It hasn't always been pretty, but, hey, 7-0 is looking pretty good to me right now. Now I fully realize there will be some bumps along the road going forward, especially if the injury bug keeps biting the Terps, but this team is watchable. Being totally honest, there were games last year that weren't. This group of athletes is not going to win the Big Ten, or go to the Final Four, but so far, at least, it's certainly deserving of fan support -- and offers hope for the future of the program. Here's a brief evaluation of each Maryland player so far:
Dez Wells: The unquestioned heart and soul of the program, and his broken wrist is a problem. But better now than in January, I guess. His shot is still shaky at times, but the guy is a natural leader, and it's hoped things can stay together while he's out. Who leads while he's injured?
Evan Smotrycz: Hopefully for Terps fans Smotrycz answers the leadership call, and yet, he's dealing with with a sprained ankle in addition to recovering from his foot injury. Smotrycz has his limitations, but he's a good rebounder, and his outside shooting will be needed in Big Ten play. Head coach Mark Turgeon has to hope his ankle heals quickly, and that Smotrycz can pick up the slack with Wells out.
Jon Graham: While his minutes vary from game to game, Graham also can help in the leadership department, and the effort is always there. He's going to be needed as long as Damonte Dodd fights foul trouble, and while Michal Cekovsky gains experience.
Richaud Pack: Pack finally emerged from his shooting slump against VMI, and that's a good thing to see for UMD fans. But I still his biggest contributions coming in the form of stellar defense, being a secondary ball handler, and doing all the little things it takes to win. Pack's not a dominating player at this level, but landing him was a huge pickup. The guy knows how to play basketball, and is rock solid, on and off the court.
Jake Layman: So far so good for Jake, who has stepped up his creativity off the bounce somewhat, is shooting the ball well, and has shown more aggression in attacking the basket. Until Wells returns, Layman has to take that next step and be able to score in late game situations.
Damonte Dodd: The big guy has done well, when not fighting foul problems. He's been a defensive presence, is blocking shots and holding his own on the boards. Any offense from him is a bonus, but again, Dodd has to find a way to play aggressively without fouling. The Terps need him on the court for 15-18 minutes a game.
Dion Wiley: Wiley also came up big versus VMI, and I've been impressed by his much improved conditioning and by a more consistent effort than he showed at times in high school. When Wiley us aggressive, he's a pretty good basketball player. We know he can shoot, but as I pointed out months ago, he can create some off the bounce and is an excellent passer. If he stays aggressive on the defensive end of the court, he will be a force in the future.
Jared Nickens: Everyone knows Nickens is a shooter, but I've been impressed so far with his willingness to take, and make, shots from all over the court. Oftentimes freshmen defer to the upperclassmen, but Nickens has not been reluctant to pull the trigger, and he's been shooting the ball well. He'll likely take some bumps and bruises come January when things get more physical, but at this point, he's been everything the staff could have hoped for.
Michal Cekovsky: It's coming. You can already see signs of growth and improvement with the big Slovakian. Cekovsky has skills, and the strength will come in time. Right now, it's mainly a confidence thing, and as that grows, so too will his game. I can see the Virginia game as being a tough matchup for him, but as one scouting associate of mine told me months ago, "When Michal gets stronger, and becomes acclimated to the American game, he's going to be a problem."
Melo Trimble: You wouldn't ordinarily expect a freshman point guard to be a stabilizing force, but Trimble's been that -- and more. I realize his assist/turnover rate isn't great, but he gets the Terps into their sets, he finds open shooters, he plays with incredible poise and the guy can absolutely make shots. Again, some tough nights are sure to come, but after seven games at least, the Terps appear to have a "program cornerstone" in Trimble.
Some other quick thoughts:
Can Maryland beat Virginia on Wednesday? The Cavs are not shooting the ball real well, but suffice to say, they will suffocate you defensively, and pound you at will on the boards. I realize the Wahoos only scored 45 points against Rutgers, but they only gave up 26? Now I realize Rutgers is pretty bad, but that's still an incredible stat. Could it happen? With a healthy Wells and Smotrycz, definitely. Without them, it's unlikely. But at 7-0, Maryland has absolutely nothing to lose. With a national audience watching, and hopefully a packed house, I do think Maryland can make it interesting.
I've been watching a lot of Big Ten basketball lately. Wisconsin is nasty. Michigan State looks to be formidable, despite not having any superstars. Ohio State is strong as usual, and John Beilein gets the most out of his talent as always. I should mention that Illinois has some athletes, but no one else really scares me at this point. Indiana can be a problem, because they have quickness on the perimeter, and their guards can shoot it, but they have virtually no inside game at all. The Hoosiers lost to Eastern Washington -- at home. If the Terps stay healthy, they can do some damage in the league.
The Terps did check out the recent Bluegrass Invitational in Kentucky over the weekend. My guess is that Yankuba Sima (Arlington Country Day/Jacksonville , Fla.) was the main reason for the trip. Sima still looks like a reasonably good possibility as a spring signee. With Diamond Stone (Dominican HS/Whitefish Bay, Wisc.), there's nothing new to report. I am still seeing UConn as his landing spot, but must admit that he'd be dynamite in Bo Ryan's system at Wisconsin as well. If you're a Terps fan, you'd want him at UConn.
While in Kentucky, Maryland also looked at in-state prospect C.J. Keyser, who's prepping at Sunrise Christian School (Wichita, Kans.). Apparently, Keyser will now re-class to 2016. Keyser's a high flying athlete, who formerly played at Patterson Mill HS (Bel Air, Md.). Keyser, 6-feet-4, is intriguing, but I am not anticipating a Terp offer anytime soon.
Meanwhile, signee Jaylen Brantley (Odessa College/Odessa, Texas) continues to play well. He's going to provide a ton of support to Trimble next year, and I can envision them on the court a lot together. Primary backup ball handlers Richaud Pack, Dez Wells and Varun Ram will all graduate, so again, Brantley, who I have always liked, was an excellent get by the staff.
Things are fairly quiet in recruiting at the moment, as the high school season gears up in the next week across the country. Our list of 2016 recruits is filling up nicely, but I still think the Terps will bring in a big or two in the spring (don't forget Ivan Bender is still in the mix), and I continue to see a strong, dynamic, athletic wing as a must. Maryland only has eight scholarship players for next year as we speak (Layman, Carter, Dodd, Trimble, Wiley, Nickens, Cekovsky and Brantley), so I am expecting two more signees at a minimum.
I like the fact that the staff seems to be very selective as they identify targets. After last year's exodus, it's critical they land kids who buy in totally. Already it's plainly evident that chemistry is going to play a huge role in whatever success this team realizes this year, and beyond.
Lastly, are there any 2016 DMV prospects who are absolute "musts" in my mind? Not really, though it's obvious Anthony Cowan (St. John's /Washington, D.C.) and Markelle Fultz (DeMatha Catholic/Hyattsville, Md.) are two excellent prospects. In a perfect world, you want to grab a local stud every year if you can. The Terps have a good shot with Cowan, though I suspect Fultz will be a difficult get. The strong start this year will only aid in those efforts. Tou win, and they will come.
TTDan's Hoops Dish
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