Dec 27, 2014; College Park, MD, USA; Oakland Golden Grizzlies guard Kahlil Felder (20) passes the ball as Maryland Terrapins guard Dez Wells (44) defends in the second half at Xfinity Center. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
On Saturday, Maryland concluded their best non-conference slate since coach Mark Turgeon took over four years ago. At 12-1 with the lone loss coming against top ten Virginia, Maryland has assembled a quality résumé so far. The Terrapins have won three games over power conference teams with two them at a neutral site and one in a true road game. Nationally, analysts have noticed as the Terrapins rank in the top fifteen in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches poll.
With several players transferring out of Maryland in the offseason and the implementation of a new offensive system, there were many concerns early on. Now on the horizon of conference play, Maryland ranks 52nd in points scored and 47th in field goal percentage. The trusted KenPom rankings have Maryland as the 19th best offense in the country, which is a major improvement after finishing last season ranked 114th. The 2014-2015 Terrapins have accomplished this with two of their top returning players sidelined for most of the non-conference schedule.
It may have taken longer than many wanted, but it appears as if Mark Turgeon has laid down the foundation for a successful future of Maryland basketball. Most of the players responsible for this turnaround are underclassmen. Maryland has brought in a couple of highly rated recruiting classes, but none of them have lived up to the hype like this year’s freshmen have. Coupled with a committed attitude from the returning players and coach Turgeon has a team that can compete for a league title.
Now that league play is approaching, what have the Terrapins shown us through non-conference play?
1) Improvement From Returning Players
The most noticeable improvements from last season to this season have come from Jake Layman and Damonte Dodd. Both players have taken a big step forward and neither looks finished improving game to game.
Dodd showed flashes in limited time last year of being a good defensive player. Offensively he often looked lost, which made assessing his preseason expectations for this year difficult. If Dodd could rebound, protect the rim, and set screens this season then it would be a good year for him was my preseason expectations for the sophomore big man. Through thirteen games he has exceed these expectations and has me excited for his future. Dodd is still lacking a post game, but he has shown an ability to find cutters in the paint, which is something that Maryland hasn’t had from the big men in years. On defense, Dodd has shown that he can use his athleticism to protect the rim. Currently Dodd is averaging 1.7 blocks per game, and he is altering many shots at the rim as well. There is still much to be desired from Dodd on the glass and he needs to work on staying out of foul trouble. But from a sophomore who only played 166 minutes as a freshman, he is contributing much more than expected.
Jake Layman has been the story of the non-conference season. Across the board Layman has shown significant improvement from last year. When Dez Wells injured his wrist, Layman filled in right away and has now posted back-to-back double-doubles. Layman’s development has been most noticeable in his shot selection. He has been turning down three pointers and opting to attack teams off the dribble. Last year Layman shot 53.5% of his shots from beyond the arc and only 24.7% at the rim, this season Layman is down to 37.7% of his shots coming from three and up to 36.1% of his shots coming at the rim according to Hoop-Math.com. Well-rounded shot selection has helped Layman to get to the free throw line and create opportunities for his teammates.
2) Melo Trimble
It is difficult to find another Maryland player who had to handle the load that Melo has had to and exceed expectations while doing so. The McDonald’s All-American has shown Maryland fans a bit of everything so far this season. Melo has scored in double figures in every game expect one. He has had four games with five or more rebounds including a twelve-rebound performance against USC Upstate. From the free throw line, not only is he shooting 90.4%, he is also getting to line seven times per game.
Despite having a top twenty offense according to KenPom, Maryland is 230th in the country in assists per game. That isn’t all on Melo’s shoulders but as the point guard he does carry some of the responsibility in this department. Currently Melo has a 1.2 assist-to-turnover ratio. Given what Melo has brought so far, this is nitpicking but improving this ratio would go along way in helping Maryland to finish near the top of the Big Ten.
3) Trust In Each Other And The System
Unfortunately there is no statistical category to quantify this area, but anyone who has watched Maryland play multiple times this season can notice it. There is a trust in one another and a trust in coach Turgeon’s system that every player shares on the court. Even when Maryland goes through a scoring drought they are still generating good opportunities for one another. In late game situations, Maryland has been able to close out teams because of this trust. College players are subject to bad turnovers and poor shot selection, but for the most part these have been minimized. A large part of Maryland having a top twenty offense is due to the fact that they are not wasting possessions with poor shots. Instead, they continue to run their offense and create open looks for the many scoring options available.
Without Dez Wells we saw Maryland’s offense become stagnant at times, and it almost hurt them in a couple of games. Now with Dez and Evan Smotrycz back, those droughts should be minimized. Both players have shown that they can attack for themselves and their teammates. When Dez is in the line-up then Melo doesn’t have to work as hard and can instead space the floor and it creates another shooting option. Melo’s numbers have been consistent with and without Dez except for his three point shooting. Without Dez, Melo shot 31.6% from three while with Dez he is shooting 50% and getting more attempts from beyond the arc.
Even though Maryland has had a successful non-conference season, there are still many unknowns. Coach Turgeon didn’t have his full roster of players available until the final non-conference game against Oakland. The freshmen have filled in admirable for the two injured seniors, which will give Turgeon the ability to play many line-ups in conference play. Coaches will have a tough time preparing for Maryland with how well the freshman have played and the lack of information on a complete Maryland squad.