It's easy to look at Maryland's roster last season, the one that produced two NBA Draft picks and international pro player, and simply scoff at this year's team.
Last season's Maryland team had Diamond Stone (Selected No. 40), Jake Layman (Selected No. 47) and Robert Carter (Signed to a professional deal in Italy), along with veteran sharpshooter Rasheed Sulaimon and draft enigma Melo Trimble.
With Trimble serving as the lone returning starter from a team that finished 27-9 and was ranked inside the AP Top 10 for all but three weeks last season, Mark Turgeon's team was a relative unknown heading into the 2016-17 campaign.
A narrow win over low-major American University in the season-opener did little to provide clarity.
But after the Terrapins' manic, 76-75 win over Georgetown on Tuesday night, two things became clear:
1) This season's collection of talent already meshes better together than last season's, and
2) This season's team might have the same number of future pro's as last season's team.
In just their second college game, freshmen Anthony Cowan, Justin Jackson and Kevin Huerter combined to score 34 of the Terps' 76 points. At no moment did any of the three freshmen look like a freshmen.
“Honestly, it was my first time playing in an environment like this,” said Jackson after the game, despite his even-keeld performance. “It was nerve-racking a little bit, but the confidence my teammates had in me and my coaches had in me, I would be able to get over the hump.” It may have been nerve-racking to the Ontario native, but like a duck on a pond, he didn't show it.
The Terps seemed more confident than the Hoyas. They seemed more further along in the process. The ball movement was crisp, and the Terps rarely seemed out of position with their spacing.
Huerter and Jackson excelled on the wings, finishing a combined 5-8 from beyond the arc. With Cowan on the floor to handle the ball, Trimble was able serve as the lead playmaker, something he didn't get the opportunity to do enough of last season. That is where Trimble thrives, and it showed, scoring 10 points in the final three minutes of the game, including two tough drives to the basket.
While Jared Nickens and Damonte Dodd got the start along with Cowan, Huerter and Trimble, it was Jackson and sophomore Ivan Bender who added the most when on the floor. Not much was expected of Bender this season, but he could end up being a very important piece.
"He has a great feel for the game. We recruit a lot of smart players but Ivan is as smart as anyone," Turgeon said at Big Ten media day last month when asked about a breakout star on his team.
On Tuesday night, Bender finished 3-3 from the field and grabbed six rebounds. But it was apparent that Bender was the best option down low. He provided a level of energy and athleticism that Dodd didn't.
This Maryland team might not be deep as last season's team, but the pieces fit better.
Huerter and Jackson don't require the ball in their hands at all times. Cowan is a selfless facilitator. All that adds up to putting Trimble, the team's bona fide difference maker, into a position to be as successful as possible. The Terrapins have a slew of capable veterans to fill the gap if the freshman hit the wall, players like Dodd, Nickens, and Duquense transfer L.G. Gill.
The Terps have five legitimately talented players that fit together much better than the supremely talented bunch did a season ago.
But make no mistake about it: As of Tuesday, Nov. 15, Huerter is not Layman and Benmder is not Stone.
However, although the sample size is incredibly small — just two games — Huerter, Jackson and Trimble all look like future pros. And it's not out of the realm of possibility that Bender, whose brother Dragan was selected by the Suns with the No. 4 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, develops the skills to earn a contract at the professional level.
Huerter, at 6-7, has incredible body control, a tremendous game IQ and a good stroke from deep. As his play in the last 60 seconds proved, he is a smart defender. He's not a world-class athlete, but he's good enough. The same can be said for Jackson, who has a diverse array of moves both in the post and on the perimeter. At 6-7 and 220 pounds, he has the look and poise of an NBA player.
Trimble, despite a plummeting draft stock over the last tow seasons, looks to be in position to rise back into the draft discussion thanks to gutsy leadership and savvy play.
The season is still young, and the jury is still out. But if Maryland was an unknown heading into the season, we've learned a lot about the Terps in just two games, and in a good way.