It's now Maryland Madness week, the Terps are practicing, recruiting is in full swing, and so let's try to forecast who starts; who are the main bench players; and how this upcoming season could play out. Obviously, there's a lot of speculation involved, but since we all have opinions, now's a good time to voice them.
Let's begin with a starting lineup after more observations this week:
PG Melo Trimble: It's basically Trimble's job by default, but again, the highly regarded freshman will be thrown to the fire out of necessity. He's got one summer of AAU ball, and one high school season of point guard experience, and I've gone on record here as saying I hope too much is not expected out of him. He has some limitations that will be exploited in the Big Ten, but we like his physical and mental toughness, his decision making and his ability to nail jumpers.
SG Dez Wells: It's Wells' team from a leadership standpoint. He'll be asked to calm the waters when things start to go south, and he'll be expected to make big shots at the end of games. Trimble being able to handle the ball handling responsibilities should free up Wells to do what he does best: Attack the basket.
SF Jake Layman: Now a junior, we've been waiting for the sometimes spectacular Layman to find the consistency to be a star. It's probably now or never in that regard. We know Layman can shoot, now let's see more aggressiveness going to the basket and drawing contact. A breakout year from Layman would go a long way in taking the Terps to a higher ranking in the Big Ten.
PF Evan Smotrycz: Much like Layman, this fellow Massachusetts native had an up-and-down year after transferring to Maryland from Michigan. He'll never be a lockdown defender, but he can do two things well: make open jumpers (especially treys), and rebound the ball. He'll need to do both in abundance, and at the same time provide more positive leadership to a team that will definitely need it.
C Jonathan Graham: OK, this comes as a surprise I am sure (especially with Mark Turgeon penciling Damonte Dodd into the starting lineup initially), but think about it. Graham, at the very least, has experience in the Big Ten, he knows the system and he will battle on both ends of the court. Graham won't be asked to do a lot on offense, but he will work hard defensively and on the boards. As the starter, he might only play 15 minutes a game, but the team's probably better served starting him, which will allow Mark Turgeon to work Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky in slowly.
Sixth Man -- Richaud Pack: We received glowing reports on Pack's play down in the Kenner League this summer, but, again, that's racehorse basketball and probably not a good gauge as to how much he'll be able to help Maryland in the Big Ten. That said, Pack knows the game, is a natural leader, knows his strengths and weaknesses, and plays smart. That, and being able to stick an occasional jumper should get him on the court for significant minutes. Make no mistake, North Carolina A&T to Maryland is a big jump competition wise, but Pack's role at UMD will be different. It's hoped he's the "glue guy" this program desperately needs.
Michal Cekovsky: We like the skills, and the ability to change ends. Turgeon has referred to "Checko" as a work in progress, and that seems to be a fair assessment. He has far more offensive skills than either Graham or Dodd, but he will likely need time to adjust to the speed and physicality of the American collegiate game. Pencil him in for 15-18 minutes and choose his spots wisely.
Damonte Dodd: Dodd's development could be a key component to this year's team. He was raw upon arrival, and then suffered a foot injury this summer. He's part of the "center by committee" it would seem, but he has the physical tools to block shots and be a solid rebounder. As with Graham, he won't be asked to do much offensively -- make dunks and try to shoot at least 60 percent from the line when fouled. His role should be well defined on the defensive end of the court.
Jared Nickens: We like the fact the ultra-slim Nickens has put on weight. He looked noticeably bigger in the upper body recently. Like Cekovsky, he'll need time to adjust physically, but he's a tremendous open shooter, and that's a valuable commodity at any level. Can he guard the quicker guards, or the stronger wings? Those are the main concerns. Nickens' value may be realized more on a long-term basis than immediately, but his future is bright.
Dion Wiley: Wiley's big enough and strong enough to hold up physically. Known as a shooter, we like his passing ability even better, and he apparently has made great strides on defense, an area in which he had to improve. Wiley is known as a player who lets the game come to him. It will be interesting to see how assertive he is as a freshman. My guess is that he's brought along slowly, especially if Pack provides the quality minutes we expect him to.
So there are my starters, and the roles I would expect the bench guys to play. The concerns remain the same: Can the "center by committee" get the job done as a collective unit? Can they stop people? Can they hold their own on the boards? Cekovsky is the only one of the bunch with a lot of offensive upside, but again, I 'm just not sure he's ready for prime time just yet.
Can Trimble hold up at the point? One national writer claimed that Trimble "has as much pressure on him as any freshman in the country." That's a strong statement, but one that's hard to argue. Terps fans hopefully realize he will have his ups and downs. I do think he is strong enough mentally to handle those. I just hope he stays healthy because the point guard depth just isn't there.
Finally, in Wells, Graham, Smotrycz and Pack, you have four seniors who should be able to provide the strong leadership this program sorely needs. And when this team's on the road at Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan State and the like, that leadership will be vital.
Some of the college basketball magazines are picking Maryland seventh or eighth in the Big Ten, a 14-team league. Frankly, I'd be happy with that, because there's a handful of teams (Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska) that probably have more talent and depth than the Terps. Maryland needs to hold court at home, because there will be few "gimmes" on the road. Again, the seniors have to show the way, and Trimble has to grow up fast.
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