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Depth On Display Early For Men's Basketball

Maryland Athletics
11-13-2017
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The offseason barrage of a single conundrum repeatedly fired at the Maryland basketball team --- how would the Terrapins replace the on-court face of the program from the last three years --- might already have a solution.

It isn’t with Anthony Cowan Jr.. Or Kevin Huerter. Or Justin Jackson. Or anyone else, for that matter.

It’s with all of them.

It is rarely wise to draw sweeping conclusions about any team after two games. A season is a long and winding venture, and both improvement and injuries and can tug a team in a variety of directions. But for the moment, it is clear the Terrapins are blessed with depth.

And lots of it.

“I think this team has nice depth,” coach Mark Turgeon said Sunday after a 96-43 rout of injury-depleted Maryland-Eastern Shore. “We can go a lot of different directions. The hardest thing for right now is getting guys enough minutes.”

Five Maryland players scored double figures in its opening victory over Stony Brook on Long Island. It happened again Sunday in the home opener. Only two players (Cowan and Huerter) scored 10 points in both games.

That’s an encouraging sign with the Terps’ most substantial test yet arriving at XFINITY Center on Wednesday night. Butler, like Maryland an NCAA tournament team in each of the last three seasons, comes to College Park as part of the Gavitt Games.

The Bulldogs are experienced, tested and tough, but the initial offerings from Maryland signal a team prepared to play in a variety of ways.

“I think that’s what makes the best teams great, that they don’t just have one guy who goes out and you expect them to score 30 every night. I don’t think that’s sustainable. If your offense is really tough to guard because of the all-around play you have on your team, I think that’s the winning DNA. It’s something I think we have”

The Terps can go big or small, with Jackson toggling between the wing and the power forward spot. He spent much more time as a post player Sunday against Maryland-Eastern Shore, a function as much of the Hawks’ alignment as anything else.

Maryland enjoys more depth on the interior than last year, when injuries to Michal Cekovsky and the since-graduated Damonte Dodd pecked away at the possibilities at Turgeon’s disposal. A four-man post rotation of Cekovsky, Ivan Bender, freshman Bruno Fernando and graduate transfer Sean Obi offers early promise.

So, too, does a balanced backcourt featuring Cowan and Huerter as mainstays. The Terps have a decent idea what to expect from both sophomores, and it shouldn’t be much of a surprise they are producing as steadily as anyone in the opening weekend.

Cowan was always going to end up with greater responsibility once three-year starter Melo Trimble turned pro last season. Cowan isn’t the same player as Trimble, and isn’t likely to consume as much of the spotlight on offense as the former Terp with a penchant for getting to the foul line.

But he’s never viewed his situation as an undertaking all his own. He’s averaging 15.5 points and 7.5 rebounds through two games, a notable uptick on the glass, and has only three turnovers in 56 minutes.

It’s what Turgeon needs out his point guard this season, and what Cowan is prepared to provide as part of a large cast.

“I think it’s going to be a group effort,” Cowan said. “It’s not just the three of us [sophomores, with Huerter and Jackson]. Every night it could be someone different. That’s why I think it’s really important for us to keep our confidence up. We’re going to be a versatile team. Everyone’s going to have the chance to shine.”

The early returns on Huerter’s sophomore season also point in the right direction. It was never a stretch to think the wing would build on his sound debut season, and Turgeon suggested in the preseason he wouldn’t be surprised if the poised Huerter emerged as a leader on a team with relatively few seniors.

Sure enough, Huerter is not pressing even in a larger role, shooting 60 percent over the Terps’ first two games. Yet like Cowan, he sees this Maryland team as a collective group likely to improve as the year unfolds.

“I think that’s what makes the best teams great, that they don’t just have one guy who goes out and you expect them to score 30 every night,” Huerter said. “I don’t think that’s sustainable. If your offense is really tough to guard because of the all-around play you have on your team, I think that’s the winning DNA. It’s something I think we have.”

While freshman Darryl Morsell has already established himself as Cowan’s backup and a tough defender, the more telling developments among the backcourt reserves belong to a pair of veterans coming off two tough seasons.

Senior Jared Nickens, a major contributor on Turgeon’s first NCAA tournament team at Maryland, got lost in the shuffle last season as he struggled to generate any rhythm with his shot. His five-minute appearance against Stony Brook --- one foul, one turnover, no missed shots --- didn’t suggest much would change this year.

Perhaps, though, his 15-point outing Sunday will alter the trajectory of his final season. He made all four of his 3-point attempts, and was as at ease as at any point since his first year with the Terps.

Even more impressive is the work of redshirt junior Dion Wiley, whose injury issues have derailed him in consecutive seasons. Wiley scored five points in 25 solid minutes against Stony Brook and then provided 13 points off the bench against Maryland-Eastern Shore.

He, too, looked like his old self --- in some ways better, actually. And that bodes well for a team that went into the season figuring Cowan, Huerter and Jackson were likely to absorb the bulk of the minutes in the backcourt.

“Dion’s a good player --- he was a top-50 player coming out of high school,” Turgeon said. “He’s just had tough breaks. He’s healthy. … I just challenged him [Sunday] to better defensively than he was in the first game. I think he concentrated on that. For us to be the type of team we want to be, Dion has  to give us more than just scoring. He has to defend and rebound for us.”

The explosive Jackson might not have had a monster offensive game yet, but his 11 rebounds per game exhibits some growth in that area of his game.

It’s also demonstrated the Terps might not necessarily need him to dominate as a scorer so long as he remains active in other facets of the game. But his skill as a scorer hasn’t evaporated, which means Jackson is sure to take his turn as one of Maryland’s top options before long as the team continues to work with a pick-your-poison approach that will face its biggest test yet Wednesday.

“We have guys on our team that can go for 20 on any given night,” Jackson said. “Anthony Cowan can go for 20. Kevin can go for 20. Jared can come off the bench and go for 20. Dion can go for 20. There’s so many guys on our team that can hurt you in different ways. It’s just amazing what our team can do when we focus in and really execute our offense.”

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