Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.
Does Stefon Diggs have a legitimate chance to win either the Maxwell Award or the Paul Hornung Award?
Don Markus: On first glance, you would think that the Maryland receiver and kick returner would be a long shot for any national award, given the fact that the Terps are considered by most to be – at best – a middle-of-the-pack team in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Atlantic Division.
But the fact that the electrifying sophomore was put on the preseason list for both awards is a testament to how good a freshman season he had in College Park. Just a few weeks ago, he wasn’t even listed in a blog about breakout players on the outstanding new website, SportsOnEarth.com.
The Maxwell Award has been around almost as long as the Heisman Trophy, and though it doesn’t get the same kind of national attention, it’s pretty prestigious. Like the Heisman, it’s given annually to the top player in college football.
The Hornung Award is in its fourth season, started by the Louisville (Ky.) Sports Commission to honor one of the city’s athletic icons. It is given to the most versatile player in college football. Last season’s winner was former Dunbar and West Virginia star Tavon Austin – a player to whom Diggs is often compared.
Obviously, Diggs has a better chance to win the Hornung Award than the Maxwell (or the Heisman, for that matter) based on the kind of season many expect he and the Terps to have in 2013. His numbers last season – 54 catches for 848 yards and six touchdowns, 26 kickoff returns for 713 yards and two touchdowns – were among the best of any freshman in the country not named Johnny Manziel.
But Diggs is going to have to get the ball even more as a sophomore to come close to the season Austin had for the Mountaineers last year as a senior, when he finished with 114 catches for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns as well as nearly 1,000 return yards and two touchdowns.
For that to happen, there’s going to have to be a significant upgrade at the quarterback position. While a healthy C.J. Brown will benefit from having players like Diggs and Deon Long to throw the ball to this season, I don’t think anyone believes that Brown – or any of the other quarterbacks on the roster – is as talented as former Mountaineers star Geno Smith.
There’s also a question of whether Randy Edsall is going to use Diggs to return as many punts and kickoffs as he did last season, given that he has other options this season, most prominently true freshman cornerback Will Likely.
I think for Diggs to stay in the conversation for the Hornung, the Terps are going to have to at least have a winning record. Austin won it last year with a team that finished 7-6 in its first year in the Big 12, but the Mountaineers were coming off a season when they crushed Clemson in the Orange Bowl behind a record-shattering performance by Austin. It’s fair to say he was the favorite going into the season.
The Maxwell Award is an entirely different situation. The players who have won it recently are from nationally ranked programs, including many whose teams are competing for national championships. You have to go back to 1989 to find a player from a losing team, but Anthony Thompson was given it as much for what he did over his career as for what he accomplished that season for 5-6 Indiana.
I’m not saying I expect the Terps to have a losing record. I have stated a number of times that Edsall should have his first winning season since taking over for Ralph Friedgen. The one interesting thing about the Hornung Award is a little piece of trivia about the man for whom the award is named. He is the only player on a losing team to win the Heisman, when he played for Notre Dame in 1956.
Diggs certainly will have an opportunity to get himself some attention early in the season, when the Terps open with Florida International and Old Dominion at home, and then play in Baltimore against a rebuilding West Virginia team that finished 118thin the country (out of 120) in pass defense last season. He’s on the list for both awards, and that stretch of opponents could get him in the serious conversation for at least one of them heading into Florida State in the fourth week of the season.
What’s your take on the second-degree assault case against Maryland running back Wes Brown?
Jeff Barker: First of all, that Brown made an egregious mistake. The probable cause statement says the talented running back shoved a Baltimore police detective with two hands before taking off on foot. Where was he going to go? The statement says Brown admitted shoving the officer – even demonstrating later how he did it.
Baltimore police say Brown “is a person of interest in an open non-fatal shooting investigation from last month.” His car has been linked to the shooting, and that’s why police had arrived in College Park on the night of July 3 to question him.
But the confrontation raises some questions.
According to the statement, Brown had resisted going with the officers to headquarters. He is quoted as saying, “Why can’t you question me here?” and asking that one of his parents be present.
Police seemed not to take “no” for answer. When Brown resisted accompanying the detectives to headquarters, the police statement says they moved to take him into custody.
I’ve spoken with people who know quite a bit more about the law than I do. They’ve raised the question of what grounds police would have at that point – before the alleged shove – to arrest Brown. If there wasn’t an arrest warrant for Brown – and the police report makes no mention of him being served with one – then what had he done to compel his arrest?
I'm guessing police might make a case that grounds existed to detain Brown based on reasonable suspicion of his involvement in the Baltimore case. I don't know what his involvement is alleged to be -- or whether this would warrant detaining him.
We don’t know much yet about the Baltimore shooting because the investigation is still ongoing. But it’ll be interesting to see how Brown’s assault case plays out.
How are Maryland's 2014 basketball commitments faring at the Reebok Breakout Classic in Philadelphia?
Matt Bracken: If the beginning of the July open period has taught us anything about Maryland's 2014 basketball recruiting class, it's probably this: there is nothing at all fluky about Melo Trimble's game. The Bishop O'Connell combo guard has been one of the top players thus far at the Reebok Breakout Classic in Phildelphia, continuing an outstanding year that has already seen him dominate the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference and play well for D.C. Assault on the spring circuit.
Through four games in Philly, Trimble is averaging 15.3 points, shooting 51 percent from the field and 60 percent from 3-point range. His top highlight so far was a 20-point performance where he shot 4-for-4 from beyond the arc.
Alex Schwartz, president of the excellent hoops scouting blog/service Northstar Basketball, has been on hand for all the action in Philly, and like most other analysts, has come away impressed after watching Trimble.
"Watching Melo, I happened to see his team play three times," Thursday, Schwartz said. "I’m sure he missed shots, but I just don’t remember them. He’s an elite, elite-level shooter. He’s one of the best shooters in the country. I really think he’s probably, at this point, better suited as a 2-guard who can help out and run the offense. He’s a shooter – that’s the primary aspect of his game. He has a really good frame, which helps him as well. I think he’ll continue to develop and do a little bit more at the rim. His shot is just so good right now and he really understands [how to score]. He’s just a very, very lethal player beyond the arc. If you give him space, he’ll make you pay."
Though Trimble has tried over the past couple years to transition to the point, Schwartz thinks the future Terp is "a natural 2" who "can help at the point." With Roddy Peters coming in this year, that's probably not a bad thing for Maryland -- having a capable ballhandler whose best asset is simply making shots. While Schwartz acknowledged that Trimble, at 6 feet 2, might be "smaller than what you'd like from a prototypical Big Ten 2-guard," his shooting compensates for that, as well as a thicker frame that should allow him to "come in and play quite a bit" as a freshman.
Jared Nickens is also in Philly for the event, and while his play has been less consistent than Trimble's, the 6-foot-6 wing has opened some eyes.
"I saw Jared play [Thursday night] in one of the last games of the night," Schwartz said. "His shot wasn’t really falling, but the thing I like about him is his progression as a player. I know he can shoot. That’s not a question. If his shot is not falling, that happens. But he moves without the ball so much better. He’s finding space in the open floor, cutting … and getting more comfortable attacking the basket. Talent isn’t necessarily the question. It’s just putting those things together, working on his passing game. He’s putting it all together. His handle is better. It’s really improving."
Nickens is averaging 9.3 points on 34 percent shooting (30 percent from 3-point range). His top game was an 18-point performance where he shot 4-for-7 from deep. Schwartz expects Nickens to get minutes as a freshman, but the lanky 3 still needs to add weight and strength. The most notable takeaway Schwartz had from watching Nickens is that he "keeps adding pieces to his offensive arsenal."
Schwartz also had a chance to check out one of Maryland's top post targets for 2014. Chinanu Onuaku -- who was profiled this week by InsideMDSports for this blog -- lived up to his reputation as a legitimate big man whose defensive game is further along than his offense.
"He has the size, 6-10, 6-11, and obviously it’s tough to beat that," Schwartz said. "He’s got a really good body with a good frame. He’s not just one of those tall kids that is real overweight or too thin. He’s got a good frame. He’s an active kid, especially offensively around the rim. He’s maybe not overly skilled right now, but it looks like he has the ability to pick it up at that level. ... I see a guy who has the ability to keep improving and he definitely showed some nice athleticism. He has been one of the better big men."
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