We’re doing a season review of Maryland basketball’s roster this week. We did the guards on Monday. After Melo Trimble rudely interrupted the rhythm of our week, we’re up to the forwards.
Maryland basketball brought in two freshman forwards this season, and reaped the benefits of two probably underrated recruits right away.
Justin Jackson and Kevin Huerter took starting spots alongside fellow freshman point guard Anthony Cowan, and played a huge part in elevating Maryland from turtle-shaped question mark to Big Ten contender. They were the team’s second- and fourth-leading scorers, and compensated for a general lack of depth on the roster.
Huerter and Jackson were godsends for Mark Turgeon.
Even optimistic Maryland fans had to be a bit surprised at how well these two filled clear needs on the team’s roster. They scored, defended, and filled in admirably after Maryland lost Jake Layman and Robert Carter to the pros.
Jackson combines improved consistency with a modest jump in production from his first to second year. He has the length — 7’3 wingspan on a 6’8 body, in case you haven’t heard us say that a million times already — and the combination of inside-outside scoring that makes him an excellent prospect. It all worked for him, as his 44 percent — he had the exact same shooting percentage inside and outside the arc — was the highest of any non-center on Maryland. But Jackson faded down the stretch. His season reached its apex during back-to-back 20-plus-point efforts against Minnesota and Ohio State, but Jackson only scored in double figures in four of Maryland’s final 11 games. With Trimble gone, Maryland will likely need big contributions from him night in and night out.
Huerter is 6’6, and though he played small forward as a freshman, he could even move to guard now that Melo Trimble’s starting spot is vacant. Like Jackson, he has the length to guard bigger guys and the athleticism to negate smaller ones. Huerter didn’t score with as much consistency as Jackson or Cowan, but he played consistent defense and should up his scoring output with Trimble out of the picture.
Huerter had the team’s highest offensive rating on KenPom, and showed fans a sneak peak of next year in his 26-point outburst against Nebraska and back-to-back 19-point outings in the postseason. He attempted almost twice as many twos as he did threes, a trend we’ll likely see even out with Trimble gone. Huerter can now slide into a slightly more aggressive and ball-dominant role, something his days as a high school point guard should have him prepared for.
Jared Nickens couldn’t find his role — or his shot.
Nickens appeared lost on this team. He regressed as a junior. His shot wasn’t falling, as he only hit 34 percent from three, the same percentage he had in his previous season. That’s not good enough when 79 of 98 field goal attempts come from beyond the arc.
Mark Turgeon halved Nickens’ minutes from 19 per game his first two seasons to just 10. Nickens played six, then two, then five minutes in Maryland’s final three games. He couldn’t provide consistent offense or defense. He needs to bring something else to the table if his shooting isn’t lights-out, and he couldn’t do that. Maybe Nickens improves enough to earn his spot back between now and then. As the roster currently stands, Turgeon could still use a sharp-shooting forward.
The team could pursue a recruit or transfer to bolster the power forward spot.
Micah Thomas and Joshua Tomaic both redshirted their freshman seasons to pack more muscle on their frames, and could have factored in at power forward next season. But Thomas announced his intention to transfer on Wednesday, robbing the Terps of an athletic prospect but giving them the chance to get a player who may be able to contribute in a more immediate way.
With Jackson and Huerter leading the way, Turgeon has options. But with Jackson potentially good enough to go pro as early as next year, it’s time to bring in some more depth.