Now seems like a good time for my final Hoops Dish in Q&A form:
So, how good is Melo Trimble?
Trimble's plenty good, and I am not just talking about his physical abilities. Through nine games, he's brought organization and poise to the program, and enables the Terps to look like a cohesive unit, unlike the craziness of previous years , where each possession was a train wreck. Keep in mind, the bulk of the schedule is still coming up, and Virginia certainly brought Trimble down to earth a bit. As we've said from Day One, Trimble is going to have some problems when the Big Ten schedule rolls around, but that said, he's been everything Terp fans could've hoped for and more. With Trimble here, and Jaylen Brantley (Odessa College/Odessa, Texas) on the way, it looks like, finally, order has been restored at the point guard position.
What's Michal Cekovsky's ceiling?
The big Slovakian is slowly finding his way in American basketball. It's all about confidence with Cekovsky, and that, along with strength, will come in time. The young man has skills, is a good enough athlete and is a willing pupil. At times, he still seems tentative, and he'll be going against some big nasty guys here shortly in the Big Ten. The good thing is that Cekovsky won't be thrown to the wolves, as he has sophomore Damonte Dodd and senior Jon Graham to share minutes in the pivot. The thought here is that Cekovsky has a pretty high ceiling, to the point where he can be a dominating player in a year or two. It will be fun watching him develop.
Can the Terps survive without Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz?
They can for now, although the Oklahoma State game on Dec. 21 is going to be a struggle, despite the Cowboys being blown out recently by South Carolina. One would hope Smotrycz will be back by then. With Wells, you'd want him for Michigan State on Dec. 30 if at all possible. NC Central (Dec. 10) is picked to win their league, and USC Upstate just knocked off Georgia Tech.
The Terps are young, and haven't exactly gotten out of the gate quickly in their recent games, so no one can be taken lightly. Smotrycz is a factor when the Terps go small and spread the floor. Wells is the leader of this team, and its toughest competitor. To make a mark in the Big Ten, and to contend for a NCAA berth, Maryland needs them both back real soon.
Our views on Dion Wiley?
Frankly, he's surprised me a bit. Wiley got out of shape last year at Potomac, and turned in a number of listless performances. The skills were always there, but the effort was sometimes lacking. He still has a ways to go defensively, but to come to Maryland and lose 20 pounds showed me a commitment to get better. Wiley's shot the ball well, handled it well, and is one of the team's best passers. He seems to have really bonded with Trimble and Jared Nickens, and that trio has the potential to inflict a lot of damage in the next few years. We like the direction Wiley's game is headed.
What concerns us at the moment?
Well, we thought going in that offense from the paint was going to be a problem, and that has proven to be true. The Terps aren't going to get a lot of easy buckets down low. That remains a concern. Another concern is the physicality of this team. I don't want to say it's soft, but the Terps definitely are more of a finesse team at the moment, particularly with Wells being out. Graham will fight you, but I am concerned that those big physical Big Ten teams like Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa will pound the Terps into submission. That's where the youth and lack of physical maturation could take its toll. Finally, the health of the team: You have to get Evan Smotrycz and Dez Wells back, and keep everyone else healthy. At full strength, Maryland can play with most teams on the schedule, with Wisconsin being the likely exception.
How would I rate Jared Nickens so far?
We talked at length about his lack of bulk and strength, but to this point at least, the New Jersey bomber has been fearless. He's a freshman shooter, who isn't afraid to pull the trigger at any time. The Terps certainly aren't going to bludgeon anyone this year in the paint, so long range bombers like Nickens will have to keep firing away. Nickens has a high ceiling. He now can create offense off the bounce much better than he did just a year or two ago, and it gives him a much more diverse offensive repertoire. Going forward, Trimble, Dion Wiley, and Nickens give this program a ton of offensive perimeter firepower. Terps fans have to hope a consistent offensive threat down low will step up (Robert Carter is likely going to be that guy).
The comparison between this team and the 2013 Terps?
There is none. As I've said, we're not yet convinced the talent level is there for this group to go dancing, but it's so much easier to watch them in action. The chemistry and teamwork is much more evident, the offense looks smooth, and they're working together on the defensive end of the court. In addition, you don't see the wild shots and out-of-control nature that last year's team exhibited all too often.
Even in the summer, I sensed that this team liked one another, and enjoyed playing the game with a common goal. Yes, you don't like to see massive attrition at any time, but in this case, at least through nine games, it does look like addition via subtraction worked out best for the overall state of the program.
Our current view on 2015 recruiting?
The staff filled a critical need with the signing of Jaylen Brantley in November. Brantley brings toughness, ball-handling and shooting to the program, and he's known in basketball circles as a winner. The Terps obviously still need another big, and it appears that Yankuba Sima (Arlington Country Day/Jacksonville, Fla.) is the No. 1 target at this time. For Mark Turgeon and assistant Dustin Clark to leave immediately after their game Dec. 6 to fly to Kentucky to watch Sima in action says a lot. Sima, 6-11, has a ways to go, but would give the Terps a solid three-man rotation down low to go with Dodd and Cekovsky. Baylor, Arizona and others are on Sima, but it does seem like Maryland has made solid inroads to this point.
We still see a major need for another wing, or combo forward, who can bring athleticism, energy and toughness to the program. In other words, someone similar to Dez Wells. Terps fans would probably love to see another "junkyard dog" type here, someone who can score the ball, and who loves contact. The Terps are stockpiling some impressive talent, but it's not an overly athletic group. Other than Maurice O'Field, 6-5 (Midland College/Midland, Texas), not a lot of names are popping up on the radar at the moment.
That said, we did just hear about Kobie Eubanks, a 2015 recruit from Elevate 8 Prep in Delray, Fla., as the Terps apparently checked him out Dec. 7. Eubanks can play. He's a strong, physical wing shooter/scorer, and a solid athlete. UMD had earlier interest in him last year as Scott Spinelli was involved with him, although lots of schools are showing interest now, including UConn, Louisville, Mizzou, Minnesota, Baylor and others.
The downside? Eubanks recently de-committed from Baylor, and has bounced around a bit, from a prep school in Florida, to Our Savior New American in New York, and now back to his home state of Florida. There have been some academic concerns. That said, the Terps need a physical scorer at the wing, so we'll see if it goes anywhere.
Diamond Stone (Dominican HS/Whitefish Bay, Wisc.) remains unsigned, and he would definitely fill the need for a low-post scorer, but we remain skeptical of Maryland's chances of signing the top 10 big man in the 2015 class.
As for 2016 recruiting?
We've gone over the names many times, and we're confident more prospects will be added to the list. In fact, we just learned of a new one Dec. 8 when we heard Turgeon apparently is checking out reclassified 6-9 center Aric Holman, who goes to Owensboro HS in Kentucky. Holman was originally a '15 prospect and just started establishing himself; he figures to draw more interest now that he's in the '16 class.
But, in the end, making the NCAA Tournament would be the best thing that could happen to the program in terms of recruiting. Recruits will notice that. Their high school and AAU coaches will notice that Their families will notice that. Right now, an upper level finish in the Big Ten would go a long way towards cementing a solid '16 class. At the moment, we're still looking at a 3-4 man class.
Finally, as 2014 draws to a close, what's our take on the overall state of the program?
We are cautiously optimistic, much more so than we were just a few months ago. The freshman class looks like it can form a solid foundation for the future. One would hope that Jake Layman can be a standout performer, and Robert Carter is waiting in the wings to make his impact. The addition of Brantley gives you tremendous flexibility at the point guard slot, and Trimble has the look of a future star in college basketball.
It does seem like Mark Turgeon has assembled a group of players with a common goal, and a group that enjoys playing together. What's needed now is a strong finish to 2015 recruiting, and a trip to the Dance in March. We have to remember that the talent level here was way down upon Turgeon's arrival, and in trying to upgrade it, perhaps some players were brought in that didn't have the right mindset in terms of achieving team goals. We'll know more in a few months, but for now at least, it looks like the program is headed in the right direction.
A reminder: For high school hoops fans, the National High School Hoops Festival will be held at DeMatha Catholic HS (Hyattsville, Md) next Dec. 13-14. Lots of national names will be playing: Antonio Blakeney, Jayson Tatum, Thon Maker, Dwayne Bacon, Dennis Smith Jr., etc. And also a number of local stars that the Terps are involved with: Anthony Cowan (St. John's/Washington, D.C.), Markelle Fultz (DeMatha) and Corey Manigault (Paul VI/Fairfax, Va.). Details on the event are available at SeparationSports.com.
TTDan's Hoops Dish
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