and a matchup with either New Mexico or TCU as well. It’s not hard to imagine all three of those teams playing at a top 30 level this season. Maryland only played two teams (Oklahoma State and Kansas State) in non-con that finished in KenPom’s top 60 last season.
On top of the marquee games, Maryland will also face Bucknell, Ohio, and St. Bonaventure, who were all decent teams last season. In fact, all three teams won at least 20 games and Bucknell made the NCAA Tournament. Mid-major teams can, admittedly, be inconsistent, but none of those games look easy on paper.
And that doesn’t even include Jackson State, UMBC, and Stony Brook. Both Jackson State and UMBC won 20 games last season and Stony Brook is just one year removed from an NCAA Tournament appearance. Not bad for teams that are meant to fill out a schedule.
If the Terps can take care of business against the mid-major opponents, Maryland could very well end up finishing with a 13-2 or 14-1 record in conference play. Butler looks like the toughest challenge, but that game comes at home. And even if TCU is good, there’s a chance Maryland doesn’t even end up facing off against the Horned Frogs. Finally, Syracuse has been inconsistent, to say the least, lately. Maryland probably drops at least one of those three games, but should be in good shape to win one or two.
However, conference play will be an entirely different animal.
Whether fans want to admit it or not, Maryland got a very easy draw in league play last season. The Terps avoided double-plays against Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue, and Wisconsin. The Big Ten sent seven teams to last year’s NCAA Tournament and Minnesota was the only one that Maryland had to face in a double-play. That’s an incredibly fortuitous scheduling bounce.
But if Maryland got lucky last year, it’s gotten unlucky this year.
Maryland will get Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Purdue in double-plays and will also have to face revitalized Illinois and Indiana programs on the road and Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin at home. Even if you believe Maryland will be a great team this season, that’s a burdensome slate.
Think about it this way. It’s totally reasonable to think that Michigan, MSU, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, and Wisconsin could be better than Maryland this season. Heck, maybe even Iowa too. If a team is better than you, it’s going to be a challenging game, regardless of the location. That means Maryland could reasonably be looking at 10 or 11 games in the challenging category, just with an initial glance.
And on top of those games, Maryland also has five other road games. Admittedly, not all of those four games look challenging (stares at Nebraska and Rutgers), but anybody who has watched college basketball for any length of time knows that road games are never easy. Rutgers beat a Wisconsin team that made the Final Four a few years back, for Pete’s sake. If you add these games in, Maryland is looking at 15 or 16 challenging games on an 18-game slate. Maryland will be favored, but there will be few locks.
Even if that’s an overly skeptical view of the schedule, it should give fans an idea about what’s to come for Maryland this season. The Terps will likely end up somewhere around 12 to 14 conference wins, barring something surprising (one way or the other) from the rest of the league. The important things will be taking care of business at home and winning the manageable road games.
8. Projected Starting Lineup
- PG: Anthony Cowan (So.) - 95%
- SG: Darryl Morsell (Fr) - 55%
- SF: Kevin Huerter (So.) - 95%
- PF: Justin Jackson (So.) - 95%
- C: Sean Obi (Rs. Sr.) - 65%
(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)
Few teams will have the mix of proven and unproven players as Maryland will have this season. Three spots will be on locked down entering the season, but the other two spots should be open for competition. This probably shouldn’t be surprising given the roster turnover the Terps have seen over the last few years, but it’s still a bit bizarre to see a lineup with such a separation between high-level guys and question marks.
But, even if there are questions, there’s a lot to like about this lineup.
For Maryland, any success will start with the backcourt. At the point, Cowan returns after a stellar freshman season, starting every game and averaging 10.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. His overall three-point shooting (34.7 percent) and free-throw shooting (76.6 percent) were also impressive. Even if Cowan’s numbers dropped in Big Ten play, those are great numbers for a freshman. It’s also worth noting that he ranked 14th in assist rate among Big Ten players during conference play. That’s very encouraging for a point guard.
However, there will be some serious questions alongside Cowan. Even though Huerter is capable of playing at the two, Maryland’s best lineup will put Hueter at the three. And with Trimble off to the NBA, Maryland is going to have to find a new face to start in the backcourt to prevent a scenario where it needs to play a bigger lineup.
The two primary options here will be Morsell and Wiley. Unfortunately, both come with some questions. Morsell has the profile of a player that can contribute early, but he’s a true freshman. While Turgeon has shown he can get young players into positions to succeed, freshmen are still freshmen. Morsell has a high ceiling, but he’s young.
Additionally, Wiley comes with plenty of his own questions. He showed some sparks in the 2014-’15 season, but missed his sophomore season with injury and then returned to a more limited role last season. There’s no debating that Wiley had injury issues last season, but it’s hard to think a player is going to be a starter when he averaged just 1.8 minutes per game during the final 18 games of last season. Both players will get time, but Morsell does seem to project as the starter, assuming Maryland wants to go with a smaller lineup.
On the wing, Huerter and Jackson project to lock down two starting spots. It wouldn't be surprising to see these two shift to the two and three spots, but these two will start. Jackson had a bigger role in the offense last season, but both were very productive. Huerter averaged 9.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game and Jackson averaged 10.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Additionally, Huerter shot 39.4 percent from three and Jackson ranked among the top 25 players in the league in offensive and defensive rebounding rate and block rate.
The only question with Huerter and Jackson will be about how much they progress. Both (easily) could have received All-Big Ten Freshman team honors last season, but each still needs to take a step forward. The two need to transition from the “really good for a freshman” level to some level of All-Big Ten status. Otherwise, there’s no way Maryland is going to replace Trimble’s contributions.
Upfront, the battle for a starting role will likely be between two newcomers. Duke transfer Obi figures to start early given his experience, but Fernando should be able to push him. After all, while Obi showed some things for Rice during the 2013-’14 season, he has spent most of his time sidelined since then. Perhaps Obi can find a way to elevate his game, but Maryland fans will hope that Fernando can push for the job by season’s end.
Overall, Maryland should have an intriguing lineup with a great three-man group of Cowan, Huerter, and Jackson heading into this season. If the Terps can find an answer upfront and another starting guard, Maryland could field one of the better lineups in the Big Ten next season.
9. Team Perspective From Thomas Kendziora of Testudo Times
"Maryland basketball enters 2017-18 in an interesting spot. The Terps lost Melo Trimble and a handful of supporting players, but brought in two blue-chip freshmen with plenty of upside. Overall, though, they look similar to last season, which explains why expectations are similar to what they've been.
This team will go as far as its three sophomores take it. Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson put together strong freshman seasons, and all are expected to take a step forward. But who makes the biggest leap? Who becomes "the guy" in situations when Trimble used to always be the answer? That's the big question. If this trio takes a collective step forward, Maryland will be a team to watch out for in the Big Ten.”
10. Overall Season Outlook
Since joining the Big Ten, Maryland has arguably been one of the league’s most consistent programs. The Terps have won 24 games, at least 12 games in Big Ten play, and made the NCAA Tournament in all three seasons. It’s been quite the turnaround for a Maryland program that appeared to many to have gone stale.
Unfortunately, the key piece of those three seasons is now gone. After an incredible career with the Terps, Melo Trimble is moving on to the NBA. Mark Turgeon and his program will now have to face the challenging of moving on without the program’s centerpiece. It’s a task that few can overcome in just one season.
The good news is that Maryland has the pieces to overcome that departure. Not only do the Terps have three great players returning in Cowan, Huerter, and Jackson, but the team also has intriguing returners like Cekovsky and talented newcomers like Fernando and Morsell. There’s more than enough talent to get the job done.
Perhaps the biggest question will be what happens upfront for the Terps. The backcourt should have more than enough firepower and the wing group looks stellar. However, the frontcourt is a concern. Specifically, who starts at center?
Maryland’s season will likely come down to how it answers this question. Can Cekovsky finally step up and/or can a newcomer get the job done? Fernando has the talent, but he’s just a freshman. Moreover, while Obi joins after playing at Rice and Duke, his career numbers are relatively unimpressive. It’s unlikely he’s an immediate fix. This will be Turgeon’s major task coming into this season.
Either way, Maryland has the pieces to be a major contender this season. If all goes right, the Terps could very well win the Big Ten. However, if the young contributors fail to hit the ground running, Maryland could easily underperform. Nonetheless, the team will likely perform somewhere between that point and contend at the top of the league.