No one expected Maryland to be here. A newcomer to the Big Ten, the Terrapins had just suffered their second 17-15 season in three years under Mark Turgeon, missing the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year. Maryland had lost a staggering six players to transfer in the offseason, and while the talent was there to possibly make a run at the tournament, it would have been understandable to think the Terps would have to wait until star transfer Robert Carter, Jr. became eligible in 2015-16 before they could reach their true potential.
The media agreed. Maryland was picked to finish 10th in the Big Ten in the unofficial media poll before the season. With the transfers went 51 percent of the Terrapins' scoring load from 2013-14 and nearly half of the team's minutes. Two months into the season with neutral-site wins over Iowa State and Arizona State and an impressive road victory over Oklahoma State (without injured star guard Dez Wells), the Terps now have a legitimate claim to being the second-best team in their new conference.
How does that happen? How can a team lose such a large load of their scoring production and become *this* much better? This Maryland team is finally meshing under Mark Turgeon, due to a number of producing new faces and the development of two new stars. With Wells finally back after missing a month with a fractured wrist, Maryland enters conference play with high expectations. Here's how it's happened:
The new kids
Maryland has always recruited well under Mark Turgeon, but the 2014 class was a new height. That haul ranked 14th nationally in the 247Sports composite, bringing in four players with the ability to contribute right away.
It starts with Melo Trimble, the McDonald's All-American point guard who had the starting job the day he set foot on campus. Trimble was Maryland's first commit to play in that all-star game since Mike Jones in 2003, and was the highest-touted recruit to step foot in College Park in quite some time. He's managed to somehow exceed those expectations, tying for the team lead with 15.8 points per game and positioning himself on the brink of national stardom. Trimble's evolution even through his first non-conference schedule has been apparent: he started the year as a spot-up shooter, growing into a ball-handler when Wells was injured and now combining those two forces to become a dynamic scorer who controls the Terrapin offense.
Small forward Jared Nickens has been a pleasant surprise, showing potential as a volume scorer early in his career. Four-star guard Dion Wiley and three-star forward Michal Cekovsky have each played significant roles off the bench, contributing scoring power (Wiley) and shot-blocking ability (Cekovsky) in spurts.
Rounding things off is Richaud Pack, the senior transfer from North Carolina A&T. Third on the team in minutes, the guard is averaging 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, serving a versatile role for the team. He can be a scoring guard when needed, hitting shots from deep, but he's perhaps been most useful as a much-needed second point guard option after Trimble.
Jake Layman, star
For two years, Jake Layman had always been on the brink. The guard/forward was a highly-rated player coming out of high school, and was rumored from the get-go to have the potential to leave college early for the NBA. Often compared to Chandler Parsons, he was an excellent shooter in his first two seasons but never quite put his game completely together.
This season, Layman is finally blossoming into an all-conference player. Averaging 15.8 points and a team-high 6.2 rebounds per game, he's kept up his outside shooting ability while adding a more aggressive tendency to drive to the hoop and score. The junior has scored in double figures in each of Maryland's 13 games this season, and recorded his first career double-double in his 21-point, 11-rebound performance against Oklahoma State.
The development of Damonte Dodd
Maryland's 2013 recruiting class had just two commitments. High four-star point guard Roddy Peters, now with South Florida, and a little known prospect named Damonte Dodd. Dodd was a local legend on the Eastern Shore of Maryland -- not an area known for producing Division I talent. He averaged 24 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks per game as a senior in high school, and even though his potential was clear it was hard to know what to make of him.
A rough freshman season didn't give much reason for hope. In limited playing time off the bench, Dodd shot 36.8% from the floor, made just two of 16 free throw attempts and was called for 6.5 fouls per 40 minutes. He didn't bring much to the game offensively, and while his length allowed him alter shots on the inside he was too raw to consistently stay on the court.
After a season of conditioning and the departure of his two biggest competitors for forward minutes, Dodd has suddenly blossomed into a legitimate power-conference center. He's scoring only 4.9 points per game, but he's shooting 61.8% from the floor, 66.7% from the line and is averaging 1.7 blocks per game. Most importantly, his foul rate has gone down (5.8 per 40), and his efficient offensive performance ranks second on the team in ORtg behind Trimble.