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With Melo Trimble back, Maryland basketball should compete in the Big Ten again

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This is now Melo Trimble's team, and not many teams have someone better.

Sung Min Kim/Testudo Times

This won't be a rebuilding year, because it can't be.

Melo Trimble's back, and the Maryland basketball team will have too much talent not to be competitive in the Big Ten and reach a third-straight NCAA Tournament, barring catastrophic injuries or some other unforeseen intervention.

When Trimble decided on Wednesday to withdraw from the NBA Draft and stick around College Park for his junior season, he changed a dynamic. Maryland will still lose 80 percent of last year's uber-talented starting lineup, of course, but basketball is a volatile sport.

Rosters are small, and having just one or two stars means any decently coached team has a shot. Trimble -- despite a dip in efficiency as a sophomore, when he was often less than 100 percent healthy -- is that kind of star in the college game. He's one of the country's best players, and Maryland still has him. He'll take something like 30 percent of the Terps' shots when he's on the floor, and he'll play big minutes. He'll have a huge sway on everything the Terps do.

It's a little bit new for Trimble to be the guy. He's a quiet kid, and when he was a freshman, Maryland's vocal leader was Dez Wells. As a sophomore, the loudest leaders were Robert Carter Jr., Jake Layman and Rasheed Sulaimon. Trimble has never taken the highest percentage of Maryland's shots before, but he's absolutely going to do it now. He's also never been a de-facto team captain, but it's hard to imagine he's not going to be that now. This is his team.

Trimble fell into a deep freeze around the middle of last season, and by the time it was over, his numbers were summarily worse than what he posted as a freshman. He drew criticism for taking bad shots, and after being named the Big Ten's preseason player of the year, Trimble was "just" a second-team All-Big Ten selection. He was still really good -- better than he often got credit for in the thick of his struggles -- but he wasn't Peak Trimble.

That might make it easy to forget what a game-changing talent Trimble is, so we shouldn't do that. Some reminders: Maryland is 55-17 in his two years. He's made two Bob Cousy Award finalist lists, for the best point guard in the country. He's hit buzzer-beating winners, foul line game-clinchers and scores of other big shots. He's missed some, too, and had some bad games. But Trimble's as big-time as big-time gets in college basketball. He'd be elite for any team anywhere.

With Trimble back, Maryland's definitely one of the better teams in the Big Ten.

It's wrong to suggest Maryland is the league's preseason favorite, as it was last year.

Wisconsin has back forwards Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ, plus guard Bronson Koenig and a full offseason under coach Greg Gard. Indiana has a healthy James Blackmon Jr., Thomas Bryant and company. Purdue's got Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. Michigan's going to be much better, as might be Ohio State. Michigan State's coach is still Tom Izzo, and he's got a top-five incoming class. There's a lot of experienced talent in the Big Ten, and more on the way.

But with Trimble, Maryland's got a lot going for it. Outside of Wisconsin, there isn't a single team in the league that's obviously better right away, and even then, it's early. If Maryland adds a plug-and-play four-star small forward like Canada's Justin Jackson, and if even one or two of guards Dion Wiley, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter can have a big year? Then Maryland starts to look pretty scary on paper, even if it's not the nominal matchup nightmare it was last year.

Maryland knows all too well how meaningless preseason expectations can be. On some level, it might've been nice to be completely written off, as would've happened had Trimble not returned and had Cowan, a true freshman like Trimble two years ago, had to run the offense as a point guard from his first day onward. But that won't happen now.

No matter who they add in addition to Trimble, the Terrapins won't have the same terrifying five-man lineup they did last year, when Layman, Sulaimon, Carter and Diamond Stone joined him in what had appeared to be an unstoppable unit.

But with Trimble still around, they'll have a catalyst. If Mark Turgeon can build on what became a challenging 2016 season and become a better coach -- not that he's a bad one now -- there's no reason not to think Maryland could post a record close to last season's 27-9. (You'll recall last season's featured road games against Michigan State and Indiana, the top two teams in the league, and no home games against them. That should get easier by simple variation.)

Maryland might well have found a way to be competitive in a post-Trimble world. That's not the world the Terps will live in, though, and now there's nothing left to do but get back to work. Postseason expectations won't be going anywhere.