Maryland Basketball: Five storylines to watch this season

The Maryland basketball team is set to open the 2016-17 season on Friday evening.

This year’s group is quite a bit different than last year’s squad that reached the Sweet 16 and had very lofty expectations.

Many expected the 2015-16 unit to get to the Final Four and maybe even win a national title. Unfortunately for the Terrapins, it wasn’t in the cards and Mark Turgeon will be starting anew this winter.

Maryland will begin the 2016-17 season with a few local matchups in November.

On Friday night, the Terps welcome American to the friendly confines of the Xfinity Center. The Eagles are coming off a disappointing season in which they went 12-19 (9-9) and finished sixth in the Patriot League.

The Terps may have lost four of their five starters from last year, but the most important one is back in star guard Melo Trimble.

Let’s dive into the five storylines that you need to be keeping an eye on as this season progresses.

March 20, 2016; Spokane , WA, USA; Maryland Terrapins guard Melo Trimble (2) moves the ball against Hawaii Rainbow Warriors forward Michael Thomas (25) during the first half in the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Can Melo Trimble be more of an offensive threat as a junior?

Trimble has been the straw that stirs the drink over the last two seasons.

However, the Terps star guard wasn’t his usual self down the stretch last season. Trimble dealt with a nagging hamstring injury, which certainly could’ve had something to do with the fact that he shot 31.5 percent from beyond the arc.

Trimble really thrives on being able to get to the rim and draw contact. On the other hand, when he’s shooting the ball at a high clip, opposing teams usually don’t have an answer for him.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how Trimble is utilized with the guard depth that Maryland has. Dion Wiley missing last season really hurt Trimble because he was forced to be the primary ball-handler a large majority of the time.

Anthony Cowan looked comfortable running the show in Maryland’s exhibition game against Catawba College last Saturday. If he can be the point guard a decent chunk of the time, Trimble can be more effective as an off-the-ball scorer.

Trimble may be asked to carry more of the scoring load due to the Terps inexperience.

Feb 21, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Duquesne Dukes forward L.G. Gill (33) dunks the ball against the Dayton Flyers during the second half at the CONSOL Energy Center. Duquesne won 83-73. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Is there enough talent in the frontcourt?

This is by far Maryland’s biggest question mark heading into the 2016-17 season.

The Terps possessed one of the Big Ten’s more talented frontcourts in Robert Carter Jr. and Diamond Stone. However, both elected to enter the NBA Draft and forgo their remaining years of eligibility.

Damonte Dodd will be the senior leader of the group and has plenty of experience. He’s never been asked to score the basketball, but has been a solid rim protector over his career.

With Ivan Bender set to miss a good chunk of time, graduate transfer L.G. Gill becomes that much more important to Turgeon’s frontcourt rotation. Gill is a very athletic forward that can step out and hit a jump shot while also excelling around the rim.

Michal Cekovsky and Justin Jackson also figure to see time in the frontcourt. Turgeon could elect to use Jackson as a stretch four similar to Jake Layman.

Defensively, the Terps should be able to get by. However, the offense could be another story.

Cekovsky and Dodd have never been asked to score very much, but that is going to have to change if Maryland wants to be one of the top tier teams in the conference.

Dec 3, 2014; College Park, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins guard Dion Wiley (5) looks to shoot as Virginia Cavaliers forward Anthony Gill (13) defends during the first half at Xfinity Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

How good is this group of guards?

Maryland’s biggest strength has to be their backcourt.

With Trimble returning for his junior season, the Terps have one of the best guards in the nation. It also doesn’t hurt that Wiley is now healthy and Cowan and Kevin Huerter are joining the program.

As was mentioned above, Cowan is going to be a huge factor this season. It appears that the former St. John’s College standout is very capable of running point for the Terps.

That’s going to allow Trimble to play off-the-ball and score a lot more than he’s ever been able to.

Cowan looks like to be a great facilitator, which will be huge since the Terps have talented perimeter shooters like Huerter and Wiley. That’s another reason why Turgeon was determined to get Cowan to College Park.

Huerter also should be a very valuable asset for Maryland.

After spending time with the U18 national team in Chile over the summer, it was clear just how talented this two-guard was. He was named Mr. Basketball in the state of New York last spring and is deadly from beyond the arc.

With great distributors like Cowan and Trimble on the team, Huerter should have plenty of opportunities for open jumpers. He may not start, but he’s going to be a very important piece for Turgeon.

If Cowan and Huerter appear as advertised, this is by far the deepest position for the Terps.

Mar 20, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Maryland Terrapins forward Damonte Dodd (35), Valparaiso Crusaders guard E. Victor Nickerson (1), and Maryland Terrapins guard/forward Jared Nickens (11) await a rebound during the second half in the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Can Damonte Dodd be “the guy” in the middle?

As we mentioned a few slides back, the frontcourt could be viewed as a question mark for Maryland.

Dodd is expected to be one of the proven producers, at least from a defensive standpoint. However, the Eastern Shore native may be asked to do a little more offensively.

The senior center has been in a reserve role for the majority of his time in College Park. However, he’s had no problem protecting the rim whenever he’s in the game.

Over his career, Dodd has averaged a block per game and averaged 1.5 as a sophomore.

Dodd also showed an improved offensive repertoire during nonconference play last season. Over the first nine nonconference games last season, he shot a mind-numbing 76 percent from the floor.

If Dodd can harness that along with being a rim protector, Maryland basketball could be in very good shape with their frontcourt.

Nov 17, 2015; College Park, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins guard Jared Nickens (11) shoots during the second half against the Georgetown Hoyas at Xfinity Center. Maryland Terrapins defeated Georgetown Hoyas 75-71. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Is this one of the top teams in the Big Ten?

Maryland was considered the team to beat in the Big Ten last year.

However, the circumstances are quite a bit different this time around.

This is a very young team and the real question will be how quickly they can gel as a group. One thing is for sure: Trimble is going to lead the way for the Terps.

It’s unclear what the starting five will look like. It just depends on if Turgeon wants to go small or employ a traditional starting group.

Indiana, Michigan State, and Wisconsin all have the talent to win the Big Ten, but there’s really no top dog. That’s why Maryland may have a chance to be in the top three or four in the conference.

The talent is undeniable. If the trio of Cowan, Huerter, and Jackson quickly adjust to the college game, this is going to be a group that could outplay their No. 25 ranking.

The Maryland basketball team could be a force to reckoned with if the maturation happens during nonconference play.

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