We still know so little about the Maryland’s men’s basketball team. It doesn’t take Basketball Einstein to figure out that Melo Trimble is a star, but Maryland’s roster after him is a heaping pile of long- and short-term variables with no obvious resolution. It’ll be a while yet before we know if Maryland’s great, good, or not even.
But if there’s anything to take away from Maryland’s late-game heist against Georgetown on Tuesday, I think it’s this: Maryland is still very Maryland.
To me, that’s a good thing. Mark Turgeon’s built Maryland into a team that’s going to be more likely than not to make the NCAA Tournament just about every year. The talent level here is considerable, and it should stay strong. It’s easy to gripe about how last year went, but you’d rather have Maryland positioned this way than not, from a roster management standpoint. The Terps should be pretty good for a while.
Every caution about the 2016-17 Terrapins, and about projecting them, still holds. But while we don’t know how good they’ll be, we can take a stab at some things that look familiar. And so far, there are a few, and not just based on two games.
Maryland looks a lot like its old self, for better and worse.
The Terrapins still appear better than most teams at getting to the foul line, where Trimble’s been 15 times in two games. That’ll keep accounting for a larger than average share of points for this program, as it’s done since Trimble got to town in 2014. That’s a prediction based more on Maryland’s pick-and-roll, drive-heavy offense of the past than anything we’ve seen in the last week. But still, it’ll be a thing.
On another hand, Maryland won’t keep turning the ball over on one in four possessions, as it’s done through two games. But it sure looks like ball security – usually not a strong point of Turgeon’s Maryland teams – is not going to suddenly be sterling. Having a second ace ball-handler in Anthony Cowan could help, but Trimble’s so aggressive that turnovers will always be a part of the package there. Limiting them will be important.
Maryland’s going to keep finding itself in tons of close games.
The Terps were inextinguishable in close games two years ago, and late-game luck stayed good for some of last year before it faded a bit. When teams have tons of talent but that talent’s also young talent, and when they turn the ball over, they’re staring at a recipe for playing in some tight games. Maryland’s also played the last two seasons at a relatively slow tempo, and that holds down possessions and keeps games tight. That’s held up in the early-going of this season, for whatever it’s worth.
Squeakers against American and Georgetown are anecdotes, but the bigger picture here lies in Maryland’s schedule. Ken Pomeroy’s projection model thinks Maryland will play 11 more games this year with between a 35 percent and 65 percent chance of winning. (There’s a game at Michigan were Maryland’s modeled chances are 31 percent, and I bet that’ll be close, too.) If Maryland wants to finally win a road, ranked game under Turgeon, that’ll require playing a close one. So will holding off more middling Big Ten teams that threaten Maryland at home and on the road.
Sometimes, close games will end with Kevin Huerter swatting Jagan Mosley before the buzzer. Sometimes, they’ll end with Trimble banging three-pointers or calmly knocking down foul shots in the last 10 seconds. And sometimes, it’ll be Trimble who gets blocked, like he did in the Big Ten Tournament last year against Michigan State, or it’ll be some Indiana or Purdue guard who ices the game at the line.
What we don’t know is how much Maryland will actually win.
Maryland’s footprint doesn’t seem like it’ll change much, though I’m interested to see if the Terps shoot more threes than they have in the first two games. Maryland’s penchant for giving you heartburn almost definitely isn’t going to change. After all, it didn’t last year, and Maryland doesn’t have the talented veteran roster it did then.
But the difference between Maryland winning most of those nail-biters and losing them? That comes down to player development and a bit of luck, and we can’t predict how either will turn. Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley have started miserably on offense, and they’ll probably be better. Cowan, Huerter, and Justin Jackson are the toast of the town after Tuesday, but they’ll have growing pains, because everybody does.
This year’s filled with as much possibility as any of Turgeon’s six at Maryland – even last year, where some things were apparently less possible than we thought. Maryland’s heavy reliance on freshmen makes this team especially hard to peg, and that means the ceiling as much as the floor. Things might be great.
Either way, they’ll be stressful. Maryland will make you sweat, but the prospect of this team taking off will be right in front of you all year. Maybe that’ll happen, and maybe it won’t. Maybe Maryland will be too frustrating to appreciate in the moment. A degree of uncertainty has become part of the Terps’ foundation, and by now, we should all have coping mechanisms in place.
Two years ago, Maryland seemed like a fringe tournament team and became one of the stories of the Big Ten. Last year, Maryland felt like a surefire top-10 team, and it wasn’t. This year, none of us can be remotely sure what Maryland is, other than that it’s still incredibly Maryland-ish. For now, that’s a really fun place to be.