After the Terps lost to Duke in the 2001 Final Four -- giving up a 20-point lead to lose by ten points -- Terps Nation was eager for the 2002 season. Of course that next season the Terps went on to win the school first National Championship, Juan Dixon being name Most Outstanding Player.
Since then, the Terps have changed facilities, coaches, and of course players, but that energy and excitement level hasn't been duplicated.
Mark Turgeon will be entering his fifth season as Terps head coach and this will be his finest team yet. Turgeon has 6 players returning that played in at least 34 games last season, Melo Trimble, Jake Layman, Jared Nickens, Dion Wiley, Johnathan Graham, and Damonte Dodd. Seven foot sophomore, Michael Cekovsky also is returning, playing in 30 games as a freshman.
They were apart of a Terps squad that helped get Turgeon off the hot seat. The Teprs went 28-7, and made it as far as the 3rd round, losing to West Virginia. That was Turgeon's first trip to the big dance since taking over as Terps head coach in 2011. The Terps also finished second in its inaugural season apart of the Big Ten, defeating Wisconsin in College Park.
Last season was the first year Turgeon and the Terps didn't finish with double-digit losses during his tenure. For some Terps fans, like myself, last year still had it's disappointments, i.e losing to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament, and of course, that loss to West Virginia.
2015 Returning players
This season the expectations are even higher, and is probably the highest it's ever been.
With the seven returnees, Turgeon also brings in the #2 center in the country, Diamond Stone. Stone committed to the Terps back in April, and from that day he became the biggest recruit since Tom McMillen back in 1972. You could probably debate that; but you can't debate that this is Turgeon's biggest recruit in his coaching career. Stone will give the Terps the added sized, along with a scoring threat in the low post. Stone also has a solid mid-range and can stretch the floor.
Stone chose the Terps over Wisconsin, UConn, and Oklahoma State. The development of Alex Len played a big part in Stone committing to the Terps. Len came to Maryland as a skinny big man with limited skills but turned into the #5 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
Stone, of course has much more upside than Len, who had little-to-no hype when he stepped foot on the campus of College Park. Stone already is one of five freshmen that is on the Kareem Abdul Jabbar Award watch-list, which includes the top 20 centers in the country.
Stone will join Dodd and Cekovsky in the front court. Dodd and Cekovsky wasn't known for their offense, both combine for less than 10 points a game, but their combined size in the paint will be more valuable for defensive and rebounding purposes.
Stone isn't the only newcomer, transfers Robert Carter (Georgia Tech) and Rasheed Sulaimon (Duke) will be on the court for the Terps this season. Carter already sat out a season after leaving Georgia Tech in 2013. The 6'9 forward averaged 11 points and 7 boards with Georgia Tech, emerging as one of the top big men in the ACC. Some think Carter will be the Terps secret weapon since his name has not been mentioned as much as Sulaimon and Stone. With Stone, the Terps have the potential best frontcourt in the country.
And who I believe is the biggest acquisition, Rasheed Sulaimon, might help make up the best backcourt in the country.
Sulaimon was dismissed from Duke last January after reports came out that he was involved in a sexual assault case -- he also did not live up to "Duke standards" according to Mike Krzyzewski -- which allows him to play immediately bypassing the NCAA transfer rule. Sulaimon lost his starting position to freshman and 2015 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Tyus Jones, which generated some tension between he and coach K.
Sulaimon won't have to fight for playing time this year, already having a great relationship with coach Turgeon.
The reason why I think Sulaimon is the best acquisition for the Terps is because he is another guard that can handle the rock. If you remember in that West Virginia game, once Melo Trimble was exited the game with a concussion, the Mountaineers full-court press was too much for the Terps who was without a ball handler for the remainder of the game.
With Sulaimon, the Terps won't have to worry about that anymore, in fact, they have added another dimension to their offense, being able to play Melo Trimble off the ball, which can lead to some deadly off-screen three pointers.
Trimble and Layman will be the heart of the team this season. Layman is expected to be a potential lottery pick while Trimble was named preseason Big Ten Player of the Year by the media. Layman is also on the Julius Erving Award watch-list, which includes the top 20 small forwards in the country.
Trimble will have to be the best player on the court every night this season. Last year his 3pt percentage at home was 43% while he shot 27% on the road. In order for the Terps to make it to the promise land, Trimble will have to play at Wooden Award level, which he can. He is already one of 20 players on the Bob Cousy watch-list (top 20 guards in the country).
Tom Izzo called Maryland "the cream of the crop" in the Big Ten during the conference's media day. Terps are the Big Ten favorites and some experts' Final Four pick. In the USA Today coaches poll and AP preseason polls, they are ranked #3 behind Kentucky and North Carolina; however they are ahead of Duke which should make Terps fans everywhere smile.
So with all these preseason accolades, it should signal a great season for the Terps right?
On paper, yes but basketball is not played on paper. This is probably the best team Turgeon has had in his coaching career, and the main thing I think he should focus on is not over coaching. Sometimes when coaches have a lot of talent they forget to allow their players to make decisions on their own. Trimble, Layman, and Sulaimon have enough basketball IQ and experience to where Turgeon can allow them to make decisions on the court.
My prediction for the Terps is 27+ wins and a trip to the Elite 8. The Terps size will be a big factor come tournament time. Sulaimon and Trimble will be one of the best backcourts in the country when it comes to scoring the basketball.
Many Terps fans will look at this team and say "Final Four or Bust" which is a fair assessment. It's not many teams that is loaded with talent like the Terps, but we all know talent is not the only thing you need to win a championship. With the added talent, it also signals a new team, which means chemistry will be in question. The first big test of the season will be against the Georgetown Hoyas on November 17th.