The Maryland men's basketball team starts its Big Ten Tournament and postseason journey on Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Terps are the conference's No. 3 seed, but they don't come in as anything near a favorite to actually win the tournament. A quick glance at the bracket makes it clear why:
The Terps are stuck on the lower half of the bracket, with very likely matchups against both Wisconsin and Michigan State. Wisconsin is 11-2 in its last 13 games and has played like one of the two best teams in the Big Ten for almost half the season now, and Michigan State has been elite all season, outside of a three-game losing streak during the dead of winter. Just to get to the final, Maryland would need to go through a wringer – unless you're of the mind that Wisconsin will lose to Nebraska or Rutgers and Michigan State will lose to Ohio State or Penn State (not gonna happen).
Maryland, of course, needs to try to win this thing anyway. Winning a conference tournament is a big deal in and of itself, and the Terps should value it. But the far more important objective for Maryland this weekend is to bury whatever demons have plagued it for the last six games, in which the Terrapins are 2-4.
There is recent precedent for an end-of-year flop leading to a postseason burst. But for the Terps to win in the tournament that matters most – the NCAA – there are three things Maryland needs to do that even trump winning this tournament:
1. Make sure Melo Trimble is locked and loaded.
Trimble has rebounded a little bit in the last few games, but he still hasn't totally looked like himself. He slumped for the majority of Maryland's Big Ten schedule, and he hasn't shot better than 50 percent from the field since Feb. 3 at Nebraska. He's scored 19, 18 and 17 points in his last three games, largely on the strength of foul shooting or (in Maryland's loss to Indiana) three-point volume. If Trimble isn't at his best next weekend, Maryland is very possibly toast before the Sweet 16.
2. Get Rasheed Sulaimon going offensively.
Sulaimon scored a career-high 28 points in Maryland's loss to Minnesota on Feb. 18, and since then he hasn't scored in double figures in four games. He has scored seven points in Maryland's last two games, during which he hasn't taken a free throw and has attempted just 11 shots from the field, total. Sulaimon is one of the Terps' most efficient offensive players and by far their best three-point marksman this year, at 45 percent. He needs to be in a higher gear when Maryland has the ball.
3. Find an offensive identity, even if that just means doing the same thing better.
The Terps' offense isn't all that complex. Mark Turgeon's "Horns" set is one of his favorites and is somewhat hard to understand, but a lot of what Maryland does is highly uncomplicated. The Terps set high ball screens for Melo Trimble and have him barrel toward the basket, in the hopes that either a big man will be open rolling toward the rim or a help defender will come to Trimble and leave a shooter open on the perimeter.
For this to work, Trimble has to either be finishing around the basket or drawing fouls. If he's not, there's no incentive for defenses to collapse on him and leave Sulaimon, Jared Nickens and Jake Layman open for three-pointers. The Terps floundered against Indiana, scoring 62 points, and it's no coincidence that Trimble and Sulaimon combined for no free throws. The Terps have to be aggressive, and they have to execute. It's probably too late for a wholesale change.