But it's going to take some more work, as we explain....
1) Hello, Melo?
The Terps dynamic sophomore guard/assassin has been AWOL the last five games, shooting just 32 percent from the field and 26 percent from three in likely his worst slump ever, any level. And this team aint going far if this doesn't change soon.
He's still getting his shots, but everything is rimming in and out beyond his free throws. Late-season here, Melo is looking a bit dead-legged, a tad tentative, and maybe it's affecting his lift and jumper.
He's also not taking the bump and finishing as well at the cup as he had been last month, while his forays in the lane for the excellent two-man game he had been displaying before with bigs like Stone are fewer and far between. Too much settling for jumpers and running the offense 30-feet from the bucket, and those bombs just aint falling.
The physical, and now mental strain (plus all the NBA whispers) may be draining on Melo now, as he is just not the same player. And this team, with its inconsistent offense through much of the season, must hit outside shots as so much of the offense is based around perimeter play with the group.
So hello, Melo, would like to see you again. And back to form soon. Very soon. Drain some early on Feb. 18 at Minnesota and the magic may be back. It seems he needs some early success to get out of the rut, and in turn a big chunk of UMD's struggling offense, which went nearly 12 minutes against Wiscy without a field goal, which is mind-boggling considering the offensive weapons on this team.
Speaking of the stagnating-at-times offense, the Terps still get bogged down in half-court, grinder games as they become too one-dimensional, don't react to zones well, and settle for deep or rushed jumpers late in the shot clock after dribbling around too much.
The aforementioned two-man game, and pick and pop, between Melo and Stone, and sometimes Melo and Ceko (see Bowie State film most recently) has rolled at times, and the Terps need more dribble penetration and creativity when it comes to involving their bigs.
While Stone must sit Feb. 18 due to his one-game suspension, the Terps need Robert Carter, Jr., down on the blocks more, and maybe a little more Ceko and less Damonte Dodd, who really isn't giving Maryland much these days, be it rim protecting, moving his feet to get to jump shooters, or even rebounding, Ceko has shown some flashes of late as a big who can move and finish at the bucket, far better hands and feet to finish plays than Dodd.
While Maryland's bigs don't pass/feed back out to the perimeter well, which sometimes limits the guards feeding the blocks, they need to run more two-man game and set plays and screens to get the scorers better looks. Of late, and in the Wisconsin game, the Terps didn't always get a lot of clean looks/shots, and were reduced to jacking jumpers too often.
Inside-out, at least when Stone is back (see his soft hands, instincts for the ball, great ability to catch and finish), and maybe some more Ceko would be nice to increase the scoring 'opps' down low. And while inside, rebound Terps, this is far too big and gifted team to be rebounding as lightly as they are.
3) Keep Your Cool
Yeah, it's a long season, and Stone's head slam of Vitto Brown can likely be chalked up to freshman emotion against the home-state team. But there was a bit too much finger-pointing and frayed emotion among the Terps vs. Wisconsin for our liking as well.
First and foremost, the freshman Stone, early in the game, jawing at senior Jake Layman when he didn't feed him in time, while senior Rasheed Sulaimon got after both Jared Nickens and Damonte Dodd for mental mistakes.
Now, this team at times cries out for more fiery and emotional leaders, and Sulaimon is the Terps best (and maybe only), one good at it.
But Feb. 13 it looked like more out of desperation and 'not me' bailouts, rather than the other. And hadn't really seen much of that this year.
Stone's slip-up on the floor on Brown under the basket was egregious, there's no way of getting around it. But it was his first as a Terp, and likely last, as emotion got the best of him in this highly-charged-game for the Wisconsin native. The Terps were smart and proactive at leveling the one-game suspension, as the league would have had Maryland not acted quickly.
The No. 5/6 Terps enter a critical five-game stage to close out the regular season, with two monster roadies at Purdue and Indiana, and still holding out hope for a No. 1 seed if they can get back on track. And that may include a players-only meeting this week to get some of the discordant parts exhibited Feb. 13 against Wisconsin back on track. This group still needs a firm, guiding hand to show the way, and Feb. 13 was a step back no doubt. And this late in the season, when you want to be peaking, well it was untimely look indeed. Now let's see how they respond starting Feb. 18, which could tell us a lot about the team and how they will finish this season of grand expectation.
4) More Offense-off-of-Defense?
Yes, Maryland is light in the back-court. Yes, the Terps have just two legit guards for the BIG Ten rigors in Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon.
But when things got desperate against Wisconsin Feb. 13, the Terps flashed some rare three-quarter court and ball pressure to try to scramble the pace and tempo Wisconsin was enjoying at Maryland's expense, and generate some offense off of defense and get some transition action, which have been rarities this season.
Sophomore JuCo transfer Jaylen Brantley came out of witness protection (at least for the first time early in a meaningful game) as the Terps went small and quick and had some success. And while he can hurt you at the defensive end where he still gets lost, the Terps are going to need a third guard for the stretch drive. And Brantley can knock down some jumpers, now, and appears to have a bit more confidence now.
And boy could some transition buckets, and a faster pace, bode well for this team when that half-court offense bogs down as it tends to do frequently.
All in all, the Terps don't have the back-court numbers to run and press all day, and the Dion Wiley injury still stings. Meanwhile, Brantley's progress has been beyond slow.and below expectations.
But he's likely going to be needed, and it was a good look however brief versus Wisconsin Feb. 13, when things weren't working and Maryland had to scramble pace in yet another grinder game.
5) Just Blow Someone Out, Already
Just when you think Maryland is going to thump someone, just when you think they are not going to play down to the competition, just when you think they are going to be emphatic and dominant in victory, well the Terps can let you down.
With a No. 2 ranking and some giving Maryland a No. 1 NCAA seed last week heading into the Wisconsin debacle, Maryland reared this ugly head/theme again against the un-ranked Badgers.
There's been little to no killer instinct from this team this season, not much physicality, and a 'very good' team has yet to get to a sustained 'great' level because too many games start slow, the Terps have to have a heroic finish, and too often they play down to inferior competition.
Feb. 18 could be a prime example if the Terps don't come out with a lot more fire and purpose at Minnesota, which may be win-less in the BIG Ten, but the last two losses have been by four points each, including at Iowa, and against Purdue. The Gophers may be looking at this game as their Super Bowl at home during this trying season, and they have some slashing guards/wings who could be match-up problems for the Terps. And two former Terps targets in point guard Kevin Dorsey, but more importantly, small forward Jordan Murphy, the 6-6, 230-pound freshman who is crafting one of the best rookie campaigns in the league at 11 ppg and 7.8 rpg. He has a rugged floor game, which could give UMD fits.
Minnesota is not a very good team, but how many road grinders have we seen where the Terps come out slow and disinterested and let an opponent cling around? Hopefully not again Feb. 18, when Mark Turgeon should come out mad as hell and his team just as torqued.
Of course, Maryland is still 22-4, ranked 5/6 in the polls this week, and tons of good and positive things are going their way during this breakthrough season under Mark Turgeon, as the Terps' head man has so effectively integrated many new parts in the lineup.
Now they just have to live up to being perhaps the nation's best team on paper, and fulfill all they are capable of with a Final Four run with just a little more focus and work.