Like many towards the top of the Big Ten last season, Maryland had much to replace in 2016-17.
The Terrapins replaced four starters this season from a Sweet Sixteen squad that was ranked in the top 15 throughout the 2015-’16 season. Given all that the Terrapins had to replace this season, expectations were mixed. The Terrapins did get a huge boost when Melo Trimble returned for his junior season, but there were still many unknowns for a team that would start and rely on multiple freshmen starters.
Let’s take a look at some of the expectations for Maryland this season and how they measured up.
The preseason expectations for the Terps were all over the place. Among four experts at CBS, the Terrapins were anywhere from 2nd to 7th. Sports Illustrated listed the Terps as a projected 10-8 in conference with a 6th place finish. USA Today put the Terps in 6th as well.
Melo Trimble was a popular pick for first team All-Big Ten. The consensus was that he was a great player, but needed to improve on his past inconsistencies. Many were excited about the opportunity for Trimble to showcase his leadership abilities and for coach Turgeon to design an offense around his abilities.
Still, questions remained about Maryland’s success relying on Trimble and a bunch of underclassmen. The freshmen class was talented (ranked no. XX by Rivals), but rankings don’t always translate to the next level, especially during the first year.
As the season approached, the polls came out and Maryland was listed as no. 21 in the AP Poll and no. 25 in the USA Today Coaches poll. Perhaps a little higher than some expected, but it was time to see how these pieces would fit.
-Regular Season Play.
People looking for definitive answers during the start of the Terrapins’ season were probably left with more questions.
The Terps started the season at 7-1 with wins over Georgetown, Richmond and Kansas State. On the surface, it’s hard to complain about a 7-1 record. Still, the lone loss was a drubbing to a bad Pittsburgh team at home. Plus, the wins were not all that convincing either. Of Maryland’s seven wins, five of them were in single digits. This would continue to be a theme throughout Maryland’s season.
The analytics crowd was not convinced at the 7-1 start either. KenPom never held the Terps in high regard (Maryland ended the year ranked at no. 46 overall) and Sagarin had a similar sentiment (ranked no. 44).
Still, Maryland kept winning.
After the loss to Pitt, Maryland won another six in a row. At 13-1 overall and 1-0 in the conference, Maryland looked to be ahead of schedule and clamoring for some more respect. Trimble was putting up great numbers, hitting big shots in crunch time and the freshmen trio of Justin Jackson, Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan were firmly in the starting lineup and thriving.
Then Maryland lost at home to Nebraska.
The loss came on the heels of five straight wins by double-digits, but the home loss to the Cornhuskers was a head scratcher. The Terps led by 13 points with just over six minutes remaining. Nebraska went on a 16-1 run to finish the game and shocked the Terps, 67-65. Maryland was still 13-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten, but the loss definitely raised some questions regarding the team.
The Terps responded again to a tough loss by reeling off an impressive win streak.
Of course, that streak included seven straight wins. Conference victories over Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa were included. Four of those seven were on the road. Maryland now stood at 20-2 overall and 8-1 in the conference. They were again ranked in the top 25 and at least a share of the conference championship seemed in sight.
The Boilermakers came to town on February 4th in a huge matchup at the top of the Big Ten. If the Terps were able to knock off the Boilermakers, they would put Purdue three games back in the conference standings with seven games to play. The game was one of the best ones of the season.
Maryland led throughout most of the game, but Purdue snatched victory on two free throws from Carsen Edwards with under five seconds remaining. The loss stung, but Maryland knew coming out of that game that they could hang with the best of them.
However, a win streak following this loss didn’t materialize. A road loss to Penn State followed and it sent the Terrapins into a tailspin. Maryland finished the back half of the Big Ten slate 4-5 and limped into conference tournament play.
A major factor that must be mentioned in this slide was the injury of Michal Cekovsky. The big man was lost for the season on February 22nd in a loss to Minnesota. His loss hurt the Terrapins’ depth, defense and post-offense abilities. Maryland never really could account for his loss. They were just 2-4 the rest of the season after his injury.
Still, there was a sense that Maryland was entering the postseason with a bit of momentum after a huge game-winning three-pointer from Melo Trimble against Michigan State.
That win concluded the regular season and put the Terrapins at a respectable 24-7 (12-6) for the season. With the Big Ten Tournament in Washington D.C. and the Terps receiving a double-bye and a 3-seed, it appeared that the Terps were in line for a tournament run.
Those aspirations didn’t materialize.
The Terps dropped their quarterfinal game against the Northwestern Wildcats 72-64. Familiar struggles with leads reappeared. The Terps led 44-34 with just over 16 minutes to play, but could not close out the charging Wildcats. Northwestern took the lead for good with 11 minutes to play and beat the Terrapins.
Despite the early exit in the Big Ten Tournament, Maryland was placed as a no. 6 seed in the West region. Its first round opponent were the Xavier Musketeers.
The game again followed a similar script of Maryland falling off in the second half. The Terrapins led 46-40 with 16 minutes remaining in the second half, but Xavier outscored them 36-19 the rest of the way to win 76-65. It was a disappointing end to a disappointing final 10 games of the season.
Maryland remains a tough team to rate this season.
On one hand, there’s little debating that Maryland exceeded most preseason expectations. The team won 24 games and tied for second in the Big Ten standings, for Pete’s sake. They successfully integrated multiple freshmen into the program, so much so, that they are a formidable core that is capable just about anything in the Big Ten over the next three years.
Additionally, Trimble had an excellent season. The All-Big Ten player averaged 16.8 points per game and was clutch throughout many winning time moments in 2016-’17.
On the other hand, Maryland sputtered down the stretch and disappointed in postseason play. The injury to Cekovsky was a huge blow in the second half stretch, but it also looked like the freshmen might have hit a wall. The NCAA Tournament loss was particularly disappointing, given that Maryland was a 6-seed. Despite the game being basically a tossup in the eyes of Vegas, it would have been nice for
Still, overall I would rate the season as a success. Maryland didn’t really know what they were getting from such a young squad, and despite the injuries and inexperience, Maryland almost won 25 games. They flirted with a Big Ten title run, and the experience these underclassmen gained will benefit the program done the road.
I think a key goal for Maryland this year was winning and learning along the way. The Terps were able to do that, despite some disappointments. It is unclear what Trimble will do this off-season, but the program is in good hands regardless.