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How Maryland basketball built an overnight juggernaut

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A year after some fans screamed for his firing, a perfect storm has Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon at the top of the sport.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Turgeon has turned the Maryland Terrapins into a monster.

The Terps stand a real shot to be No. 1 team in the country when preseason polls come out for the upcoming college basketball season, and their addition on Monday of former Duke wing Rasheed Sulaimon will give head coach Turgeon a starting lineup complete with size, shooting and athleticism. There might be one or two teams that look better on paper. There probably aren't three.

For Maryland, times have never been this good. A year ago, they had rarely been so bad.

Turgeon had just wrapped up his third season as Maryland's coach, and he'd just missed his third-straight NCAA Tournament. The Terrapins had a handful of talented roster pieces and a top-25 defense by Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency, but they were dreadful in close games and didn't score enough. They finished 17-15 in the program's last year in the ACC, anchored down by a disjointed-looking offense and what Pomeroy pegged as the seventh-worst luck of any power-conference school. A team with serious tournament aspirations had missed out on even the NIT.

After Florida State's Boris Bojanovsky ended Maryland's season with a walk-off dunk in the ACC Tournament, things only got worse. Five Terps announced their intention to transfer from the program that spring, taking with them 51 percent of the team's average scoring and 42 percent of its average rebounds. After three had already gone, scoring guard Seth Allen bolted at the beginning of May for Virginia Tech. Turgeon said he felt "blindsided." Fans started to call for his job.

So it was surprising when Maryland won a program-record 26 regular-season games last year. It was surprising when freshman point guard Melo Trimble turned into an top-end floor general after all of one week, and it was surprising when the Terps ran through the Big Ten for a second-place finish behind Wisconsin in their first year in a new league. The Terps needed a lot of good fortune in close games last season, but they piled up victories nonetheless.

This year, Maryland's not going to need much luck. The Terps are going to be far better than almost all of their competition, because Turgeon has quickly assembled a masterpiece.

Trimble was an elite point guard as a freshman. He averaged 16 points, four rebounds and three assists per game. He was precocious and made Maryland better in all sorts of ways. But because Trimble isn't D'Angelo Russell-athletic and didn't put up gaudy assist numbers, he wasn't a likely first-round draft pick. So he's sticking around for a second season, and he's going to overpower just about every unfortunate soul he matches up against.

Jake Layman, the team's rangy, rising senior forward, is a similar case. He's the only member of Tugeon's touted 2012 recruiting class who didn't transfer away a year ago. He blossomed as a junior, averaging 12.5 points and 5.8 rebounds while playing the team's most versatile brand of defense. Layman was third-team all-conference, but he was mildly inconsistent offensively and fits somewhere in between being a power or small forward at the next level. So he's sticking around, too.

Robert Carter, a redshirt junior, had to sit out last season after transferring in from Georgia Tech. When Carter came to Maryland, forward Charles Mitchell left for the Yellow Jackets, so it was almost like a professional-team trade. Mitchell is a superb offensive rebounder, but Carter is a menacing mix of a 6'8, 250-pound frame and the sort of athleticism that shouldn't ever accompany a body like his. He'll play power forward and take in a healthy diet of rebounds.

In late March, after the Terps fell to West Virginia in the tournament's Round of 32, Turgeon and assistant Bino Ranson paid a visit to Milwaukee to see five-star 2015 center Diamond Stone. The 247Sports Composite pegs Stone as the sixth-best player in the country. That billing, along with his Midwestern roots, makes Stone the kind of prospect Maryland never used to get. But Turgeon and Ranson closed the deal, giving the Terps the sort of front-court dominator any college coach would kill for.

Stone's commitment gave Maryland four legitimate stars. Sulaimon's pledge on Monday completes a starting lineup that now has one at every position. He'll bring Maryland some of the same abilities Dez Wells brought for three seasons, only he'll do it on a team better than any Turgeon has ever coached.

The five-man primary lineup is an on-paper juggernaut, but the Terps have depth at every position, too. Guard Jared Nickens shot 39 percent on three-pointers last year, while big men Michal Cekovsky and Damonte Dodd have already shown their worth. Guard Dion Wiley and incoming junior college transfer Jaylen Brantley carry major recruiting pedigrees, too. This is a roster with no holes until at least next June, when each starter could be shaking hands with Adam Silver on ESPN.

Look back to where Maryland was a year ago – a sinking ship with half a rotation of players jumping overboard –  and the Terps' current position is stunning. But look back to even three months ago, when either Trimble or Layman could have easily gone pro, Sulaimon's name wasn't connected to Maryland and Stone was most frequently predicted to wind up at home-state Wisconsin. Somehow, they'll all converge on College Park next season.