Maryland Basketball: Is Maryland’s 17-2 start surprising?

Jan 19, 2017; Iowa City, IA, USA; The Maryland Terrapins bench reacts during the second half against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Maryland won 84-76. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 19, 2017; Iowa City, IA, USA; The Maryland Terrapins bench reacts during the second half against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Maryland won 84-76. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports /

The Maryland basketball team had one of the biggest assemblies of talent in the country a season ago.

After losing four starters from that squad, a 17-2 start may not exactly have been in the cards.

Any of the success that the Terrapins were going to have was going to hinge on the return of Melo Trimble. After deciding to come back for his junior season, coach Mark Turgeon’s roster received a huge shot in the arm.

Trimble’s has easily been the straw that stirs the drink for the Maryland basketball program over the past two years. From last year’s game-winning shot against Wisconsin to clutch free throws in the final seconds of games this year, the former Bishop O’Connell (Va.) star has always been “the guy.”

Trimble is playing some of the best basketball of his Maryland career. He’s averaging a career-best 17.4 points and has been getting to the free throw line with regularity.

As great as Trimble’s numbers have been, he’s the type of player that you know what you’re getting.

It was always going to come down to Maryland’s talented group of freshmen. Turgeon replenished his roster because Jake Layman and Rasheed Sulaimon were graduating last spring.

Combine that with the fact that it was believed that Diamond Stone was a one-and-done type of player and new blood was clearly going to be needed. After all, that is the name of the game in the college ranks.

That’s why programs like Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky always contend on a year-to-year basis.

Turgeon put together a phenomenal recruiting class that included Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter, and Justin Jackson. As impressive a group as it was, you never really know what to expect from freshmen because there is a learning curve involved with the collegiate game.

However, it didn’t take long to realize that this trio was going to produce at a high level.

In just the second game of the season against Georgetown, it seemed like it was the coming out party for all three freshmen. Cowan and Jackson both scored in double figures and Huerter provided the game-saving block at the rim to seal the comeback win for the Terps.

Each has offered a unique skillset that has really benefitted Turgeon and the Terps throughout the first 19 games.

There’s few freshmen in the Big Ten that have impacted a team like Cowan has. The former St. John’s College (D.C.) standout has been a primary ball-handler, facilitator, and tenacious defender.

He’s taken the pressure off of Trimble from a ball-handling perspective. That has allowed Trimble to be more of a scorer, which is evident in his career-best 17.4 points.

When Robert Carter Jr. and Layman were both gone after last season, the frontcourt became a big question mark.

Damonte Dodd is more than capable of occupying the center position, but who would be the primary power forward?

Jackson certainly has answered that bell.

The former UNLV signee leads the team in rebounds (6.0) and has impacted the game in so many different areas. While he’s a great rebounder, he can also score both in the paint and on the perimeter, alter shots, and clog the passing lanes.

Jackson has the ability to take some of the scoring load off of Trimble. His three-point shooting may be the true x-factor in his game as he’s hitting 40.4 percent of his long-range attempts.

Huerter hasn’t been quite as consistent as Cowan and Jackson, but he’s still played a huge role in the team’s success.

Much like Jackson, Huerter has a bigger frame, so he’s capable of doing a little bit of everything. This is a guy that can shoot, rebound, and alter shots like few guards can.

Huerter is currently third on the team with a 36.8 percent clip from beyond the arc. He’s had a knack for hitting big shots late in games.

With the amount of depth that the Terps have, Huerter hasn’t had to put up big-time numbers.

When you combine all of these factors, it’s hard to say that Maryland would have such an outstanding record up to this point in the season. While the nonconference slate wasn’t incredibly challenging, Pittsburgh being the only loss is pretty remarkable.

Teams like Kansas State and Richmond have already won a combined nine conference games. There’s plenty of talent on those rosters, so a young team could’ve easily fell in one of those contests.

Maryland did win those games by a combined eight total points, so there’s something to be said for being confident in late-game situations.

Big Ten play proved more of the same: that these young Terps aren’t afraid of the big moment when the game is on the line. After all, the only loss was against Nebraska, where they collapsed in the final minutes.

If not for the offense going cold in that one, Maryland only has one loss the entire season.

Maryland does have wins over Illinois (twice), Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan to begin conference play. With that being said, the Terps currently are tied with Wisconsin, who also owns a 5-1 record in the Big Ten.

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Even if Maryland doesn’t win the Big Ten, having a 17-2 mark at this point is impressive and surprising all at the same time.