Though the Maryland men's basketball team’s current 24-7 record is certainly nothing to scoff at, there is a sense of underachievement surrounding this team heading into the Big Ten Tournament.
Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon each have had their share of ups and downs this season. Jake Layman, the team’s only four-year senior, has had an overall productive but inconsistent year. Robert Carter Jr. has provided the Terps with a much needed offensive threat from the power forward position, but has also been relatively inconsistent down the stretch. While the Terps finished the regular season with a worse record than last year’s, they are still in the AP Top 25 and have been all year.
And Diamond Stone is largely to thank.
Stone had a great overall first, and hopefully not only, season in College Park. He showed flashes of unmatched dominance at times, while reminding us that he is still a freshman adjusting to the collegiate level of play at others. Essentially, he had precisely the type of season we should have expected.
Though he was widely touted across the country entering the season, Stone truly burst into the national spotlight following his 39-point, 12-rebound effort against Penn State on December 30. The 39 points set a freshman record, and his stellar performance practically single-handedly led Maryland to a come-from-behind win against the Nittany Lions.
Head coach Mark Turgeon opted to start junior Damonte Dodd over Stone for much of the season, though Stone still averaged about seven more minutes played per game. Stone scored in double figures in 24 of 30 games played in 2015-16. It did not really matter whether the Terps were playing in the friendly confines of the Xfinity Center or in a hostile environment on the road. Stone was consistent in both environments, averaging 13.4 points at home and 12.7 points in away games.
His performance against Penn State was easily his most impressive this season, but Stone also had stellar performances against Connecticut, Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, and Purdue, averaging over 17 points and eight rebounds each contest. For as great as he was in those games, Stone was a relative nonfactor in others.
On the road at Northwestern, he chipped in 10 points and corralled five rebounds, but should have dominated under the basket with Wildcats’ center Alex Olah out with an injury. He scored just six and nine points in important back-to-back games at Michigan State and home against Iowa, notching just 10 rebounds in the two games combined. In a home loss to Wisconsin, he scored 10 but grabbed just one board. At times this season the game seemed to move too fast for him, attributable to both his stature and the obviously excusable learning curve as a young freshman adjusting to an entirely different level of basketball.
Stone’s season included the good and the bad, but there was also the ugly. His lack of judgment and restraint was put on national display during a brief moment of immaturity, when he gave a quick shove to the head of Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown after both players tumbled to the hardwood fighting for a rebound. Stone was not ejected from the game, though he should have been. He was suspended by the team for Maryland’s next game at Minnesota, which the Terps lost.
All in all, Stone’s season played out exactly how we should have expected given the preseason hype coupled with his need to acclimate himself with the Big Ten. His freshman season included many showings of dominance, a flash of NBA lottery pick potential, some understandably freshman-like performances, and a brief immature moment he likely wishes he could take back.
He could certainly use another season at Maryland to develop his skills, but he has also popped up in many mock NBA Draft boards throughout the season and has showed at least the potential to succeed at that level in the future.
If Maryland's going to turn around the ship in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, Stone will be a huge reason why.