The University of Maryland’s annual “Maryland Madness” first basketball practice of the season is scheduled for Saturday, October 21st at 7:30 pm. While it is normally a meaningless game meant to generate fan enthusiasm and interest, this season it provides a good opportunity to answer some of the team’s most pressing questions. With a lineup made up of mostly underclassmen, and with starters Melo Trimble, and Damonte Dodd now playing basketball professionally, the team will enter the season with its most inexperienced roster in years. While some things are for certain–Kevin Huerter, Anthony Cowan, and Justin Jackson will all return as starters–there have been no other indications of how head coach Mark Turgeon plans to set his lineups for the season.
How adamant is Turgeon that Michal Cekovsky must start?
Senior center/forward Michal Cekovsky has been a big question mark for the team since his freshman year. He came to Maryland as a 7’0″ center who was a black hole offensively, and who’s one true skill was shot blocking. Last season, he became a 7’1″ forward/center, who showed an improved ability to run the floor and make plays scoring the basketball. He averaged 7.6 points per game in just 13.2 minutes of playing time, and made a total of four starts for the team. Unfortunately, he sustained a fractured ankle that kept him out for the entire second half of the season.
Given how Maryland has traditionally presented a lineup of two guards, two forwards, and a center, all indications are that Cekovsky will be the team’s center this season. While he has made major improvements in his game, he is still incredibly foul-prone, and struggles to guard smaller and more athletic players.
The strength of Maryland’s basketball team is shooting, and Cekovsky has shown no ability to stretch the floor. Even if he does start, Turgeon should consider playing smaller lineups in at least the latter portion of games. Jackson profiles as an ideal small-ball center for this Terrapins lineup. Even though he is just 6’7″, he has a 7’3-1/4″ wingspan that allows him to rebound at rates similar to those of Cekovsky. In addition, offensively he has an ability to play with his back to the basket, but also spot up for three.
Who will be the team’s final starter?
The Terps have multiple players that have the ability to alternate between positions in the lineup. While Cowan will become the Terps’ primary ball-handler with Trimble gone, Huerter has also shown an ability to handle the ball. Though only used as a guard in small doses, Huerter possesses the off-ball skills that match up with the shooting guard position. If the Terps choose to have Huerter play as a shooting guard, they could look to fill a forward position with senior Jared Nickens. Nickens has been a streaky shooter while in College Park, but has shown an ability to score the basketball in bunches when he is hot.
If the Terps choose to have Huerter play as a forward, they will need a player to fill the second guard spot. While Nickens can also play as a guard, the team has some more enticing options to be a second creator for the offense. Injured for much of his time at Maryland, Dion Wiley was once a heralded four-star recruit set to form a potent backcourt with Melo Trimble. While his performance up until this point has been inconclusive, he was recruited as a solid 3-point shooter who could score the ball relatively easily. Depending on how he has performed in practice, he may be an option to get some opportunities early in the season to solidify a starting role. Another option is freshman Darryl Morsell, who possesses the tenacity, offensive, and defensive versatility to allow the team ultimate lineup flexibility.
Turgeon has a lot of moving pieces in his lineup this season. While the team may default to a veteran-heavy lineup in the early portion of the season, the team’s real strength lies in being able to match the playing styles of of every Big Ten team. When required to go big, the team can heavily lean on Cekovsky and junior big man Ivan Bender. When they play a team that likes to push the ball, they have the pieces to play a smaller lineup that is filled with shooters and scorers who can create both on and off the ball.