Two days thinking about why Maryland football is not going to be all too good this year is enough for one week. What's better than the football team? The basketball team. I didn't quite get around to a Maryland postmortem after the disappointing loss to Kansas in the Sweet 16 so its time to make up for it with a too early preview for the upcoming season!
Who needs to be replaced?
Maryland has lost four starters from last year's Sweet 16 team, two to graduation and two to the draft. Well, Robert Carter Jr falls in both categories so I threw him in the latter. Maryland must replace Rasheed Sulaimon, Jake Layman, Robert Carter Jr, and Diamond Stone from last year's starting lineup, or essentially replacing the 2-5 while returning Melo Trimble at the PG position. That's not exactly ideal but there is reason to believe that they won't fall too far off while replacing that production.
Who is returning?
PG - Melo Trimble, Jalen Brantley
SG - Dion Wiley
SF - Jared Nickens
PF - Ivan Bender
C - Michael Cekovsky, Damonte Dodd
Maryland is good at PG with Trimble returning as the locked in starter while Brantley started coming on later last season to provide some rest for Trimble. He showed flashes but in the end proved that he at least wasn't a detriment on the floor while Trimble took a breather and that's about the minimum you can ask for. Dion Wiley returns after tearing his miniscus last year just before the season started and Maryland fans hope that he comes back to form as he had the starting SG position locked down over senior transfer Rasheed Sulaimon prior to his injury. Jared Nickens also returns on the wing, a tall wing player who showed promise his freshman season as a deadly three point shooter but hardcore regressed back to the mean last season as he struggled to find his shot. That's pretty thin for returners on the wing but luckily there is a major infusion of talent coming.
The front court loses the most production as last year's starters going into Big Ten play have both left for the draft. Maryland played big a lot last year, partly out of necessity when Wiley was lost for the season but nevertheless it provided for solid minutes for Damonte Dodd as he started the season as the starter at C before giving way to Diamond Stone but still logging significant minutes in games. Cekovsky has been a work in progress since arriving from central Europe, needing to put on weight and gain strength while also adjusting to the American style of basketball. He provides a tall body with his 7'1 frame and continues to improve year to year. Ivan Bender, the brother of Dragon Bender who is expected to go in the Top 10 in the upcoming NBA draft, played garbage minutes in blowout wins last season but has been stuck between not quite good enough to crack the rotation but also much better than the other players on the court in garbage time. Depending on foul situations, he could see his playing time increase depending on his improvement in the offseason.
Who is coming in?
PG - Anthony Cowan, 6-0 170lb 4* PG from St. John's HS in Washington, D.C.
SG - Kevin Huerter, 6-7 170lb 4* SG from Clifton Park, NY
SF - Justin Jackson, 6-7 195lb 4* SF from Henderson, NV (originally from Canada)
SF - Micah Thomas, 6-7 185lb 3* SF from Huntington, WV
PF - Joshua Tomaic, 6-9 210lb PF from the Canary Islands (unrated)
PF - L.G. Gill - 6-7 210lb Senior transfer from Duquesne
A ton of backcourt help coming in. A ton. Anthony Cowan is a tested PG from the WCAC who should be able to provide valuable minutes at both the 1 and 2 as he is expected to allow Melo to step off the ball at times and play more of a SG role. Kevin Huerter is also a combo guard but expected to play more on the wing than swapping in at the point. Don't let his height mislead you though as he was originally recruited as a PG but hit an unexpected growth spurt his senior year and is now seen more as a wing player. For what upstate NY competition is worth, he so completely dominated while in high school they named the court after him. I would expect him to play close to 15mpg and play closer to how Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens were employed their freshman year coming off the bench as a three point threat.
Justin Jackson and Micah Thomas both come in at the SF position but both are not true wing players. Jackson is more of a combo forward while Thomas is more of a true wing player. Both are expected to compete for major minutes with Jared Nickens who is coming off of a sophomore slump of a season where he struggled to find the shot that grabbed major minutes for him the year prior. Nickens also struggles with handling the ball and is still more of a spot shooter so one of the freshman could definitely wrestle the position away from him. My guess is that there will be ample minutes to go around, but more on that in a minute.
Joshua Tomaic is the unknown of the class, an unexpected commitment from overseas where Mark Turgeon has been successful in recruiting players who contribute solid minutes. He is a stretch 4 who has played at CBA in the Canary Islands, a school who has sent their fare share of prospects to the NCAA. He is a project who plays a similar game as Justin Jackson but doesn't have quite the athletic ability that Jackson possesses.
Finally, Maryland added L.G. Gill from Dusquesne, a senior grad transfer who brings a high motor and experience to the front court of Maryland to finish his college career. Gill will split the minutes with Dodd in the front court to start the year and will start at PF when Maryland is using a traditional 3/2 combination of players.
What to expect this season
Maryland went from a bit of a rebuild year to back to contending when Melo Trimble announced he was returning for his junior season. Along with the infusion of talent in the backcourt and the returning talent in the front court, Maryland is expected to once again contend for a top spot in the Big Ten and make the tournament.
What you shouldn't expect is to see Maryland play big like they did last year. For one, that was never the intent until Dion Wiley was injured and the bigger lineups were played more out of necessity than want. For two, they don't have the talent or depth in the front court to play two front court players at all times. Maryland lacked the back court depth last season to spread the floor and were forced to play inside out as opposed to spreading out in more of a 4 out 1 in style offense that is closer to what Villanova plays than what Purdue does. Mark Turgeon will adapt to the personnel he has and he has already made mention of moving in this direction with the current skillset of the team. The real question is whether he'll also increase the tempo and play more in transition as opposed to the halfcourt, which would appear to suit this team better with the backcourt depth and stretch 4's they've added that would lead to more open shots on the perimeter. Either way it looks to be another promising season and with Melo Trimble returning for what he hopes is a Buddy Hield type year, anything can happen.