Terps might have more fun without lofty expectations this year

Maryland entered last season No. 3 in the rankings. This year they won't have such a large weight to bear.

This is what the Maryland men's basketball team is likely to find out as they enter the 2016-17 season ranked 21st in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll:

It's a lot easier — and probably a lot more fun — to spend the season trying prove everybody wrong than to carry the weight of having to prove everybody right.

The Terps were ranked third in both major polls at this point last season and went on to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2003. That's a successful season by any measure, but the heady preseason ranking left room to view it as an underachievement.

This year's team won't have to deal with that. The Terps lost four starters — including two that made NBA rosters — but Mark Turgeon will have a broader base of talent and should be in better position to exploit the skills of explosive junior guard Melo Trimble.

Turgeon also will not have to work with a roster that included five stars who each had one eye on the road to the Final Four and the other on his potential draft status.

"Obviously, we were top five in most polls [last year] and this year I think we're ranked, but it is different,'' Turgeon said Tuesday at Maryland's basketball media day. "Because it was the first time in a while that we were ranked so high, it was a lot on the guys. With that said, that was a fun team to coach. It was great…a great season. But this team has got a little bit of a chip on our shoulder, maybe. Hungry…looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead."

The Terps have a well-regarded freshman class and another top-flight transfer in former Duquesne forward L.G. Gill to go with some key upper classmen and an almost-healthy Dion Wiley. They might not go as far last year's team, but Trimble says they're going to have a lot of fun finding out.

"We had a lot of fun last year," Trimble said. "…but I think this year is going to be even more fun just because of the low expectations, no pressure at all. Just go out there and play basketball."

Trimble was quick to admit that he and his fellow starters allowed themselves to get caught up in all the speculation about where and whether they might get picked in the NBA draft. Diamond Stone and Jake Layman did get chosen. Rasheed Sulaimon and Robert Carter Jr. did not. Trimble chose to stay in school after struggling to build on his terrific freshman season.

He has come back determined to embrace his leadership role this season and keep the focus on the here and now.

"I just changed my mindset to the fact that I just want to get better and just worry about being at college," he said. "I don't want to worry about being at the next level, because that pretty much hurt myself and hurt the team last year. A lot of us were just thinking about the next level too much. Coach Turgeon said it, and he was right. So, this year I'm more about the team and trying to do good things for the University of Maryland and just represent where I'm from."

Not that anyone who played on last year's team looks back on it with regret. The Terps nearly ran the table in their non-conference schedule, losing only to No. 9 North Carolina on the road. They won 10 of their first 12 Big Ten games, but lost four of their last six in conference and lost in their second game in the Big Ten Tournament. They defeated South Dakota State and Hawaii in the NCAA Tournament before losing to Kansas in the round of 16.

"We had a great season," senior Damonte Dodd said. "Even though people expected us to go farther and do more, I think we came out and we did what we did and it didn't go the way we wanted it to go, but the Sweet Sixteen, that's great. I've never been there. A lot of guys have never been there. It was a good experience and I'm happy that we made it that far. I'd like to get back there this year."

That's certainly within the realm of possibility. The Terps, who open the season on Nov. 11 against American, have a lot of talent, and Turgeon has a pretty good track record of putting his players in a position to succeed. But he's not ready to start looking beyond the team-building stage.

"I'm just enjoying it," Turgeon said. "I enjoy this time of year every year, no matter what it is, and you're just trying to get the most out of them, but this team has made it even more enjoyable because they are so coachable."

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and follow him @Schmuckstop on Twitter.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

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