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The big Maryland men's basketball 2015-16 season preview

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Expectations are sky high for Maryland this season. Can the Terps live up to the hype? We break down the 2015-2016 version of the Maryland men's basketball team.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

One year ago, Maryland was coming off of a disappointing 17-15 season,  their final as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Shortly after the season concluded, a tumultuous off-season began in which five players transferred from the program. Mark Turgeon was appearing on numerous hot seat lists as Maryland was preparing for their first season as a member of the Big Ten Conference.

The Terps defied expectations, finishing 28-7 and returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010 behind the outstanding season by freshman Melo Trimble. Mark Turgeon went from the hot seat to Big Ten coach of the year. Now Maryland enters their second year in the Big Ten as conference favorites, one year after finishing 14-4 in their inaugural B1G campaign.

Over the past nine months, Maryland has experienced a perfect storm of events that resulted in the Terps being named a preseason top-five team. Mark Turgeon and his staff secured a commitment from five-star center Diamond Stone, giving them a front court presence that was  lacking last year.

A short time later, both Melo Trimble and Jake Layman announced they were returning to school for their sophomore and senior year, respectively. Then former Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon decided to transfer to Maryland after graduating from Duke, making him eligible to play immediately. On top of all of that, former Georgia Tech forward Robert Carter is eligible to play this season after sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules. Despite the loss of Dez Wells, Maryland finds itself with an extremely talented team that should present nightmare match-up problems for opposing coaches.

The departed

Photo credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Photo credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Dez Wells, guard, 30.5 mpg, 15.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1 spg, 0.4 bpg

The biggest loss from last year's team was Dez Wells, who was responsible for 17.5 percent of Maryland's scoring offense, averaging 15.1 points per game during his senior year. Wells was also one of the team's unquestioned leaders, a role he assumed from the moment he transferred to Maryland. He could do just about anything on the court from attacking the rim, posting up or throwing down monster dunks.

Evan Smotrycz, forward, 19.7 mpg, 4.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.4 bpg

Smotrycz is another player Maryland will be without this season. The Michigan transfer accounted for just over five and a half percent of the Terps' scoring last season and just over nine percent of their rebounds. He suffered a foot injury last October and struggled to regain the same level of productivity he enjoyed during his junior year at Maryland.

Richaud Pack, guard, 25.7 mpg, 5.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.2 bpg

Another contributor who will not be on this year's team is guard Richaud Pack, who accounted for just over eight percent of Maryland's scoring offense last season and was responsible for just over 11 percent of the team's assists.

Jon Graham, forward, 11.3 mpg, 2.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg

Graham,  who is the son of Maryland great Ernie Graham, started in seven games for Maryland last year.  He did a great job coming off the bench during other games and did a good job securing rebounds when he was on the court last season.

Spencer Barks and Jacob Susskind

Maryland also loses Spencer Barks and Jacob Susskind from last year's team, which unfortunately means the end of the SussSpence show that we all loved.

New kids on the block

Stone

Maryland center Diamond Stone sits for a breather after Magic Maryland Madness on Oct. 17, 2015. Photo by Sammi Silber.

Maryland added a total of five players to this year's team: freshman Diamond Stone, JuCo sophomore Jaylen Brantley, Duke graduate transfer Rasheed Sulaimon, and walk-ons Andrew Terrell and Kent Auslander.

Diamond Stone, freshman, center, 6'11, 255
Diamond Stone is the most significant addition for Mark Turgeon's squad. The five-star center will immediately give the Terps a consistent scoring presence in the front court that they lacked last year. Stone's presence on the court will also help create opportunities for his teammates, adding a dynamic that will make stopping Maryland on offense that much harder.

Jaylen Brantley, sophomore, guard, 5'11, 170
Jaylen Brantley gives Maryland a true backup to Melo Trimble at point guard, something they lacked last season. When we asked Brantley about that role, he said "I think my role is definitely just to come and get everybody better every day, get everybody involved. That's really what I try to do in practice – get everybody involved, be the second leader and just have everyone respect me just as much as they do him."

His addition should allow Mark Turgeon to give Melo Trimble some needed rest during games. As a freshman, Trimble averaged 33.5 minutes per game.

Rasheed Sulaimon, senior, guard, 6'4, 190
Sulaimon graduated from Duke and transferred to Maryland this summer, taking advantage of the graduate transfer rule that makes him eligible to play immediately. After being dismissed from Duke by head coach Mike krzyzewski during the middle of last season, Mark Turgeon convinced Sulaimon to come to College Park for his final year of eligibility. Sulaimon gives Maryland much needed depth at the guard position, especially after the season ending injury to sophomore Dion Wiley.

Andrew Terrell and Kent Auslander
Maryland also added two new walk-on players this year in
Andrew Terrell and Kent Auslander.

I've seen you around before

Robert Carter Jr., junior, forward, 6'9, 234
We’ve seen Robert Carter on the bench for a year, and now finally get to see what all the hype is about on the court. He was Maryland’s best player not named Diamond Stone in last week’s exhibition game against Southern New Hampshire. He had 12 points and 10 rebounds in 20 minutes, and looked pretty good with four blocks. He’ll be a huge piece to Maryland’s success on both sides of the ball.

Ivan Bender, redshirt freshman, forward, 6'9, 230
Bender is going to be one of the first guys to play in blowout games, but without injuries in the frontcourt he won’t crack the rotation. Maryland is so deep with Carter being the only true power forward, but Jake Layman, Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky all capable of holding down the position. With what little depth the Terps are expected to have next year, barring any recruits that may come in the spring, look for Bender to become somewhat of a contributor in 2016-17.

Put me in, coach

Maryland will have three walk-on players this season in Trevor Anzmann, Kent Auslander and Andrew Terrell. Anzmann is the only one who was part of Maryland's team last season, appearing in two games for the Terps.

In the rotation

Point guard
Jaylen Brantley (So.)
Brantley gives Maryland the backup point guard they desperately missed last season. His presence will allow Mark Turgeon to give Melo Trimble additional breathing time on the bench and afford him the opportunity to shift Trimble to shooting guard with Brantley on the court.

Varun Ram (RS Gr)
Ram was able to come back for one last season with the Terps. With the injury to Dion Wiley, it's not inconceivable for Ram to get a few minutes during key games this season, even if he's just giving Trimble or Brantley a quick breather.

Guard

Rasheed Sulaimon (Sr)
Sulaimon will likely serve as Maryland's 6th man this season. He's undoubtedly talented and provides Maryland with a veteran presence, especially in crunch time situations. He'll likely play 20 or so minutes per game for Maryland, playing primarily at the two-guard. 

Forward

Ivan Bender (RFresh)
Bender is really an x-factor for Maryland this season. He suffered an injury last year that kept him from seeing the court, causing Maryland to redshirt him. He will likely see limited minutes as he continues to recover from an ACL injury.

Center/Forward

Damonte Dodd (Jr)
Mark Turgeon has given Dodd a lot of praise this off-season, going so far as to say he could be the best defensive player in the country. Dodd has shown a lot of improvement year to year and should provide the Terps with a solid defender who is capable of scoring inside. He'll be a huge luxury for Maryland, especially in close games, and should be the Terrapins' best rim defender.

Michal Cekovsky (So)
Cekovsky showed flashes last year of what he is capable of becoming for Maryland. He should see 10-12 minutes off the bench this year, subbing in at either forward or center for the Terps. He'll be a luxury that few coaches have; a 7 foot big man who is capable of scoring and rebounding coming off the bench.

The starting five

Trimble

Guard Melo Trimble looks down during a Magic Maryland Madness scrimmage on Oct. 17, 2015. Photo by Sammi Silber.

PG - Melo Trimble (So)
He was named the Big Ten preseason player of the year. It's no secret this guy's going to be good. his numbers will probably go down though, and this is something Maryland fans need to grasp now. Logically his scoring numbers shouldn't be as high, he's playing with an infinitely better offense that doesn't just rely on backcourt scoring anymore. Others will still criticize low assist totals, but that also shouldn't be of any concern. Diamond Stone and Robert Carter will join Trimble in likely being the team's top scorers. The uniqueness of those three are that they are all capable of creating their own shots. Trimble doesn't have to become Rajon Rondo this year, he can stay Melo, and the Terps can find success. Most important for him is to keep attacking the rim and get to the free throw line. He finished with the 11th most attempts in the NCAA last year, and hit them at a higher percent than nine of the ten players who got there more frequently.

G - Jared Nickens (So.)
This spot could become Rasheed Sulaimon's based solely on matchups. Sulaimon is one of the best perimeter defenders in the country, and could be used to shut down opposing wings. If offense is the focus, Mark Turgeon will go with Nickens. The 6'7 shooting guard's 3-point success rate was entirely unexpected last season, as he shot 38.5 percent, 20th best in the Big Ten as an under-recruited freshman. He'll probably never become much of a ball-handler, but if he's able to turn into somewhat of a threat as a slasher, his game will complement Trimble's nicely.

F- Jake Layman (Sr)
Layman disappeared, reappeared and then disappeared more on offense, but he was always there defensively, and that's very overlooked by many Maryland critics. His basic numbers when Dez Wells went down with an injury and missed almost all of the month of December: 12.8 points on 50.7 percent shooting and 6.1 rebounds per game. In four Big Ten and NCAA tournament games in March: 7.5 points on 44.4 percent shooting and 4.8 rebounds per game. The 6'9 wing should feel more comfortable this season at small forward, and should hold mis-matches over almost every team he faces, making things more comfortable for the noticeably bigger, but still relatively skinny stretch player. Getting out of the post means more spot-up three for him as well, where he fired at 37.8 percent last year.

F - Robert Carter (RS Jr)
As a sophomore at Georgia Tech, Carter did damage, posting the team's third highest point per game stat and lead the team in rebounds per game. He posted the team's highest defensive rating, and also remained a huge part of the Yellow Jackets leading the team in usage percentage with a number only .3 percent below Melo Trimble's. His efficiency numbers aren't as impressive, but he has said some of that had to do with shots he was forced to take with less talent around him at Tech. If the exhibition game was any bit of an accurate showing, Maryland is going to love Carter, and beg he stays for his final year of eligibility.

C - Diamond Stone (Fresh)
The five-star recruit surprised many when he chose to leave his home state in favor of the DMV. His commitment is likely what set analysts to push Maryland into national title contention as the addition of the near 7' center provides an improvement over the already deep position. Damonte Dodd would have held down the spot if Stone went to Wisconsin, but instead will become probably the best backup center in the country Michal Cekovsky will find minutes as the third 7' big in the Terrapins trio. Stone though, will provide an immediate upgrade on the offensive end. His defense is behind, but his ability to post up and hit hook shots with either hand will make it tough for him to guard. Get a good look now because he'll be sitting in folding chairs at next year's NBA Draft.

Non-conference schedule

Maryland has scheduled itself three tough non-conference opponents mixed with a bunch of easy ones. The toughest games come early as it will host Georgetown Tuesday, travel to No. 1 North Carolina on the first day of December and will play No. 20 Connecticut on a neutral court at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Here's the full non-conference schedule:

Fri., Nov. 6 Southern New Hampshire
Fri., Nov. 13 Mount Saint Mary's
Tue., Nov. 17 Georgetown
Fri., Nov. 20 Rider
Tue., Nov. 24 vs. Illinois State (Cancun Classic)
Wed., Nov. 25 vs. Rhode Island/TCU (Cancun Classic)
Sat., Nov. 28 Cleveland State
Tue., Dec. 1 at North Carolina (Big Ten/ACC Challenge)
Fri., Dec. 4 St. Francis (PA)
Tue., Dec. 8 vs. UConn (Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden - NYC)
Sat., Dec. 12 Maryland-Eastern Shore
Sat., Dec. 19 Princeton (at Royal Farms Arena - Baltimore)
Sun., Dec. 27 Marshall
Tue., Feb 9 Bowie State

B1G Schedule

There won't be many easy games for the Terps this season in conference play. The Big Ten could end up as the countries best, deepest league this season. There are eight or nine teams that realistically could make the NCAA Tournament. Maryland is arguably the most talented team in the league, but faces a grueling conference slate. While they only face Indiana and Michigan State once, both games are on the road. The Terps also travel to Purdue, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin. By the time the B1G Tournament arrives, Maryland will likely be atop of the league's standings, having undoubtedly faced a lot of tough competition.

A full breakdown of Maryland's schedule, including television information, can be found here.

Predictions

Maryland begins the 2015-2016 season with lofty expectations that haven't been seen in College Park for over a decade. They're favorites to win the Big Ten, have the conference's preseason player of the year, and an influx of new talent that will make them one of the deepest and most dynamic teams in the country. They're beginning the year with their highest preseason ranking since 2002.

Record: 27-4, 12-1 out of conference, 15-3 Big Ten (1st place)
Maryland might be one of the best teams in the country, but they're not going to go undefeated this year, especially in conference play. It's going to be a tall order to beat North Carolina in the Dean Dome, even if Marcus Paige is still a little rusty after coming back (presumably)from his hand injury.

In Big Ten play, 15-3 should be good enough to win the conference this season. While that is just one game better than Maryland's second place finish year, this year's version of the Big Ten has a lot more talent and several additional teams capable of beating almost anyone on a given night. The Terps have road trips against some of the conference's best teams, including Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Michigan. Maryland also faces both Ohio State and Purdue on the road, two teams that are both very talented. Between those road games and potentially a home game against Wisconsin and Michigan, dropping three of them is a definite, realistic possibility.

B1G Tournament
Winning a conference tournament is never easy. A team has to play at a high level for three or more consecutive days, theoretically facing a more challenging opponent each game. It can be grueling and tiring for a team. Often times the conference's best team might not capture the conference tournament title.

Even if this year's Maryland team wins the regular season conference title, that doesn't guarantee they'll be cutting down the nets in Indianapolis in March. With that said, the Terps are uniquely positioned for a conference tournament run this year because they arguably have the most depth among any school in the Big Ten. They also have a player capable of taking over a game in Melo Trimble, a good blend of experience and youth, and a front court presence that few teams will be able to contain. Taking all of that into consideration, d won't be surprised if Maryland leaves Indy as Big Ten Conference tournament champions.

NCAA Tournament
As Maryland continued to stockpile talent over the past eight months, expectations for this year's team continued to climb. Final Four and national champions contenders were phrases that rapidly became commonplace when talking about the Terps. Make no mistake, this year's team is fully capable of achieving either of those goals. This is probably Maryland's best chance to return to the Final Four since it did so in 2002, eventually winning the school's only national title.

As the roster currently stands, this year's team should reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003. The Terps should even return to the Elite Eight and are fully capable of advancing to Houston.

But it's not easy to get to the Final Four. And if Maryland doesn't do so this year, that doesn't make this season a failure. Don't be surprised if the Terps are there, but don't assume that they will be, either.