With a vaunted roster, Mark Turgeon and the Maryland basketball faithful have their sights set on a national title run. (Photo Credit: ESPN)
With each passing moment, the anticipation for the upcoming 2015-16 college basketball season grows, as teams are only about a week away from officially starting practice. Expectations are very high in College Park, but Coach Mark Turgeon has remained calm and confident in his team throughout the whirlwind. This isn’t too surprising, as those same traits have helped Turgeon engineer a quicker-than-expected turnaround of the Maryland basketball program. After an off-season defined by a slew of transfers, the Terps surprised many fans and analysts alike last season by winning a surprising 28 games—the most since the championship season of 2002-03 under legendary Coach Gary Williams. A lot of credit goes to Coach Turgeon for keeping everyone together and playing solid basketball.
Another source of Turgeon’s confidence is the fact that he boasts one of best rosters in the country—a potent mixture of talented, experienced, and focused players. The loss of senior leader Dez Wells hasn’t stopped the Terps’ from improving on every roster flaw from a season ago. There is a legitimate argument that the team deserves a pre-season #1 ranking, in large part because because of the newcomers:
Technically, Carter isn’t a newcomer, as he redshirted what would have been his junior year last season. Already spending a year in College Park will only help the 6’9” forward be amongst the top contributors for the Terps next season. Carter has reportedly lost nearly 20 pounds from his already imposing frame in an effort to improve his on court fitness and mobility—a sign of his greater commitment to the game. Carter has proven in the past that he has the ability to stretch his shot out to the 3-point to go with his bruising low post game. If Carter can produce anywhere near the 13 points and 7 rebounds he did at Georgia Tech, Coach Turgeon may have to start preparing for a serious national title run.
A former AAU teammate of Jake Layman, Brantley will slide into the backup point guard position behind star Melo Trimble. Coach Turgeon has cited on many occasions that Trimble had a longer leash than a typical freshman point guard in part because of the lack of team ball handlers. Brantley played last season at Odessa College where he scored 14.3, racked up 3.7 assists, and shot 43% from the field. Brantley has a Shabazz Napier type of game in terms of style of play, which is interesting given that the former UCONN also played his prep ball in Massachusetts. Whether Brantley can be as good on defense as Shabazz Napier was as a freshman will be determined soon enough. Brantley was reportedly a interesting piece in the recruitment of Diamond, and hopefully he will bring more good fortune to the Terps.
Being a blue chip recruit and the jewel of Coach Turgeon’s recruiting class, most people are familiar with the skilled Stone. Turgeon has reportedly been very pleased with not only Stone’s on-court ability, but also his approach to the game. Stone is not necessarily as polished and nimble on his feet as Jahlil Okafor, but he has similar ability to anchor a team and draw the attention of defenders. His low post approach will surely compliment the floor spacing ability of forwards Carter and Layman.
As if there wasn’t enough incoming talent, Sulaimon is like extra gravy on an already very talented team. Regardless of being in Coach K’s doghouse and getting dismissed from the Duke Basketball program, Sulaimon is a very talented and athletic player who adds a scoring punch, extra ball handler, and necessarily experience to the Maryland roster. In various ways, he can be this years’ Dez Wells from a leadership standpoint. Sulaimon is better than Wells in the athletic department, allowing to attack the basket and create his shot more easily. Whatever Sulaimon’s role, he will be a key piece for this Maryland team.
Acclimating new players will take time, but Maryland is fortunate enough to have returning players like Melo Trimble (a potential NPOY), Jake Layman, Jared Nickens, and Dion Wiley to make the transition a bit easier. Moreover, with every talented team, the hope is that the team faces worthy competition while coming together. Big Ten conference play is a guaranteed challenge in any year for any team, but Maryland’s non-conference schedule also contains some early season challenges which will help roster gel. The first test comes at home on November 17 against a talented Georgetown team in a prime time showdown on ESPN2. On December 1st, Maryland will face a tough test on the road against North Carolina–the other team that is worthy of the title as best team in the country. Seven days later UCONN and Maryland will play at the garden in what should be an interesting game with a lot of NBA talent on the floor.
All signs point to Maryland making a title run if the key players can remain healthy. Winning the second title in school history will put Coach Turgeon name’s in Maryland’s rarefied history . One thing’s for sure, he will be calm and confident through it all.