There are certain years in college basketball when everything falls into place. When the star guard gives heavy consideration to going pro, but ultimately comes back for another year. When the five-star recruit drags out his decision for months, but actually ends up picking your school. When a talented transfer with a troubled past latches on late to seemingly push the group over the top. When the depth of your roster is the envy of the rest of the country.
All of this more or less happened to Maryland over the last seven months, and the end result is the most talented Terrapins team since Juan Dixon and Steve Blake won the national championship in 2002. To say this is a golden opportunity is putting it lightly: Mark Turgeon is in the process of building something sustainable in College Park, but it's possible it never gets any better than this.
Maryland has a superstar at point guard in sophomore Melo Trimble. It has a top 10 national recruit in the middle with freshman Diamond Stone. It has two impact transfers with Robert Carter up front and Rasheed Sulaimon in the backcourt. It has shooting everywhere, with senior swingman Jake Layman and sophomore Jared Nickens leading the way.
The pieces are unquestionably in place for a team coming off a breakthrough season that ended too early in the round of 32. Now it's up to Turgeon to prove he's more than a recruiter, to put this stacked roster in position to fulfill its potential and take its shot at the Final Four. Anything less than an extended run through the NCAA Tournament is going to be considered a disappointment.
It seems like the path is clear for Maryland. There's no juggernaut in their way the caliber of Kentucky's superhuman roster last year. There's not a Final Four team returning all of its major pieces the way Wisconsin entered last year's tournament. There's not three superstar freshmen aligning on the same team as happened a year ago at Duke.
When the overall state of college basketball appears a little down, that's when madness truly reigns. There will be pitfalls for Maryland all year long, but there won't be many nights when the Terrapins are at a talent disadvantage.
We're talking about a program that missed the NCAA Tournament more times than it has made it over the last decade. Maryland has been waiting a long time for this chance. Now Turgeon, Trimble and everyone else need to come through.
Turgeon has talked about playing like an NBA team this year. Namely: push the pace, make the extra pass and let your stars play in space.
This should be music to the ears of Maryland fans, because the system Turgeon typically runs is slow and uncreative. Whether the talk of a revamped offense becomes actualized or is simply lip service remains to be seen, but there's no excuse for Maryland to have the same underwhelming attack with all this talent.
With Trimble at the controls, Maryland might have the most dynamic scoring point guard in the country. We're talking about a player who finished with a true shooting percentage of 62.8 as a freshman. Trimble was great at drawing fouls (6.9 attempts per game) and shot 87 percent from the charity stripe. He was also a high volume, high efficiency three-point shooter, making 41.2 percent of 4.2 attempts per game.
Trimble's focus for this year should be on setting up his teammates rather than forcing things himself. This was an issue last season, as Trimble finished with 86 turnovers to just 106 assists. With so many weapons around him, there's no need to be pressing.
In Layman, Trimble has an athletic 6'9 wing who has averaged double figures each of the last two seasons. Layman hit 37.8 percent of his threes last year, and should be an even bigger threat as a senior since defenses won't have the luxury of being able to key in on him.
Carter might be the most intriguing player on the roster. He was ranked as the No. 33 recruit out of the class of 2012, and put up one super productive year (11.4 points, 8.4 rebounds) at Georgia Tech. Blessed with a 7'2 wingspan and a 250-pound frame, Carter should be a shot blocker (he averaged 1.1 blocks per game for GT) and plus-rebounder from the moment he steps on the court.
Carter also gives Maryland the chance to go four-out with him at center and shooters everywhere else. It could be an interesting change-of-pace lineup, but the Terrapins won't have to rely on it. That's because five-star freshman Stone is here to hold down the middle.
Stone is massive -- at 7-foot, 250 pounds with a 7'4 wingspan, he has a back-to-the-basket game that might have fit better in the '90s than today's pace-and-space landscape. He's still going to be a major weapon for Turgeon, because there simply aren't many college centers in the country able to match up with him.
The final addition to the roster is Sulaimon, who comes with the bogus distinction of being the first player Mike Krzyzewski ever dismissed from Duke following allegations of sexual assault. Sulaimon, a McDonald's All-American out of high school, saw his playing time decrease each season in his three years at Duke, but gives the Terrapins a high-end athlete on the wing who has hit more than 40 percent of his three-pointers each of the last two years.
Maryland also has great depth. He'll be backed up by Nickens, a 6'7 sophomore wing who made 39 percent of his threes last year. With Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky as backup centers, there might not be another team with this many capable big men.
Even as Maryland won 28 games last season to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010, the offense only ranked No. 58 in efficiency, according to KenPom. That's actually the best offense Turgeon has ever put together in College Park, as his teams finished No. 114 (2014), No. 92 (2013) and No. 103 (2012) in efficiency the previous three seasons.
That's not going to get it done this year. There are some very obvious areas to focus on after last season, and it starts with tempo.
The Terrapins finished No. 201 in pace last season. Part of that is because they struggled to force turnovers, finishing just No. 282 in defensive takeaway percentage. Carter and Sulaimon should help there. Another problem area was on the offensive glass, where Maryland was one of the worst major conference offensive rebounding teams in the country. Carter and Stone will hope to remedy that.
It comes down to this: Maryland's combination of a stacked roster with a coach that often produces squads with middling efficiency makes them one of the country's most intriguing teams. The talent is there. Now Maryland just needs realize how good it can be.