At first glance, this season looks like a sizable disappointment for Melo Trimble.
But can it really be a disappointment when your team's still standing this late in the mad month of March?
Trimble, who opted to return to Maryland for his sophomore season after dazzling as one of the country’s top freshman a year ago and making the All-Big Ten First Team, was the conference’s preseason player of the year. But his offensive production has dropped off in a big way, mostly thanks to some sour shooting numbers.
Last season, he averaged 16.2 points per game on 44.4-percent shooting and 41.2-percent shooting from 3-point range. He was masterful at getting to the free-throw line, averaging nearly six makes from the stripe a game on nearly seven attempts a game.
This season, however, all those numbers are down. Trimble is averaging 14.8 points per game on 21.4-percent shooting and 32.2-percent shooting on 3s. He’s making a higher percentage of his free throws but is taking and making fewer a game, averaging 4.3 makes a game on 4.9 attempts a game — two whole attempts fewer than he took per game last season.
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Trimble’s struggles — if you want to call them that; he doesn’t — have been one of the main reasons the Terps haven’t consistently looked like the team many projected as a national-championship favorite back before the season started. Their best player’s inconsistency could be chalked up to that preseason pressure, the expectations for the team joined by Trimble being named the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year.
“I guess I felt a little pressure after having a good season last year as far as shooting. Just coming in this year and being one of the top teams, everybody put a lot of weight on me because I was one of the key returners coming back from last year's team,” Trimble said Wednesday in Louisville. “This year I had to be a leader on the team. Just to really go through all that, and I guess a shooting slump, everybody will say I struggled, but we still won some games and lost some. It's basketball. Things happen. I wouldn't call it struggling. I'd call it growing pains. I got better from it. I learned from it.”
Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon also mentioned that the preseason pressure might have gotten to Trimble. But he also pointed out a truth about the sophomore point guard, that he’s a significantly better all-around player than he was a year ago.
“The only thing I can say about Melo, he's a winner,” Turgeon said. “The year before we got him, we were 17-15. I think we're 55-15 since. He's a pretty good player. He's gotten better at his point guard play. His assists are up, his turnovers are down, his decision making is better. Defensively, he's come a long way for us in the last year. He just hasn't shot the ball like he did his freshman year. He really shot it well and was very relaxed. A lot more pressure on him this year.”
Trimble, through his shooting woes, has remained one his team’s indispensable players, and he’s a big reason — if not the biggest reason — the Terps reached their first Sweet Sixteen in 13 years. In Maryland’s first-round victory against South Dakota State, he scored 19, including a 9-for-9 mark from the free-throw line. In the second-round win over Hawaii, he had 24 points, going 13-for-14 from the free-throw line.
Yes, he still was just a combined 10-for-24 from the field and a combined 1-for-10 from 3-point range in those games. But Trimble has proven that perhaps the best part of his game is his ability to get to the free-throw line. In a game where the Terps as a whole were a shocking 1-for-18 from 3-point range, lost the rebounding battle and turned the ball over 11 times, Trimble led what was a team-wide 28-for-31 performance from the stripe.
If he can keep that up, Maryland’s tournament run might last a little longer.
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What’s standing in the way of that, of course, is a date with overall No. 1 seed Kansas on Thursday night, as tough a matchup as the field of 68 could provide for any team this season. In the preseason, perhaps Maryland would have been the favorite in this bout. After the way this season has played out, with the Jayhawks without a loss since mid-January and the Terps stumbling down the stretch and grabbing a couple ugly wins in this tournament, that’s not the case.
But Maryland will continue to do what it’s done all season, with varying degrees of success, and that’s rely on Trimble.
“At the end of the day, he's only a sophomore. That's a big task for any sophomore. But he's handled it with a lot of grace,” Maryland guard Rasheed Sulaimon said. “He's an amazing talent, and I admire him because with all the weight on his shoulders, the humility he has and the humble and his hungry nature, he's the first one in the gym, the last one to leave.
“It's really been impressive. Just now, seeing where he has from the beginning of the year, he's more vocal. He's getting on people when he needs to putting his arm around people when he needs to. He's just being the total package of a point guard. He can score the ball with the best of them. He can penetrate and find anyone who's open and at the end of the day, he leads the team and he's one of the main reasons why our team is where we are today.”