Are the national college basketball analysts sleeping on next season’s Maryland men’s basketball team?
It’s hard to predict in April how a team is going to look the following November or December, let alone the following February or March.
None of the national experts have Maryand in the Top 25 and Joe Lunardi has the Terps as the first team “out” in his initial bracket. (It should be noted that Lunardi predicted last June that the Terps would be a No. seed 6 in Orlando, which proved to be incredibly prescient. Or lucky.)
A lot of the doubt apparently centers around the departure of junior guard Melo Trimble, who announced in March that he would sign with an agent, and forgo his senior year in College Park to play professionally. Trimble was the team’s leading scorer for three straight years.
But given the fact that Turgeon returns three players who as freshmen combined to start 97 of 99 games – Justin Jackson came off the bench the first two games while Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter started every game for the 24-9 Terps – Maryland returns a lot more than it did a year ago.
A year ago, Turgeon was looking to replace four starters, with Trimble the only returning starter. The loss of forwards Robert Carter Jr. and Jake Layman, as well as center Diamond Stone and guard Rasheed Sulaimon, represented 62 percent of the team's scoring and 53 percent of its rebounding.
Along with Trimble, the Terps have to now replace starting center Damonte Dodd and backup forward L.G. Gill. That represents just 34 percent of the team’s scoring and 25 percent of its rebounding. Jackson was second to Trimble in scoring and led Maryland in rebounding.
Just as the three freshmen didn’t get much respect toward the end of last season from Big Ten coaches and media who didn’t vote any of them on the league’s all-freshman team despite helping the Terps to a 12-6 record and a tie for second place, they don’t seem to be getting their share of attention now either.
The Big Ten Network recently listed its top five breakout players for 2017-18, and again, none of the Maryland players made the cut. It’s understandable to see Purdue point guard Carsen Edwards mentioned after a strong freshman year, but hasn’t Edwards’ teammate, 7-2 rising senior Isaac Haas, had enough to time to break out?
The other three players on BTN’s list - Wisconsin sophomore forward Khalil Iverson, Iowa sophomore forward Nicholas Baer and Nebraska freshman center Jordy Tshimanga – all have shown flashes of being productive players, but Jackson, Huerter and even Cowan were already productive more often than not as freshmen.
As for the Top 25 polls, the national experts are giving the Big Ten only a little more respect going into next season as they did for most of the past one. SI.com has Michigan State at No. 8 and Minnesota at No. 10, with Northwestern (No. 17) and Michigan (No. 22) in the Top 25. ESPN has only three Big Ten teams in the Top 25, with the No. 12 Spartans ranked the highest.
That’s probably what Turgeon wants. Just as his Hall of Fame predecessor did before the Terps became a perennial Top 25 and, for a stretch, Top 10 preseason team, Turgeon prefers Maryland to be overlooked rather than overranked, as his 2015-16 team proved to be. The Terps seemed more comfortable finding their way into the Top 25 the past three years than maintaining their ranking once they got there.
A lot can change, not only between now and November or even between now and March. Things will look different for a number of teams by June. The list of transfers – both graduate transfers with immediately eligibility and traditional ones who have to sit out a season in accordance with NCAA rules – grows by the hour. There also seem to be more unsigned four- and five-star high school players in the Class of 2017 than there is normally at this time of the year.
With two scholarships now available after last week’s departure of Trimble and freshman forward Micah Thomas, Turgeon and his assistants are busy recruiting both groups with hopes of signing at least one player, if not two, trying to add another perimeter scorer – and what seems like an even bigger need – a center or power forward who can be a high-volume rebounder.
When the Terps reconvene for the summer in early June, with incoming freshmen Bruno Fernando and Darryl Morsell (Mount St. Joseph) ready to start their careers in College Park, an updated Top 25 (will that be simply labeled Too Early?) might have Maryland sneaking into the mix.
There’s a better chance that the Terps will continue to be ignored.
And Turgeon won't mind one bit.