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An injury riddled season may prepare the Terps for a historic future

An injury riddled season may prepare the Terps for a historic future

Injuries are the tale of the 2017-18 season for the Maryland Terrapins.

A season that was supposed to signify the post-Melo Trimble era in College Park quickly became derailed after the loss of Naismith Trophy contender Justin Jackson and his backup Ivan Bender.

Short-term, these injuries have set Maryland back this season, so much that they are on the bubble of making the NCAA Tournament. Even if they do happen to miss the tournament for the first time since 2014, it is not all doom and gloom for Maryland. The way these injuries have sprouted up could propel the Terps back to the national stage a year from now. A stage higher than the program saw during the Trimble era.

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Back in December, it was an all too familiar sight for the Terps under head coach Mark Turgeon. The Terps announced that Jackson (9.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg) would miss the rest of the season due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Merely three days later it was announced Bender (4.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg) was going to miss the season too with a torn meniscus.

With these two added to the list, it marked the eighth significant injury for the Terps since Turgeon took over in 2011-12 according to Don Markus of the Baltimore Sun.

Losing Jackson and Bender further dug a hole that Maryland was in at the start of the year. Opening the season with only 11 scholarship players, two less than the NCAA maximum, there was no depth concern in the Maryland camp given the quality of players they had. Now having only 11 or 12 scholarship players is not too uncommon in college hoops. In reality, only eight or nine players see significant time in a Division I rotation.

But Jackson was a starter and if not considered the best on the roster, he was at least their No. 2 guy. Paired with the loss of Bender, the most experienced forward on the roster was then a redshirt-freshman Joshua Tomaic.

In all likely-hood, the 2017-18 season was going to be the last season for Jackson in College Park. A season ago he declared his eligibility for the 2017 NBA draft but returned to the program after not signing with an agent. His flirtation with taking the next step gave the indication that with a solid-to-stellar season, Jackson was going to be an easy choice as a first-round draft pick in 2018.

Now with an injury after 11 games, going to the 2018 draft may not be the best option for the 6-foot-7 Canadian. The return to College Park may be imminent.

A good sign for the 2018-19 Terps.

Stepping up into the empty four spot in the starting line-up was the four-star freshman Bruno Fernando. Before the loss of Jackson and Bender, he was averaging 19.5 minutes and bringing in 10 points a contest. Now he is up to 24 minutes a game, and although spotty, scoring 10.4 ppg. The 6-10 ball of energy has displayed a wealth of skill to go along with his uncanny talent and is now a certified NBA Draft prospect. 

He has been fortuned more time to develop, which has been evident of late. He is fiery, a fan-favorite, and can be groomed to fill Michal Cekovsky’s (one of three players that will leave the program this year) spot in the post. Defensively Fernando has a team-high 26 blocks.

There is also more court time for the other healthy forward, Tomaic which would give Maryland four formidable forwards entering next year. If Fernando stays, and that is a big if, Maryland will start to look like an embarrassment of riches.

A good sign for the 2018-19 Terps.

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One slight disappointment this year, has been sophomore Kevin Huerter. With the loss of Jackson, he had to step up to be the other ball handler besides Anthony Cowan Jr. Although still with some of the best shooting numbers on the team (50.5 percent FG, 45.5 percent three-point range), his handling has been exposed.

As a freshman, he was known as a 6-7 spot up shooter. Now he forced to generate his own shot as the No. 2 guy behind Cowan, sometimes going for a little too much. He has to learn to initiate the offense, giving the team more options in a full ranged offense.

A good sign for the 2018-19 Terps.

Dion Wiley is seeing double the minutes he did last season after his knee injury in 2015. This is despite reoccurring concussion issues he’s been battling this year. It is by far his best season in every statistical category, shaping up to be the preferred bench guard next year.

A good sign for the 2018-19 Terps.

Another freshman Darryl Morsell is getting more time at the guard position with a limited rotation. Believe it or not, he may be the best freshman, over Fernando. 

A good sign for the 2018-19 Terps.

If everyone is healthy and Jackson and Fernando stay, it could be the most dynamic starting five in the Big Ten. Purdue is going to be losing four senior starters after this season. Ohio State will lose three starters if Keita Bates-Diop chooses to go to the NBA. Michgan's roster will be up in the air and while Michigan State will still be one of the top teams, they will be losing Miles Bridges to the NBA Draft at the end of this season.

A good sign for the 2018-19 Terps.

The projected line-up next season in College Park will be something like this: Anthony Cowan Jr., Kevin Huerter, Darryl Morsell, Justin Jackson, and Bruno Fernando. The bench will have Dion Wiley, Ivan Bender, and Joshua Tomaic. It will be a dynamic, electric, and flexible group that can play big or small.

None of this even mentions the two four-star recruits and a five-star that Maryland has coming into the program, with more open scholarships available to use, like five-star center Moses Brown. Additionally, there is a McDonald's All-American selection, Jalen Smith, that many recruiting experts pin Maryland as his primary choice.

At the time of this writing, the Terps are 14-6 (3-4 Big Ten) this year and by no means is the season over. The talent on this team is capable of going on a run and getting into the NCAA Tournament and from there we have seen crazier things happen. It would be foolish though to say they are not running out of time.

If that push is not there at the end of the year, there is still the NIT, which will give the young team more time together.

But with the roster currently assembled, with everyone healthy in 2018-19, it is hard not to see this team as a favorite for the Sweet 16 a year from now. With the quality of top recruits they continue to bring in, there is no question they will be in the national championship conversation.

And that projection is being modest.

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Maryland reacts to latest FBI investigation reports

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Maryland reacts to latest FBI investigation reports

The world of college basketball has been on high alert since last fall when reports first surfaced of a longterm FBI investigation into the worst-kept secret in sports: college athletes being paid to play.

News surrounding the scandal died down after the inital wave of arrests, but Yahoo! Sports released a warning of sorts recently and followed it up on Friday by naming players (both past and present) for the first time. There were dozens of programs and players implicated, including Maryland's Diamond Stone.

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon released the following statement Friday afternoon.

"Late last night we were alerted of a report associating one of our former student-athletes with an agent. We are extremely disappointed, and we will fully cooperate with any investigation. I do not have a relationship with Andy Miller or anyone from his agency, and at no time have I ever had a conversation with Andy Miller or his agency regarding any Maryland basketball player. We remain steadfast in upholding a program of integrity that reflects the values of our University community."

Stone played for the Terps during the 2015-16 season, after which he left for the NBA. That Terps team was highly-ranked entering the season but ended up losing in the Sweet 16 to top-seeded Kansas.

RELATED: DIAMOND STONE ADMITS TO 'MISTAKES' DURING FRESHMAN YEAR AT MARYLAND

Andy Miller is the agent whose financial records were used to implicate so many players in the Yahoo! Sports report. It's no surprise that Turgeon would deny having a relationship with Miller regarding any of his players, but the question remains: What does this mean for Maryland basketball?

You can be sure that Turgeon will be meeting with both past and current assistant coaches Friday to confirm they have not had any involvement with Andy Miller. He'll also certainly be meeting with higher-ups at Maryland, as they try to cover their bases. 

That said, it seems unlikely Maryland would take an action as drastic as firing Turgeon over these allegations. There has been no evidence released so far that implies Turgeon had any knowledge of Stone's actions. Barring further information coming to light, it seems as though this is a case of Stone developing a relationship with Miller's agency separately from Maryland.

Some of the more vocal members of Maryland's fan base would like to think Turgeon is on the hot seat. The truth is, given his long-term contract and the current state of Maryland's finances, it's not currently feasible to fire him and expect to afford a more accomplished coach. Though if further reports indicate Turgeon was complicit, then all bets are off.

It remains possible the NCAA will impose punishments on the schools involved with this scandal, in the form of reduced scholarships, postseason bans, or worse. But that's likely off the table until further evidence comes out regarding how much schools and coaches actually knew. It is a near-certainty that some schools were in cahoots with Miller and other agents; the problem is identifying which schools were intentionally breaking the rules, and which were simply unaware. Ultimately, however, some degree of responsibility falls on the head coach.

For now, the biggest worry on the minds of Maryland fans should be vacated wins. If Diamond Stone was ineligible, then it's possible the victories Maryland recorded during the 2015-16 season will be erased from the record books. Unfortunately, this could include their run to the Sweet 16, which was the program's first in more than a decade.

Given the expectations surrounding the team during Stone's year in College Park, his tenure could already be considered a disappointment. Losing those wins would further dampen the memories fans have from that season.

On the bright side, at least the Terps didn't have a Final Four run to lose.

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Palmer's big 2nd half lifts Huskers past Maryland

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Palmer's big 2nd half lifts Huskers past Maryland

LINCOLN, Neb. -- James Palmer Jr. scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half, Isaiah Roby had all 11 of his after half, and Nebraska held off Maryland 70-66 on Tuesday night.

Palmer and Roby combined for 35 of the Cornhuskers' 40 second-half points, and they secured their first 20-win season since 2008. They won a sixth straight conference game for the first time in 20 years.

Palmer scored 15 straight points for the Huskers (20-8, 11-4 Big Ten) over a 10-minute span that ended when Roby hit one of two free throws with 2:57 left for a 64-59 lead. Roby had a double-double, with 10 rebounds, and he also blocked three shots.

The Terps (17-11, 6-9) had a chance to take the lead with a minute to play, but Glynn Watson Jr. blocked Anthony Cowan Jr.'s 3-point try, Evan Taylor came up with the loose ball and got it to Watson.

Watson missed a 3-pointer coming out of a timeout, and Roby got the rebound and was immediately fouled. He made both free throws for a 66-63 lead. Kevin Huerter's layin cut it to one point before Watson made two free throws.

Huerter went to the line with 2.8 seconds left, and after making the first free throw he intentionally missed the second. Palmer got the rebound, was fouled and put the game away with two free throws.

Bruno Fernando led the Terps with 21 points and nine rebounds. Huerter added 12 points and Darryl Morsell had 11.

BIG PICTURE

Maryland: The Terps' fading NCAA Tournament hopes might have been dashed with their seventh straight road loss.

Nebraska: The Huskers are resting firmly on the NCAA bubble and absolutely needed this win. They got it, thanks to Palmer and Roby's efforts in the second half.

UP NEXT

Maryland hosts Rutgers on Saturday. It's the teams' only meeting this season.

Nebraska visits Illinois. The Huskers beat the Illini 64-63 in Lincoln on Jan. 15.

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