The Daily Illini

Maryland Basketball Impresses as Big Ten Newcomers

By Eli Schwadron

Maryland’s Melo Trimble took three hard dribbles to his right, crossed over — shattering defender Lourawl ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn’s ankles in the process — and sank a three-ball to beat the first-half buzzer on Saturday afternoon. The shot capped off a 21-point opening period for Trimble against Michigan State in College Park, Maryland, and in many ways, the play is emblematic of the Terrapins’ season thus far.

After 60 years in the ACC, the Terps (17-2, 5-1 Big Ten) have taken the Big Ten by storm in large part because of their freshman sensation. Trimble, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound lightning-quick point guard hailing from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, is averaging 16 points, four rebounds, and three assists per game. Relatively unknown out of high school despite earning McDonald’s All-American honors, Trimble fits in to a crop of phenomenal Big Ten guards, including Penn State’s D.J. Newbill, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, Indiana’s James Blackmon and Illinois’ own Rayvonte Rice.

Although he’s only 18, Trimble has led Maryland to its best start in years thanks to a well-rounded skill set. He has the ability to create his own jumper, drive and dish to open teammates and is tough to contain off the dribble. Trimble possesses an explosive first step, allowing him to penetrate and get to the charity stripe on a consistent basis — he’s currently tied for fourth in the nation in free throws made with 122.

He has a nice pace to his game, and he makes plays reminiscent of a Trey Burke at Michigan or a Steph Curry at Davidson, though he’s not yet at their level. As he continues to impress, Trimble gains increased media exposure across the country and was one of just five freshmen named to the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 list.

Junior Jake Layman has also played a huge role in shaping the Terps’ terrific season. This past week, the 6-foot-9 foward earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors for the second time after dropping 12 points and 13 rebounds against Rutgers and 23 points and 12 boards against Michigan State. Layman was known solely as a dead-eye shooter through his first two seasons at Maryland, but he’s transformed himself into a multi-dimensional player who can attack the rim with confidence.

Meanwhile, 6-foot-5 senior swingman Dez Wells provides strength and leadership for Mark Turgeon’s 13th-ranked team.

So, do the newcomer Terps have a shot at the Big Ten title?

As of now, Wisconsin is most likely to stand in their way. The No. 6 Badgers, tied with Maryland atop the conference standings, are rolling. They’ve got one of the best coaches in the country in Bo Ryan, a national player of the year candidate in 7-foot center Frank Kaminsky, and they’re coming off a 32-point rout of Iowa in which they committed just one turnover.

The Terrapins’ lone conference loss came against the Illini at State Farm Center on Jan. 7. It’s common for freshmen to get rattled during away games, especially in opposing Big Ten atmospheres, but it was Maryland’s upperclassmen that were to blame in the Terps’ 64-57 loss to Illinois. Seniors Wells, Richaud Pack and Evan Smotrycz shot a combined 3-for-21 from the field on a blisteringly cold night in Champaign, while the freshman Trimble did his job with 17 points, five rebounds, four assists and no turnovers. The Illini were without Rayvonte Rice.

Maryland is not infallible, and the Big Ten is crazy and unpredictable.

However, the Terrapins show immense promise with two-thirds of their conference games remaining. Do they have what it takes to win the Big Ten championship? Do they have the tools to possibly make a run at their first national title since 2002? That remains to be seen. For now, just sit back and enjoy the Melo Trimble show.

Eli is a junior in Media. He can be reached at sports@dailyillini.com and on Twitter @eschwad.

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