Maryland's 'other' backcourt freshmen key to future success
By DAN BERNSTEIN
College Contributor Network
With a 17-2 record and wins against Iowa State, Oklahoma State, and Michigan State (twice), Maryland's basketball team is ranked No. 13 in the country. For a team that has missed out on the NCAA Tournament for three consecutive seasons, it's been an impressive start.
Much of the team's success can be attributed to freshman point guard Melo Trimble, who averages 16.1 points, four rebounds, and three assists per game. His production centers around a play style often associated with upperclassmen -- calm, poised, and intelligent. While his outside shooting has been inconsistent so far this season (34% from the field so far in conference play), he is quick enough and smart enough to get to the free-throw line on a regular basis. Right now, he ranks third in the nation in free throws made, and he shoots at an 88% clip from the line.
The local kid, born in Maryland, has been special all year, and he was at his best on national television this weekend against Michigan State. With a sellout home crowd bringing an electric atmosphere to the Xfinity Center in College Park, Trimble had a chance to showcase his talent on a big stage.
In the first half, he scored 21 points and made five three pointers to lead the Terrapins to a 40-26 lead. To cap off the outburst, he netted an ankle-breaking, step-back three-point jumper as time expired, causing the crowd to erupt. In the second half, Trimble's good decision making guided the team to a comfortable 75-59 victory.
Trimble may be heartbeat of this Maryland basketball team, but he isn't the only freshman guard that will play a pivotal role in the team's success as it heads into the heart of conference play. If guards Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley, who have shown flashes of their own potential, become more consistent on both sides of the ball, then Maryland will have a much easier time making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Nickens and Wiley combine to account for 34% of the Terrapins three-point attempts, which is a significant figure considering their role as complimentary players. Oftentimes, the two freshmen guards are left open on the perimeter as defenders converge on Maryland's better known scorers such as Trimble, Dez Wells, and Jake Layman.
In order to space the floor to maximize offensive efficiency and keep defenses off-balance, Nickens and Wiley must knock down open shots. For Nickens, that hasn't been much of a problem, as he's a 39% three-point shooter for the season. His ORtg (an estimate of points produced per 100 possessions) sits at 120.2, which is third best on the team. Wiley has also shot the ball well from three (38%), but his ORtg is only 100.7 because he's struggled from the free-throw line (63%) and his TOV% (turnover percentage) is 17%, which is quite high for a shooting guard. With better ball handling and improved overall shooting (an aspect of his game that was lauded in high school), Wiley can join Nickens as an essential offensive piece to create a deadly one-two long-range shooting punch for the Terrapins.
Nickens needs to improve his defense, as he has the worst DRtg on the team amongst qualifying players at 100.2. This aspect of his game negates much the positive impact that comes from his efficient offensive production. Meanwhile, Wiley's defense has been solid, reflected in his 95.6 DRtg.
As it stands, Maryland must patiently wait for both players to address their own weaknesses on either side of the ball. That improvement may not come this season, but if it does, a good Terrapin team has a chance to be great.
Dan Bernstein is a freshman at the University of Maryland. He is romantic about the Oakland Coliseum (where he grew up) and Anfield (where he's never been). Follow him on Twitter: @danbernsteinUMD