Maryland’s roster looked a lot like a high school class nearing the end of its session heading into last spring. It seemed like the entire roster was taking positions near the door, ready to depart the instant the season ended.
Sometimes, however, things break the right way.
While Maryland still must replace a ton of its production from last season, it stands on relatively solid ground. When Melo Trimble surprisingly announced he was returning to College Park for his junior season, he instantly changed expectations for the Terps. With Trimble in the lineup, fans no longer had to worry about the worst-case scenario and could instead focus on what could go right in 2017.
The backcourt hopes to lead Maryland into its new era. With Trimble and some younger players returning, it’s a positional group that could be volatile this season. However, if things go right, it could play a huge role in enabling Maryland to continue its recent run of success.
With Trimble returning, one spot in Maryland’s starting lineup will already be secured as the team heads into this season. He was arguably the team’s best player last season, and with Maryland losing every other starter in its lineup, it’s pretty easy to project Trimble as the team’s best player this year as well. He’s a lock to start at point guard.
However, questions abound alongside Trimble. With Rasheed Sulaimon’s graduation, there is no clear option at shooting guard. That isn’t to say Maryland’s options are terrible, just that no player has an inside track to starting. Fans should expect a battle all season to determine who ultimately secures the starting role.
The prime contenders figure to be Jaylen Brantley and Jared Nickens. Neither has been great over the last two seasons, but each has been decent in relief roles. Although Nickens played far more minutes than Brantley last season (48.7 to 16.9 percent of available minutes), Brantley showed noticeable shooting range and connected on 41.7 percent of his three-point looks. One additional thing worth noting is that if Turgeon opts to slide Nickens to the three, his minutes here would be greatly reduced.
Behind Brantley and Nickens should be Dion Wiley and a group of talented freshmen. Wiley received a ton of hype before last season, but missed the year with an injury. If he has recovered well, he could be a real wildcard for the Terps. Though Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter are both talented enough to start, neither seems likely to beat out the more experienced options.
Maryland should have some quality choices behind Trimble and whoever starts alongside him. There’s a lot of uncertainty and inexperience in the group, but with multiple returners (Brantley, Nickens, and Wiley) and newcomers (Cowan and Huerter), it shouldn’t be hard to find decent backups.
The minutes Brantley and Cowan receive will likely be determined based on whether either can win the starting job alongside Trimble. Brantley hasn’t played much, but has been efficient offensively and can shoot. Cowan enters with a four-star rating out of high school. Either man should be great in relief.
Much of the same should occur at shooting guard. The “loser” of the Brantley-Nickens battle should be the primary backup with help from Huerter. Nickens has a decent track record, but has been far from elite. Huerter also comes with a four-star rating out of high school and projects as a strong outside presence.
This backup rotation should be formidable for Maryland. Finding a quality second starter could be a challenge, but when two top-70 recruits could both be third-string options, there’s a lot to like about a bench rotation. Whoever wins these battles should be more than prepared on the court.
Replacing a player like Sulaimon is never easy. He was a savvy veteran who had a major impact on plenty of Maryland’s wins last year. Between Sulaimon and Trimble, Maryland had one of the better backcourts in the nation during last season and will now face the challenging of moving forward without such a talented option.
However, if Maryland can find a good solution at shooting guard (which seems likely), the team’s backcourt appears to be loaded yet again. Trimble is an All-Big Ten candidate, the bench is deep, and there are plenty of talented players returning. With just a few questions answered, Maryland could be well on its way to another huge year.
Whether Maryland can match its recent finishes will be a huge question mark in the coming months, but with so much talent in the backcourt, don’t be surprised if the Terps outperform preseason expectations this season.