The Maryland men's basketball team entered the season looking like a national title contender, and things are looking similarly chipper through nine games. The Terps have one loss to top-10 North Carolina and have had scares against Georgetown, Rider and Illinois State, but they're nonetheless 8-1 and have one of the most efficient offenses in the country. For Maryland, things are pretty good. To keep them that way, though, its best players have to stay fresh.
That's why it's probably time, in Maryland's last three non-conference games before hosting Penn State on Dec. 30, to plant guards Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon on the bench for as much time as possible.
The sophomore and senior guards are Maryland's two biggest minutes-getters thus far. Trimble is playing 32 minutes per game, and Sulaimon is playing 31.6. No one else is playing more than Jake Layman's 27.3, and the Terps' next three games against Maryland Eastern Shore, Princeton and Marshall are the best chance to bring that into balance.
Trimble and Sulaimon have each played about 40 minutes – the equivalent of a full game – more than anybody else on Maryland's roster. On its face, that makes sense. Planned starting shooting guard Dion Wiley is out for the season with a torn right meniscus, backup point guard Jaylen Brantley is still raw and sixth-man shooting guard Jared Nickens is a second-unit offensive injection but not a ball-handler.
But for the same reason it makes sense that Trimble and Sulaimon are playing so much, it's scary. Maryland can't afford to lose either one of them to an injury and probably can't get by with either man not at the top of his game, either. Sulaimon is Maryland's only reliable perimeter defender, and Trimble is, well, everything.
Maryland is already making things as easy as possible for its two star guards. Unlike last year, when Trimble and Dez Wells dominated possession for Maryland out of the backcourt, this Maryland team has a post-based offense. This has helped keep offensive strain off Trimble and Sulaimon. It's a good thing, and it should leave Trimble and Sulaimon – to say nothing of their own endurance training – in good shape to play a lot of minutes this season.
But Maryland's next three games are against the teams ranked Nos. 319, 95 and 280 in Ken Pomeroy's rankings. Trimble and Sulaimon are on pace to play the equivalent of an additional three full games compared to the rest of their teammates. There's no better time left on the schedule for Trimble and Sulaimon to sit and watch, and for Brantley and Nickens to play major minutes while Maryland keeps funneling the ball inside to Diamond Stone and Robert Carter.