Big Ten

Big Ten hoops preview: Can loaded Terps meet massive expectations?


Big Ten hoops preview: Can loaded Terps meet massive expectations?

Expectations don’t get much higher than this.

The preseason assumption is that Maryland will be one of the teams playing in the Final Four when March turns to April and college basketball’s champion is crowned.

Last season’s Big Ten debut took many by surprise, as the Terps finished second — behind only national runner-up Wisconsin — and racked up 28 wins, the second-highest win total in program history, a total eclipsed only by the national-championship-winning team of 2002.

Mark Turgeon’s team boasted some of the best players in the conference, in the country. Two of those players, Melo Trimble and Jake Layman, opted to return and are joined by much-hyped freshman Diamond Stone and Duke grad transfer Rasheed Sulaimon.

Expectations are gigantic. And this team knows it.

“That’s why you come to Maryland. You want to be looked at that way,” Turgeon said earlier this month during Big Ten media day. “Now this year, it’s kind of all come together. Not every team that we’re going to have is going to be this talented, obviously. We can’t control expectations, we can just embrace them. That’s all we can do. We’re not out saying we’re going to go to a Final Four, win a national championship, but everybody’s saying it for us. We have the talent. We have Final Four talent. I think we have national-championship talent. Now whether we win one game in the NCAA tournament or even get there remains to be seen. But that’s the challenge of it, that’s the fun part.

“I said our guys are on a mission. They’re on a mission to be really good, and I’ve just got to make sure that we stay even keeled. We’ve got an unbelievably tough schedule. Our league road schedule is brutal. So what we’re going to go through between now and that time is going to prepare us to be one of the better teams in the country.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten hoops preview: Hawkeyes lose White but return experienced core]

The Big Ten doesn’t do official preseason projections anymore, but that doesn’t mean that media members haven’t made their own prognostications. Those predictions almost all have Maryland finishing the season as the league champ.

The Big Ten does still name a preseason player of the year. This year, it’s Trimble.

Last season, Trimble was fantastic as a freshman, narrowly missing out on conference Freshman of the Year honors to Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell. Trimble led the Terps in scoring, averaging 16.2 points per game, good for seventh in the Big Ten. He led the league in free-throw percentage and ranked eighth in 3-point percentage, 10th in minutes played and 11th in assist-to-turnover ratio.

Trimble wowed with his ability to get into the lane and get to the basket and get to the free-throw line. But he also displayed a terrific 3-point shot, splashing home 61 3-points, 41.2 percent of the shots he took from deep.

This season, Turgeon and Trimble’s teammates are warning the rest of the conference that Trimble’s going to be an even better player. That’s a scary thought if Maryland’s on your schedule.

“He’s worked hard on his shot, even for a guy who shot really well from 3 last year and made a lot of big 3s. We’ve added a little arc to his shot, got his rotation a little bit better than it was last year,” Turgeon said. “Melo’s a terrific player. Last year Melo got away with some things because he couldn’t foul. If he fouled, we had no chance. So I think you’ll see a better defender this year. I think you’ll see a better leader, and I think you’ll see a better floor general. Last year he had to score for us, he had to take tough shots. This year, he’ll still score for us, but he’s not going to have to do what he did for us last year. We’ve got too many good players around him.”

“I have confidence in him that he’ll really show how much he improved this year in things like playmaking,” Layman said. “Everybody knows he can score the ball, but his passing, his playmaking is something he really focused on this summer.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten hoops preview: Hoosiers look to reach top of conference]

But as good as Trimble is, his supporting cast is just as impressive as any in the conference and as any in the country.

Layman was a couple fractions of a point per game away from being a top-20 scorer and rebounder in the Big Ten last season, and he can also score the ball with the best of them.

Stone was ranked the No. 6 player in the Class of 2015, per Rivals. He’s 6-foot-11 and is slimming down, too, per Turgeon, who said Stone lost 22 pounds since arriving on campus over the summer. And that ranking should illustrate that he’s the kind of player who can make an instant impact for this team.

“He's changed his body. He's lost a bunch of weight. He's done that,” Turgeon said. “How good can he be? I think offensively he's already there. He's got a great feel. Right-, left-hand hooks. He can shoot to 15 feet, tremendous passer. And has a great feel for the game. The way we run our offense, our big guys have the feel. So he has that. Like most young guys coming into the college ranks, defensively, he's going to have to really improve. And that's just going to be a process for us. But he's a talent, and he's going to help us win a lot of games.”

And there’s Sulaimon, who with defensive intensity and a winning experience — being with Duke has got to be good for something, right? — Turgeon also thinks can make this team even better than it was last season.

“We’re on a mission, and our guys felt like we needed another piece to get there,” Turgeon said. “Rasheed gives us something we didn’t have, a great perimeter defender, a great on-ball defender. We didn’t have that. We needed it. … Our team wants to do great things this year, so we felt like we needed Rasheed to do it.”

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Terps gear right here]

Then there are other important pieces like Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley and Robert Carter and Damonte Dodd and Jaylen Brantley. The whole thing adds up to one of the most impressive rosters in college basketball.

Hence the expectations.

Will Maryland be one of the teams playing for a national championship come spring? Like Turgeon said, it remains to be seen. But after seeing what the Terps could do last season, when they looked as impressive as any team in the conference and cracked the top 10 in the AP rankings during the season, a markedly better version of that team would certainly seem to be one of the nation’s best.

Now it’s time to live up the hype.

“It’ll be tough,” Trimble said. “A lot of people are talking about us, they say we’re going to do really good. I think a lot of teams would disagree with that. How we worked over the summer and in the fall, I think we can live up to the expectations. As long as we worry about the team and the process, we don’t have to worry about what people are saying on the outside.

“Everyone wants to get to the national championship game. In order to get there, we just have to keep working and worry about the process.”

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings


See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?

See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings


See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 11 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (9-1)

The Sooners probably won’t be No. 1 in the Playoff rankings, as the committee will almost surely move Bama up a notch. But OU has an incredible resume, one much better than the Tide’s, with wins over Ohio State, TCU and Okie State. No one in the country can compete with those wins.

2. Miami (9-0)

The Canes are too legit to quit after pulverizing Notre Dame on Saturday night. That signature win teamed with the prior week’s win over Virginia Tech makes that near loss to lowly North Carolina seem like forever ago. Welcome to Miami, indeed.

3. Alabama (10-0)

A great win on Saturday night by the Tide in what seemed like their first actual game of the season. The schedule has been soft as silk, but now Auburn’s status as an SEC juggernaut makes the Iron Bowl a colossal clash.

4. Georgia (9-1)

Knocked off the top of the college football mountain, the Dawgs still deserve to be in the Playoff field, just a one-loss team with that one loss coming to another top team and that still-excellent win at Notre Dame. The resume’s still there, but now the SEC title game will be for all the marbles.

5. Wisconsin (10-0)

Bucky’s sitting pretty after making Iowa look like an FCS team on Saturday — especially impressive considering what Iowa did the week prior. Expect Michigan and Minnesota to provide decent enough challenges, but it seems like Wisconsin’s set up for a Big Ten title-game date with Ohio State.

6. Clemson (9-1)

Miami is the king of the ACC, but thankfully the ACC title game looks to be a Playoff play-in game between the Tigers and Canes. The champs still have as good a shot at this thing as anyone.

7. Auburn (8-2)

Two-loss Auburn in the Playoff? It’s not crazy at all after what the Tigers did to Georgia on Saturday, destroying the No. 1 team in the country and setting up what will be another titanic Iron Bowl meeting with Bama.

8. Notre Dame (8-2)

The Irish’s Playoff hopes sank like a ship in Biscayne Bay thanks to the demolition Miami dolled out on Saturday night. ND’s resume is still fine — two losses to two Playoff-caliber teams. But with no conference title to play for, a two-loss ND team might as well be a six-loss ND team.

9. Ohio State (8-2)

Guess who's still lurking in the Playoff race? It seemed Brutus was dead as could be after getting woodshedded by Iowa last weekend, but then Ohio State put a whooping on Michigan State and everyone’s ears perked up again. Appearing destined for the Big Ten title game, things could get interesting.

10. TCU (8-2)

The Frogs will most likely still get a crack at a Big 12 title — and revenge on the Sooners, who picked em apart on Saturday — but the Playoff might be out of the cards now.

11. Oklahoma State (8-2)

You know who’s still really good despite having losses to the two top teams in the Big 12? Okie State. That was some game between the Pokes and the ‘Clones on Saturday. If only the Mullet could be unleashed on the Playoff. Alas.

12. USC (9-2)

Dramatically overrated in the last batch of Playoff rankings, the Trojans now seem to be the cream of the unimpressive Pac-12 after Washington’s loss. All sorts of madness would have to occur in order for USC — or any Pac-12 team — to land in the final four.

13. Penn State (8-2)

Great job beating up on Rutgers this weekend, Penn State. Now what? With games against Nebraska and Maryland left, will any preseason favorite (outside Florida State, of course) get less attention down the stretch than the Lions?

14. UCF (9-0)

Central Florida is that Group of Five team this year. If it beats USF in the regular-season finale, people you know will be like, “Why shouldn’t UCF be in the Playoff?” And you’ll just have to give them a look and walk away.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Wazzu has to win one game and it’ll play USC for a Pac-12 title. Despite the lack of Playoff stakes, the Cougs winning a conference championship would be a pretty big deal.

16. Washington (8-2)

Of course, standing in Wazzu’s way is Washington, which tripped up against Stanford and could follow up last year’s Playoff appearance with absolutely nothing.

17. NC State (7-3)

The ACC and SEC seemed to have flipped roles overnight. The once-mediocre SEC now has three playoff-caliber teams and a couple other decent ones. The once-awesome ACC now has two of the best teams in the country and then … NC State.

18. Mississippi State (7-3)

The Bulldogs put up one heck of a fight against Bama on Saturday, and if it wasn’t for that ridiculous sequence of play-calling following Bama’s missed field goal, they might have won. Oh well.

19. LSU (7-3)

LSU beat Arkansas on Saturday, which isn’t a terribly difficult thing to do. 2017 will go down as a “what if” year for the Bayou Bengals. As in, what if they hadn’t lost to Troy?

20. Stanford (7-3)

Two of Stanford’s losses have come against ranked teams. It’s now beaten Washington and could beat Notre Dame in two weeks. It has one of the best running backs in America. So shouldn’t Stanford be better?

21. Memphis (8-1)

Since losing at UCF, Memphis has rolled everyone, winning five straight by an average of 47.8-27.2. Good job, Memphis.

22. Arizona (7-3)

The Wildcats are 7-3 this season and have scored at least 45 points in every one of those wins. That includes last weekend’s win over Oregon State, in which Khalil Tate ran for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Dude's good.

23. Northwestern (7-3)

Meow. The Cats are winners of five straight, even if their overtime streak came to an end. The quest for a 9-3 finish is on, with only Minnesota and lowly Illinois left on the regular-season schedule.

24. Michigan State (7-3)

Two losses in three weeks for Sparty, who got absolutely steamrolled by Ohio State this past weekend. Michigan State will likely be rooting for Michigan in The Game as it would figure to wrap its regular season with wins over Maryland and Rutgers.

25. West Virginia (7-3)

The ‘Neers have only lost to Virginia Tech, TCU and Okie State, which is not too bad. But that’s a couple losses too many in the high-flying Big 12.

Others receiving votes:

Virginia Tech (7-3)

Things have bottomed out for the Hokies, who have lost back-to-back road games to Miami and Georgia Tech after a 7-1 start. Without the loss to the Jackets, Virginia Tech’s resume would look real nice. But alas.

Iowa State (6-4)

There was almost another Attack of the ‘Clones this past weekend in a thriller with Okie State. But the Pokes came out on top, sending Iowa State to its fourth loss. That dream Big 12 title game featuring the ‘Clones? A fantasy. Sigh.

Michigan (8-2)

Michigan only has two losses, which means it has to be kinda good, right? Well, it’s lost its only two games against ranked teams and its best win is Florida, so … no, I guess not.

South Florida (8-1)

Way to beat UConn, South Florida.