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Five questions about Maryland men's basketball heading into season opener

The Maryland men’s basketball team has spent the past five months getting accustomed to playing without point guard Melo Trimble, who opted to forgo his senior year to turn pro.

On Friday against Stony Brook, the Terps will start implementing their plan to fill the void left by a player who helped the team to three straight NCAA tournament appearances and an overall 79-24 record.

With returning sophomore starters Anthony Cowan Jr., Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson, as well as the additions of 6-foot-10 freshman Bruno Fernando and 6-5 freshman Darryl Morsell, Maryland should be more than competitive in 2017-18.

As the Terps begin the season, here are five questions that might be answered shortly. :

After losing its leading scorer for the past three seasons, who will be Maryland’s No. 1 option?

Though the Terps will certainly miss Trimble’s ability to make baskets late in the shot clock, as well as his end-of-game magic, Turgeon should be comforted in the fact that he won’t have to rely so much on one player as he did last season, when Trimble led the Terps in scoring 20 times.

Cowan, Huerter and Jackson each had breakout performances as freshmen, and Fernando comes in with a reputation as a player who can shoot outside and finish inside, so Maryland won’t be lacking for potential scorers.

At 6-7, 225 pounds with a 7-3 wingspan, Jackson is an absolute nightmare to cover, especially when he is hitting his 3-point shot (a team-high 43.8 percent last year). In last week’s exhibition, Jackson appeared to be putting the ball on the floor more than he did as a freshman.

Consider, too, what happened at the end of last season. When Trimble struggled with his outside shot in the team's back-to-back losses to Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament and to Xavier in the NCAA tournament, it was Huerter who filled the void.

The 6-6½ guard scored 19 points in each game and, more importantly, took 28 shots in the two games, including a season-high 15 against the Wildcats. For the season, he averaged just eight shots a game and like his fellow freshmen seemed to defer at times to Trimble.

Given how much Huerter will have the ball in his hands — he will essentially be used as a second point guard — a player who was kiddingly called “Red Mamba” on social media should also get a good number of looks late in the shot clock or at what used to be Melo Time at the end of games.

Will the Terps play a lot of three-guard lineups as they often have the past few years?

A former point guard, Turgeon is clearly more comfortable with this kind of lineup, and there will be a good bit of it this season when Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) is on the floor. Morsell’s performances in last week’s preseason game and in practice make him a valuable two-way player to have on the floor.

Still, with the addition of Fernando to the frontcourt, it likely means Maryland will play more of a traditional lineup that includes either 7-1 senior Michal Cekovsky or 6-9 redshirt junior Ivan Bender at one of the frontcourt spots and the 6-7 Jackson at small forward.

A lot will also depend on the team’s backcourt depth, and whether redshirt junior Dion Wiley, who sat out with a knee injury two years ago and was hampered by a bad back last season, can finally contribute.

Who could be the team’s biggest surprise?

There are a few candidates, based on your definition of the word “surprise.”

If he stays healthy, it could be Cekovsky, who showed flashes last season of becoming the type of athletic big man Turgeon thought he had signed three years ago. In the 11 games last season in which he played double-digit minutes, Ceko scored in double figures eight times.

It could be Bender, who lost nearly 25 pounds and drastically reduced his body fat percentage by cutting out soda and bread and going to a healthier diet. Bender has also expanded his game to include a reliable 3-point shot.

It could also be Fernando, who might be the kind of force at both ends of the court that Turgeon hoped Robert Carter Jr. and Diamond Stone could have been had they stayed longer. If Fernando is as dominant as some believe he could be, Huerter might not have to be the “Red Mamba”.

How deep on the bench will Turgeon go?

Injuries have often prevented the Terps from going as deep as Turgeon wanted.

Two years ago, Wiley’s season-ending knee injury left Maryland short in the backcourt. When Cekovsky broke his ankle late last season, Turgeon had little, if any, frontcourt depth behind senior Damonte Dodd.

Morsell, Wiley and senior wing Jared Nickens should give the Terps enough depth behind Cowan and Huerter at guard so that they won’t have to play as many minutes as they were often forced to last season.

Graduate transfer Sean Obi, who was a double-double machine his freshman year at Rice before transferring to Duke and getting injured, had eight rebounds and eight points in 12 minutes of last week’s exhibition.

Bender, who started when Fernando was kept out of the exhibition game as a precaution after spraining his ankle two weeks ago, had a team-high nine rebounds in 21 minutes. Redshirt freshman Joshua Tomaic had six points, four rebounds and three steals in 14 minutes.

If everyone is healthy, the Terps will be deeper than any team Turgeon has coached since coming to College Park in 2011.

Are the national experts sleeping on the Terps?

For all the skepticism surrounding Trimble as a potential NBA player, he was still viewed by most as a tremendous college point guard and a player Maryland will dearly miss.

The result is that ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Terps as a bubble team — an 11th seed that must play its way into the field of 64 — and CBS’ Jerry Palm lists the Terps as a 10 seed.

How many other bubble teams have three or four potential NBA players as Maryland does — at least according to many scouts — in Jackson, Huerter, Fernando and possibly either Cowan or Morsell?

This is exactly what Turgeon likes going into the season, a team that is off the radar but has more than enough talent and experience to be a surprise in the Big Ten.

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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