Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
Terrapin Nation had quite a shock yesterday when not one, not two but three players from last year’s team made the decision to finish their basketball careers somewhere other than College Park. Nick Faust and Shaquille Cleare were relatively known transfer entities after rumors cropped up a few weeks ago that their departure was impending, but the real shock came when freshman Roddy Peters, a local Suitland native, opted to head out.
The loss of Peters meant that Mark Turgeon and the Terrapins lost their top ranked recruits from the 2011, 2012, and 2013 class all in one day. Separately, they aren’t massive hits to the program; combined, it certainly feels like Maryland lost something yesterday. Those were a pair of local recruits, and more importantly guys who were supposed to be the cornerstones of Maryland’s future progression into the elite. Now, they’re just reminders that even the best laid plans…
But enough with the somber tale, we’ve got some dissection to do! These moves mean Maryland has some roster spots opened up, some new shoes that need filling, and some points that need to be scored by multiple players. What was once a logjam of minutes at the guard and center positions is now an open competition between incumbents and incomers. Competition makes everyone and everything better, in my opinion, but can Maryland quickly recover from these transfers like everyone would like?
1.) Nick Faust won’t be as easy to replace, Roddy Peters might be
Faust was, for the most part, Maryland’s best defender and one of the best passer on the team (this is saying nothing about his turnover tendencies, of course). At his best, he was a clamp down on-ball guard who had a flair for the dramatic when it came to creating plays for others. He was third on the team in assists, but more importantly he was first on the team in steals. Losing those two stats alone undoubtedly hurt the team, as Maryland was fifth in the ACC in steals.
Replacements for that sixth man, glue-guy role that Nick Faust so often found himself in include Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley, two freshmen heading to College Park. But in my eyes, replacing a to-be senior with a trove of experience with two freshmen (no matter how highly touted they are) isn’t a vertical move; it’s at best horizontal.
I’ve seen both Wiley and Nickens play on numerous occasions, and while offensively the two are probably as good as Faust was last year (though I also have my doubts about that), they won’t be anywhere near the defender he was and is. That’s not conjecture; that’s fact. I’ve seen Wiley play defense at times (his high school championship game, for one), but it isn’t the focal point of his game and he isn’t as aggressive as Faust. Nickens has the tools to become one, but as Peters showed last season, freshmen usually get abused against good teams at the next level. For that reason, Faust is going to be difficult to replace on the defensive end.
Peters was two assists away from leading all players on the team in assists despite playing half the minutes of the top guy (Dez Wells). That’s a feat in and of itself, and speaks volumes about the lack of playmakers on Maryland’s roster, and the impact the departure of the one truly creative player will have. Peters may not have been a good shooter, but he was a good passer who turned the ball over a lot (like most freshmen point guards do). Trimble and Allen are going to have to make some pretty big adjustments to their game if they expect to match that productivity, or Maryland will otherwise need to bring in another guard (see: transfer player).
Regardless, they’ve got a lot of assists and steals to make up, and that’s only to break even with a team that didn’t make the tournament last year.
2.) Melo Trimble (and Dion Wiley, to an extent) is about to get a lot of burn
We all knew Melo Trimble, the crown jewel of Maryland’s 2014 class, was going to get a lot of burn in CP because of his billing. The moves yesterday just confirmed that. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Trimble doesn’t start from day one in College Park at this point. He’s healthy, he’s (kind of) a point guard, and Maryland needs a point guard who is healthy. The loss of Peters and Faust in the back court opens up exactly 1,360 minutes; expect those to be absorbed almost entirely by Trimble and Wiley.
I’m not sure Trimble is a day one point guard, either, but Coach Turgeon believes he can develop him into one, so I’m not about to second guess that decision. Trimble has proven to everyone at every level that he’s qualified to play with the big boys, and I have little doubt that he can’t adjust to whatever is thrown his way. If that’s the case, Allen is going to be able to play off the ball at the two, which presumably opens up minutes for Wells at the three (an absolutely perfect spot for him). Presumably, Wiley will spell Wells and Allen in doses, with Nickens sopping up the remainder of what’s left.
I’ll concede that I do like that backcourt lineup quite a bit more. It gives the team definition, and defined roles are something that the Terps kind of lacked last year, making play disjointed and confusing at times. This alleviates that greatly, and even though there may be some growing pains both offensively and defensively, a regular rotation (finally, in year four) will be welcome. No more musical chairs with the lineups…hopefully.
3.) The front court is going to be interesting, but in a good way.
The departure of Shaquille Cleare is kind of like a necessary evil. Cleare is a terribly nice person and not remotely bad for team chemistry, but on the basketball court there were better options moving forward and everyone knew it. Even Cleare could read the writing on the wall, which is basically why he chose to leave. Shaq had two years and plenty of opportunities to prove his mettle, but eventually the clock runs out on even the best prospects.
I’m not going to (and you probably shouldn’t, either) make all-encompassing statements about this coaching staff’s ability to evaluate talent just because Cleare didn’t work out. It just happens, because recruiting is as inaccurate as shaking around a magic eight ball for answers. There are so many things that factor into whether or not a player will work out, and it wasn’t just Turgeon who missed on Cleare. It was every evaluator who said he would come in and make an immediate impact. Mike Jones and Travis Garrison didn’t work out for Gary Williams, either, and they were both McDonald’s All-American caliber guys.
That said, Maryland now has a lot of front court options moving forward, and they’re all exciting because we don’t know what they bring to the table. Let’s look at a couple potential rotations:
PG: Seth Allen, SG: Dez Wells, SF: Jake Layman PF: Evan Smotrycz C: Charles Mitchell
This is a terrible defensive lineup with Allen, Smotrycz, and Chuck playing at the same time, but it would be incredibly versatile and tough to stop offensively and would outrebound just about any team they play against.
PG: Melo Trimble, SG: Seth Allen, SF: Dez Wells, PF: Charles Mitchell, C: Trayvon Reed
This might be the most “normal” lineup Maryland has. Slashers, guards who can handle the ball up court and pass to interior scorers, good rebounding and great rim protection. It’s only deficit is that it has two freshmen in the lineup, and about nine billion turnovers/fouls waiting to happen. Still, Melo is a more willing passer than Seth, and could form a very scary back court
PG: Seth Allen, SG: Dez Wells, SF: Jake Layman, PF: Charles Mitchell, C: Trayvon Reed/Damonte Dodd
This scenario is another one that has solid balance and incorporates one of the freshmen brought in to help offset an incumbent’s faults (Charles Mitchell’s lack of size). Layman and Allen are the shooters, Dez plays his standard slasher role, Chuck rebounds, and Trayvon or Damonte provide the defensive rim protection. At this point, in my eyes, Reed and Dodd are interchangeable in this role. They’re going to get into foul trouble a lot, and having this many big men helps out a bunch.
I’ll stop there because I think you get the point. These are just three scenarios out of so many that Turgeon is going to have to work out on his own. I don’t envy his task in any way, because some tough decisions are going to have to be made (particularly with Smotrycz, Layman, and Mitchell). The incumbents all have value to add to a team, but figuring out how to balance playing time all while incorporating such highly regarded recruits isn’t going to be easy.
What’s clear, however, is that Maryland basketball’s dynamic has completely changed.