The 2016-’17 Maryland Terrapins were a tale of two teams. For a while, the Terrapins appeared to be the team to beat in the Big Ten. Mark Turgeon’s squad had only two losses heading into February and the thick of conference play.
Though Maryland suffered an upset to Nebraska early in Big Ten play, it seemed inevitable that the Terrapins were headed for a deep Big Ten Tournament run and a favorable seed in March Madness.
But, from there, things took a turn for Melo Trimble and company. After beginning the season 20-2 and collecting three win streaks of at least six games, the Terrapins lost five of their final nine regular season games.
While the postseason gave Maryland an opportunity to bounce back, the Terrapins squandered their opportunities. The Terrapins received two byes in the Big Ten Tournament, sending them all the way to the quarterfinals. However, Northwestern handled Maryland in the second half and won the quarterfinal matchup 72-64.
The NCAA Tournament provided a similar story. The sixth-seeded Terrapins’ trip didn’t last long. They were bounced by Xavier in the Round of 64 as a six seed.
Though Maryland was victimized to a late season collapse last season and lose leading scorer Melo Trimble, the Terrapins have an opportunity to do some damage in the Big Ten next season.
Turgeon’s squad returns the talented freshman trio of Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan, and Kevin Huerter. Plus, they are adding a pair of talented recruits, Darryl Morsel and Bruno Fernando, to help compensate for the loss of Trimble.
We witnessed the level Maryland is capable of playing at early in the 2016-’17 season. Most of the players that helped contribute to the hot start are back. It’s clear the Terrapins have a high ceiling for the 2017-’18 season. But, of course, there are some questions surrounding the team and it’s ability to avoid another disastrous stretch like it endured at the end of last season. Let’s take a look.
Three Questions for Maryland:
1. Will Maryland’s Rebounding Improve?
A major contributor to Maryland falling apart last season was its trouble cleaning up the glass.
In fact, the Terrapins were beat in the rebounding department in eight of their last 11 games last season. Maryland lost seven of those games, and they lost the seven by an average of a little over 10 points per game. Though it’s clear they were dominated during this stretch, a few more boards at crucial points of the game definitely could have changed some of those outcomes.
Take the 71-60 loss against Wisconsin on February 9 for example. Maryland, actually led by six at halftime, but were absolutely obliterated in the final 20 minutes in Madison.
A major contributor to this? The inability to rebound, especially offensively.
The Badgers outrebounded Maryland 44-27 in the game and collected 18 offensive rebounds, while the Terrapins only had five. Having a few more possessions with multiple shots could have resulted in a win for Maryland, as was the case in many of their defeats last season.
Overall, Maryland had only the 11th best rebounding offense and rebounding margin in the Big Ten last season. Rebounding was hands down one of the Terrapins’ biggest holes. However, Maryland definitely has a chance to improve upon this weak spot next season.
It’s worth noting that the loss of Damonte Dodd will potentially negatively impact Maryland’s rebounding a little next season. Dodd averaged 4.4 rebounds per game last season. Though that doesn’t sound like very much, it was the third best on the team.
However, beyond the loss of Dodd, Maryland should only improve at rebounding. Jackson and Huerter were the Terrapins’ leading rebounders during their freshman seasons. Jackson collected six per game, while Huerter collected a respectable 4.9 for the lengthy, 6’7 guard. After effective first seasons in many aspects, there won’t be anything stopping the duo from improving their rebounding numbers.
Also, the addition of Bruno Fernando should immediately help Maryland create more opportunities off the glass. Fernando is a four-star recruit that was well-sought out because of his size. Fernando is 6’10 and 235 pounds. There is a decent chance that Fernando will find his way into the starting lineup pretty frequently next season, even as a freshman.
This will be the case if Fernando establishes the ability to rebound effectively. Especially considering the size advantage this could create for the Terrapins. Forward Michal Cekovsky is a staggering 7’1. So, putting Fernando’s burly body in the lineup would give Maryland two starters who are around seven feet tall, something not many teams can do. Regardless of the fact that Cekovsky isn’t a particularly strong rebounder, having a size advantage is never a bad thing.
And even though Fernando missed a solid chunk of his senior season in high school due to a knee injury, he could immediately be involved solely because Dodd and L.G. Gill have departed. Of course, this is assuming he is healthy.
2. Will Darryl Morsell Make an Immediate Impact?
The previous segment states how fellow incoming freshman Bruno Fernando can make his presence known as a freshman.
While it’s clear Fernando may see a bulk of playing time due to his rebounding potential as well as the losses of Dodd and Gill, Morsell’s role is tougher to predict.
The four-star guard from Baltimore, Maryland received a number of D1 offers, from schools such as Villanova, Notre Dame, Dayton, and Virginia Tech, after an extremely successful Summer playing AAU ball after his junior year.
Though he brings talent to the Terrapins’ roster, Morsell is not a particularly great shooter. And unfortunately for Morsell, Maryland needs all the shooting help it can get. The Terrapins’ team field goal percentage of 44.9 last season was only eighth best in the Big Ten. Plus, Maryland is losing two of its four players who shot above the team average from last season: Dodd (58.1 percent) and Gill (45.1 percent). So, if Morsell doesn’t shoot very well in the early going next season, he may not be very involved as a freshman.
However, It’s not like Morsell isn’t bringing anything to the table for Maryland. Morsell can be described as a player with an exceptional basketball IQ. Also, his quick, effective passing and overwhelming perimeter defense should benefit Maryland eventually.
Keying in on these strengths and improving his shooting are what it will take for Morsell to have an impactful first collegiate season.
Besides the physical aspects to Morsell’s game, the chemistry he brings to College Park could lead to an effective first season as well. Morsell has already developed relationships with Fernando and Cowan.
Fernando helped recruit Morsell heavily before the guard committed to play for Maryland. The two also were on the same team for last year’s Capital Classic game. Cowan and Morsell have an even stronger relationship. The two have known each other since they were kids and were also teammates on the DC Assault AAU team.
The bottom line is that Morsell already knows how to play with some of the anticipated key contributors for the Terrapins this season. This definitely increases his chances at having an impactful freshman year. But, considering he scores the majority of his points similarly to how many of Maryland’s established guards do (getting into the lane), Morsell’s shooting skills will have to improve in order for him to make a difference next season.
3. Can Michal Cekovsky Finally Live up to His Potential?
Back in 2014, this Slovakian center was a hot commodity on the recruiting trail, mainly because of his size. The 7-foot, now 7-foot-1, European product held offers from a number of respected programs, including Arizona, UConn, Florida, Florida State, Louisville, and Oregon.
The hope was that his big body would create an unfair advantage down low and that Cekovsky would be a force to be reckoned with on the boards.
However, Cekovsky has never even come close to dominating the glass for a consistent period of time. In fact, last season was Cekovsky’s best in terms of rebounding, and he only averaged 2.8 per game. He averaged 2.5 as a freshman and 1.9 as a sophomore.
Injuries have been the biggest obstacle in Cekovsky’s way. He missed nearly half of the 2016-’17 season with various injuries. Cekovsky missed 10 of Maryland’s first 19 games last season due to a combination of ankle, hamstring, and foot injuries.
Even though he clearly wasn’t healthy, Cekovsky flashed potential in the nine of those games that he played in. Cekovsky scored in double figures in six of those contests and collected at least six rebounds in three. And it goes without saying that he would have played even better if he was healthy.
After scoring 10 points and grabbing two rebounds in only 18 minutes against Wisconsin later in the season, Cekovsky broke his left ankle. This ended the center’s season right as it seemed he was beginning to play effectively again.
There is no way of predicting whether or not Cekovsky will be plagued by injuries again during his last season in College Park. But, assuming he stays healthy, the question is if the center can finally play like he is supposed to.
As it will many other players on Maryland’s roster, the departures of Dodd and Gill will give Cekovsky a chance to contribute. After all, this leaves Cekovsky as the most proven returning non-guard on the Terrapins’ roster, besides Justin Jackson.
Cekovsky has proven that he can contribute when he is healthy. So, if he can stay healthy, Cekovsky should be able notch career highs in points and rebounds per game next season.
But, this doesn’t mean Cekovsky will be the board-hogging big man that Maryland once envisioned he’d be. Jackson should lead this team in rebounding. Fernando will cut into the amount of boards Cekovsky receives as well.
From a scoring standpoint, despite poor health, the center managed to score 10+ points in eight of the 16 games he accumulated stats in last season.
With Jackson and Fernando being major contributors on the glass, it’s safe to expect around four or five rebounds per game from Cekovsky. But, barring any injuries, Cekovsky should be able to eclipse 10 points per game during his final season, after contributing 7.6 last season.
It should be an interesting season for the Terps. If the team can find the answers to these three questions, it could mean there are big things to come.