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Maryland basketball really needed Justin Jackson back

The Terps couldn’t afford to lose both of their best players from this past season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Maryland vs Xavier Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Jackson is coming back to Maryland basketball for his sophomore season, eschewing an early shot at the pros for at least for one year.

His return gives Maryland its second-leading scorer — and most talented returning player — back. That’s a positive development for a team that’ll need everything he can provide.

Maryland already lost Melo Trimble. Jackson’s going to need to help pick up some of that slack.

Let’s take a look at Maryland’s page on Sports Reference:

Maryland would have had to make up for 26 points per game without both Jackson and Melo Trimble, who departed the team for the pros after his junior season. Even with Jackson, making up Trimble’s 16 points is not going to be easy. Trimble provided a whole lot of scoring, and with him gone, things are going to have to change.

Jackson is still going need to step up as a sophomore. So will Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter.

Jackson was just one of Maryland’s three outstanding freshmen in 2016-17. He, Cowan and Huerter are the future of this team. That’s a solid core to build around, but just Cowan and Huerter wouldn’t have been enough to sustain this team next season. Even with all three of them, Maryland still might only be a fringe tournament team.

All three sophomores will need to be more aggressive and look for their own shot a little more often now that Trimble’s gone. During his freshman year, Jackson was able to thrive off of open threes from Trimble drives, shooting 44 percent from deep. He’ll need Cowan and Huerter to open up some some shots for him, but won’t be able to thrive off that alone. He’ll need to get better at creating his own shots, and so will his two classmates.

Cowan will need to raise his 32 percent three-point stroke, and with Trimble gone, the onus will be on him to run the offense. Huerter showed that he can drive and create his own shot, so he doesn't have to settle for taking twice as many threes as twos. Luckily for Maryland, Cowan and Huerter both showed in spurts that they can be ball handlers and scorers last season — and with Trimble gone, they’ll have many more opportunities to handle the ball.

Jackson has some areas to improve. If he does that, he’ll propel himself into the first round of next year’s draft.

DraftExpress already projects him as the No. 21 overall pick in next year’s draft. With some more consistency and a bigger leadership role, Jackson could really turn some heads. However, his role last year was a complimentary one. Now he’ll have to be a star.

That means Jackson will need to get better at handling the ball, which he’ll need to do anyway if he wants a lengthy professional career. Jackson played mostly at the power forward spot during his freshman season, but projects as a small forward at the next level.

With Trimble leaving, head coach Mark Turgeon could opt to move Kevin Huerter from forward to guard and slide Jackson down to play the majority of his minutes at the three. Maryland’s still not super deep down low, but the additions of grad transfer Sean Obi, incoming freshman Bruno Fernando and redshirt freshman Joshua Tomaic could free Jackson up to play smaller. (Not that Jackson couldn’t still captain a Warriors-like death lineup if Turgeon wanted him to.)

If Jackson shoots from deep at least near as well as he did his first year and combines that with improvement handling the ball and driving to the hoop, he and his team will both reap the rewards.