Previously appearing on WTOP.COM–

What a difference one year can make in mens college basketball.  Last October, Mark Turgeon was dealing with massive defections (five players transferring in the spring) and there were questions if he would be the coach to lead this program back to the NCAA Tournament after a four year hiatus.   This fall the question is if this team is Final Four material…with Turgeon now dealing with impressive additions to an already talented roster.  Happy times are here again in College Park. 

The most important addition to the roster is the player who chose not to enter the NBA Draft.   Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year Melo Trimble was the offensive catalyst for this team last winter—and coach Turgeon expects the sophomore guard to improve defensively:  “he has it in him.  I didn’t ask him to a lot of that last year because he couldn’t foul…if he picked up two fouls I’d get pretty nervous.”  Turgeon adds that he thinks Trimble’s assists will increase with the better offensive options at his disposal this year.

Options?  Former All-Freshman ACC guard Rasheed Sulaimon arrives as a graduate transfer after being dismissed from the Duke program last January.  The Houston native was actually recruited by Turgeon when he was coaching at Texas A&M.  “He’s a great competitor,” says senior Jake Layman, “he’s intense—especially on defense.  One of his goals this year is to be one of the best defenders in the country.”  Will the Terps get the player who oozed potential averaging 12 pts a game, or the one who was a non-factor at the end of his tenure in Durham?

Sulaimon’s not the only transfer joining the Terps.  Junior Robert Carter averaged 11 points and 8 rebounds a game his final season with Georgia Tech…and will provide some of the size and skill inside that last year’s team lacked on both ends of the floor.  He’ll also mentor five-star recruit Diamond Stone, a 6-foot-11 center whose skill set is more than apparent to coach Mark Turgeon:  “he’s terrific on the offensive end…great left hand/right hand around the basket, great feel–can shoot it.  It’s the other end that has to come the furthest-the defensive end. So he’s really working hard, watching a lot of film.”

While it’s nice to have talent coming into the program…one wonders how the minutes and rotation will shape up as coach Mark Turgeon has plenty of talent coming back:  Jared Nickens, Dion Wiley and Demonte Dodd each started games last year—averaging 13+ minutes a game.  Coach Turgeon likes the “problem”, saying “what a great position I’m in…to have these kind of players?  I’ve made the comment that I think we have eight starters.  A couple of the starters aren’t playing well…different guys are gonna play that night.”

With the infusion of talent, it’s rather easy to forget that forward Jake Layman was voted Preseason All-Big Ten.  The slow and steady senior has already passed the 1,000 point milestone and should reach 100 career starts by the end of his career.  Along with Carter, Layman’s expected to take the leadership reins left when Dez Wells graduated.

The Terps are one of four Big Ten teams in the Coaches Preseason Top 25:  Michigan State is 13th, Indiana ranks 15th and Purdue is tied for 24th.  Michigan, Iowa and Ohio State also receive votes…setting the table for what should be another competitive conference season.  Nobody expected Maryland to go 14-4 in league play last winter (most league wins since the 2002 National Title team),  and this year there will be no surprise factor whatsoever.

The non-conference schedule includes a November 17th showdown with Georgetown (first regular season game with the Hoyas since 1993) and a December 1st duel with preseason #2 North Carolina.  How does the weight of a top five ranking compare to the pressure of last October?  Coach Turgeon:  “I really didn’t feel any last year and I don’t really feel any this year.  I think as a coach you have peace of mind with what you do; and I believe in the people around me—players and coaches.  We know we have a good team”.  The regular season tips off November 13th against Mount St. Mary’s.