There was a moment last season when Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon thought the Terps were “never the same”.
Was it a struggle with now graduated Melo Trimble? Nope.
Was it a moment when he felt the three freshmen, Cowan, Huerter and Jackson hit a wall mid-season? Not that either.
The moment Turgeon felt the Terrapins lost a certain edge was with the injury of Michal Cekovsky against Wisconsin on February 19th.
Cekovsky broke his ankle in a showdown match up with the Badgers in Madison. Maryland entered the game battling it out with Wisconsin and Purdue for a surprise Big Ten title. After the injury, Maryland limped along to a 2-5 finish that ended with a first round upset loss to Xavier in the NCAA Tournament.
Now, was Cekovsky’s injury the sole reason Maryland struggled down the stretch last season? Of course not. However, it is telling that in the press conference after Maryland’s loss to Xavier, Turgeon mentioned an injury that nearly happened a month earlier.
What makes Cekovsky so valuable?
Efficiency and depth come to mind immediately. Cekovsky averaged just over 13 minutes a game last season and shot 67% from the field. In 8 of his 17 games, he shot over 80% including an 8-9 (88.9%) game against Howard last December. Cekovsky is offensively skilled around the basket and should his minutes go up, expect that 7.6 points per game average to rise this season.
The second reason is depth. Much of Maryland’s frontcourt is new and young this season. Cekovsky, a senior, will be a key and trusted piece Turgeon can turn to in difficult situations. After Cekovsky’s injury last season, Maryland’s frontcourt never quite looked the same. The Terps will need Cekovsky’s influence as they integrate new pieces like freshman Bruno Fernando and transfer senior Sean Obi into the rotation. Cekovsky giving efficient and quality minutes will open things up for the talented trio of Cowan, Huerter and Jackson.
Other than health, what could hold Cekovsky back? Rebounding remains a concern for the 7-foot-1 big man. Cekovsky averaged only 2.8 a game last season. His rebounding numbers in Big Ten play dipped to just 1.75 rebounds a game in eight appearances. Coach Turgeon is looking for frontcourt players that can rebound. The Terps struggled mightily at times rebounding last season, ranking no better than ninth in the Big Ten in rebounding offense, defense and margin. Turgeon even resorted to benching now departed star player Melo Trimble in a game against Wisconsin last season due to poor rebounding. With new pieces coming on in Maryland’s frontcourt this season, Cekovsky will need to show that he can rebound to see the floor.
The Maryland Terrapins will be a different team this season. With Trimble gone, a talented sophomore class steps to the forefront looking to continue Maryland’s success in the Big Ten. Even with all this talent, Maryland will also need senior leadership to help in the program’s transition. Cekovsky is the best candidate to give that to the Terps. Cekovsky has to stay healthy for it to happen. That remains an open question.