By Josh Stonberg
The Terps are ranked #16 in the nation, and as of this writing are 22-5. So why do I question the quality of this team so much? Well, for starters, Maryland opened up the season 15-1, with an impressive win over #13 Iowa state, and the lone loss coming to #7 Virginia. However, since then they have struggled, going only 8-4 in big ten play, and only one of those four losses has come against a ranked team, #23 Indiana, who has since fallen out of the rankings. On top of that, some of the games they won have not been pretty. Over their last eight games, in which they are 5-3, they have been blown out three times and have not won by double digits. In fact, in these eight games in which they have only played one ranked team, their total plus minus is -43. Does this sound like a team destined to make a deep march madness run.
The Terps losses show a few flaws. First, they are not a good road team. Of their last six road games, they have dropped four. But, when picking our brackets, does this really matter? No team has home court advantage in the tournament. Additionally, Maryland is not dominant on its home floor. Yes, they have only lost to Virginia there, and we all know how good Virginia is. However, they are beating low quality teams by slim margins. On february 14, the Terps hosted the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State is an ugly 3-12 in big ten play. Nevertheless, the Terps nearly dropped the game on their home court, winning by only three points. What would have happened if this game was played on a neutral court? It is safe to say that homecourt advantage can oftentimes swing a game, and it will be very interesting to see if Maryland can handle their opening round matchup on a neutral court.
Melo Trimble could very well be the Shabazz Napier of 2015. But, he could also shown he can disappear for a game and give Maryland an early exit. In their recent win over Nebraska, Trimble showed how dominant he could be, scoring 26 points to will the Terps to a victory. This is a trend that you can see in lots of Maryland’s wins. However, his stat lines from some of the losses are quite unsettling. In their 80-56 loss to Ohio State on January 29th, Trimble was nowhere to be found. He went 0-8 from the field, finishing with an abysmal three points, one assist, one rebound and one turnover. This was in 34 minutes of action. I have seen kids on my jewball team who wear sweatpants for the whole game be more productive. In their 89-70 loss to Indiana Trimble also did squat. He scored only ten points on 4-9 shooting in 32 minutes of action, assisting one basket and turning the rock over twice. It is anybody’s guess which side of college basketball’s Harvey Dent shows up in the opening round.
Maryland is not a one man show. They are more of a three headed monster, featuring Trimble, along with senior guard Dez Wells and junior swingman Jake Layman. Each of them can score on their own and sink shots from deep. They remind me a lot of the Duke trio that led them to their most recent national championship: Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler. That Blue Devils team was able to make a deep run in the tournament because of two things. First, their stars showed up to play every game. If Trimble, Wells and Layman are all on their game for the next few weeks then watch out. Secondly, Duke’s big three got big contributions from their fellow starters Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek. They did not need these guys to score big, instead, it was the intensity they brought to the floor that made Duke such a force in the NCAA tournament. If Maryland can get the same energy and hustle out of role players such as Richaud Pack, Jared Nickens and Evan Smotrycz they have a shot at making a deep run. But if they play without heart and Trimble does not assert himself early or often, we could see a twelve or thirteen seed end Marylands season prematurely.
Update: Last night the Terps beat #5 Wisconsin on their home floor. But, how much does this win really say about their season? We knew they can be good at home (again, their only home loss was to Virginia). And we also already knew Dez Wells could be a force when he is hot. Then again, they did just beat one of the best teams in the country, so maybe this is a turning point in their season. Maryland has three remaining games: at home vs Michigan and on the road at Rutgers and Nebraska. If they win out that would help my confidence in them a lot, but I would be less than surprised if they dropped one of their two remaining road games. Watch out for Maryland in the tourney, because they could surprise people with a deep run or an early exit.