American U.-Maryland Preview

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — There were a lot of lofty expectations on the Maryland basketball team at this point last season, as the Terps were ranked in the Top 10 by several outlets.

That is certainly not the case this year, though No. 25 Maryland could be a factor in the Big Ten and nationally come March.

The Terps open the season at home Friday at 7 p.m. against American, a member of the Patriot League whose campus in northwest Washington, D.C., is about 12 miles southwest of College Park.

American coach Mike Brennan, a former assistant at Georgetown, is well aware of the Maryland program.

“You always want to challenge yourselves and see where you stack up at the beginning of the year,” said Brennan, a former player at Princeton in his fourth season with the Eagles. “It is exciting; it is good for recruiting. The guys like it; they like the challenge.”

Maryland was 27-9 last season and lost to Kansas in the regional semifinals in the NCAA tournament. Terps outscored opponents by an average of 75.7-66.7 last season while AU was outscored 65.7-57.6. The Terps won the battle of the boards by an average of 35.1-32.5.

But Maryland lost two key players to the NBA. Freshman center Diamond Stone was drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers and senior forward Jake Layman was taken by the Portland Trail Blazers.

In addition, graduate senior Rasheed Suliamon, a transfer from Duke, exhausted his eligibility while Robert Carter Jr., a transfer from Georgia Tech, left a year early to play pro ball in Italy.

The good news is that Melo Trimble, an all-conference guard, decided to return for his junior year after working out for NBA teams. He is the team leader among returnees in points (14.8), assists (4.9) and rebounds (3.9).

Trimble is expected to play Friday despite hurting his ankle and playing just nine minutes in a 95-61 exhibition win against Division II Catawba on Saturday.

Besides Trimble, the Terps have a strong freshman class, with point guard Anthony Cowan, 6-foot-7 forward Justin Jackson and 6-7 guard Kevin Huerter. Cowan and Jackson each had 15 points against Catawba.

“They are three young guys who are further along than the rest of them,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “They'll all be ready to help us. They're ready to play.”

“Anthony's something we really haven't had since we've been here,” Turgeon added. “He's fast — probably one of the fastest guys in the league. He can really defend, pick it up full court and pressure the ball. He's fast on the break and he's a pass-first point guard, which is great for our team right now.”

Maryland also has graduate transfer L.G. Gill, from Duquesne, who had 13 points against Catawba, and Dion Wiley, who missed last season with a right knee injury.

Trimble and Cowan are both products of Prince George's County, Md., and played for the same club program. Both played in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC), as Trimble starred at Bishop O'Connell in Virginia and Cowan played at St. John's College High in Washington.

“He's a really good passer who can shoot,” Trimble said of Cowan. “But he's mostly a pass-first point guard, which is something that's good for our offense. With Anthony being here, I can play off the ball, which is something I haven't (done) since I was in high school.”

The top player for American is Delante Jones, who averaged 12 points last season as the Patriot League Rookie of the Year. The Eagles are picked to finish fifth in the 10-team Patriot League after going 12-19 last season.

The teams last met in December 2008 at Maryland; the Terps won 67-51. On Dec. 22, 2007, in College Park, the Eagles pulled a 67-59 upset against Maryland and former coach Gary Williams, who was an American University assistant early in his Hall of Fame coaching career.