Maryland men's basketball hasn't been afraid to lean on freshmen during head coach Mark Turgeon's tenure. Melo Trimble started 35 games and led the Terps in scoring and assists as a rookie in 2014-15. Two seasons later, three Maryland freshmen started at least 30 games. Last season, the eight-man rotation included five newcomers who formed their own viable lineup.
This year, though, all of those players
return for their sophomore seasons
. The Terps have plenty of star power in the building already, so they won't need the freshmen to shoulder nearly as much of the load. However, there's still plenty of potential in this five-man rookie class.
Turgeon summarized the group as "very talented, very physical and [having] good feel for the game." While he concedes that the rookies are still adjusting to the habits and nuances of the college level, he thinks they'll add toughness to a team that can't have enough of it.
"We weren't the most physical team in the world last year -- a lot of it was our youth," Turgeon said at Maryland's media day Oct. 15. "But these guys are built pretty well, so our practices are much more physical, and they need to be for us to play at the highest level."
The highest-rated recruit of the bunch, 6-foot-10, 235-pound center Makhi Mitchell, is most likely to seize immediate playing time. Maryland's only major offseason loss was All-Big Ten center Bruno Fernando, now a member of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. That leaves Mitchell as the only natural five on the roster -- even his twin brother, Makhel, is more of a stretch four -- and he's got the skill set to compete in the physical Big Ten immediately.
"I think he's gonna be able to bring a lot [of what Fernando brought]," sophomore forward Jalen Smith said of Makhi. "Pretty much the strength overall and the finesse in the post -- Bruno had a lot of finesse and a lot of good post moves, and I can see that in Makhi and Makhel. They're pretty much a spitting image of Bruno. It's just gonna be a work in progress."
Donta Scott, a forward from Philadelphia, has drawn glowing reviews from players and coaches alike. He's got a versatile skill set and a 6-foot-7, 225-pound frame that allows him to match up with a wide range of opponents.
"[I'm] trying to get wins for my team," he said in describing his game. "Anything my coach will need, that's what you gotta do."
Makhel Mitchell, Makhi's twin brother -- the two could not possibly look more alike, and they bounce off each other's answers in interviews -- isn't expected to see as many high-leverage minutes, but he's a capable rotation player at worst. Hakim Hart, another Philadelphia product who played AAU ball with Scott, could potentially redshirt to grow his all-around game, but Maryland might also need his sharpshooting abilities throughout the season.
Then there's Chol Marial. He's a 7-foot-2 Sudanese center with a 7-foot-11 wingspan who can hit threes. But after being one of the premier prospects in the country as a high school freshman, he's battled lower-body injuries for years. Marial underwent surgery in September to repair stress fractures in both legs and is expected back in December or January. The hope is that, when he returns, those injury question marks won't keep following him.
"I was thinking about letting [my legs] heal, but ... I've been going about healing it, rest it, and it didn't happen," Marial said. "So I was just like, 'Let's do it.' I was nervous, but when I got done, I was like, 'Wow.' So I'm really excited right now to be back and play free."
For now, Marial is still lifting, shooting and doing "some things" on the floor, Turgeon said. The rookie's next check-up is slated for Nov. 25, after which he could be cleared to play. It's hard to say what kind of impact he'll have whenever he does return, but his ceiling is worth getting excited about.
It's a safe assumption that with seven of last year's top eight returning, freshmen won't account for the majority of Maryland's minutes or nearly half of its points this season. But adding five more pieces to that existing core gives Turgeon more options than he's ever had with the Terps. And if the rookies can come into their own, Maryland could blossom into one of the nation's deepest teams.
"I think there'll be times in games this year where we sub and we get better. And that's not always hasn't been the case," Turgeon said. "And hopefully our depth will help us stay fresh throughout the year. It's a long season, a lot on their plate, and hopefully our depth will allow us to stay fresh and be a better team come February and March."
LUCKY NO. 7?
checked in at No. 7
in the preseason AP Poll, released Monday. It's the Terps' second top-10 preseason ranking this decade, joining the 2015-16 team that started the campaign at No. 3. The only teams ahead of them: Michigan State, Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, Louisville and Florida. If you're into cherry-picked stats, the last four national champions (Villanova, UNC, Villanova and Virginia) had an average preseason AP ranking of ... No. 7.
IN OTHER METRICS... Ken Pomeroy's predictive model ranks Maryland 16th ahead of the season. That's nine spots lower than the AP voters, and KenPom has two other Big Ten teams -- Purdue and Ohio State -- in between the Terps and top-ranked Michigan State. There's plenty of time even before the early conference games for all of these rankings to shuffle, but it makes for interesting discussions as the season inches closer.
WATCH LIST WONDERS:
Smith and senior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr., Maryland's two top returning scorers, both earned spots on the National Basketball Hall of Fame's positional award watch lists. Cowan is one of 20 candidates for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation's top point guard, while Smith is on the list for the Karl Malone Award for power forwards. The Hall has presented these awards since 2004, with point guard Greivis Vasquez the only Terp to win at his position in that span.
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Photo Credits: Luke Jackson/PressBox