The ice frozen between both programs melted on Tuesday night and the Maryland Terrapins defended home court up to the very end, edging Georgetown 75-71 and handing the Hoyas their second loss of the season.
The hype surrounding this No. 3-ranked Terps squad is warranted — they have a handful of potential NBA draft picks for next summer — but the season is still very young. Here are 10 things and takeaways from the game, whether they be premature or not.
1. Buy Michal Cekovsky Stock
The seven-foot Slovakian sophomore is trending hard in the right direction, and his play on Tuesday night was exciting. Not only can he run the floor, but Cekovsky has active hands on defense and he looks more assertive with a year of big time play under his belt. His footwork has also improved and this should be a sizable leap year for him.
2. Frontcourt Depth
Diamond Stone, Michal Cekovsky, Damonte Dodd, Robert Carter Jr. All 6’9″ and up; all capable of holding their own down low (we think); all athletic enough to run the floor and score in transition. It’s a really nice insurance policy to have and one that’ll come in handy come tournament time.
3. The X-Box Crowd
Not that anyone should ever doubt how rabid a fan base can be at the Xfinity Center in College Park, but they sounded especially good on Tuesday night. Surely the longtime rivalry and discussion added fuel to the fire, but the students and those in attendance didn’t disappoint. Loud, raucous, effective. “Now I’m on this side I can officially say it,” Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon said after the game. “They’re the best fans in the world.”
4. From Most Hated to Most Cherished
There’s a little bit of hyperbole splattered on that statement — Rasheed Sulaimon was probably never the most hated guy on those Duke teams, and it’s doubtful that any player on this Terps roster pulls at your heart strings more than hometown stud Melo Trimble — but the Duke transfer looked awesome in his first big game donning his new and improved Maryland colors.
Just to come out and make an early prediction, here’t is: After never really living up to the hype under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke before ultimately being dismissed from the program last season, Rasheed Sulaimon will resurrect his career in College Park and be a first-round draft pick next summer. Boom.
He might be Maryland’s best on-ball defender (although he needs to become more efficient on those under/over pick decisions), he’s extremely fast up and down the court, he’s a seasoned senior with plenty of experience in big spots, and he’ll be a huge part of Maryland’s success this season alongside Melo Trimble.
It was hard to ignore the spark and flare Sulaimon played with on Tuesday night on his way to 10 points, seven assists, two boards, and a steal. He had tons of energy whenever he brought the ball up court, he made wise decisions against the zone (his drive and dish to Ceko with the shot clock winding down rings a bell), and he even made big shots late in the game when the Terps desperately needed them (hello, three-ball from way downtown).
Rooting for Sulaimon will probably still take some getting used to after cursing him so often during his three years at Duke, but it shouldn’t take long. He’s an exciting part of this team.
5. We Heard A Lot About Him, Now Robert Carter Jr. Is Finally Here
Following his transfer from Georgia Tech, Robert Carter Jr. was forced to sit out last season in accordance to NCAA rules. Terps fans heard all about how impressive he looked in practice and how he just had to be the best redshirt player in the country.
On Tuesday night, we finally got to see RCJ1 in action2 and he looked awesome with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting and eight rebounds. Although not spectacular on the defensive end Tuesday night, he’s strong inside with a massive wingspan and soft shooting touch, and he’s perfect for this Maryland offense.
6. How Does Maryland’s Frontcourt Compare
Just before Maryland’s tip with Georgetown, Kentucky happened to be on television and thankfully took it to Duke, winning 74-63. One easy observation of the Wildcats was how athletic their big men are and how threatening they can be in transition.
While it’s probably not fair to put the Terps big men in the same category of ‘athletically freakish’ as guys like Skal Labissiere, Marcus Lee, and Alex Poythress, Maryland shouldn’t be ignored. Good footwork inside and the ability for each of them to create down low goes a long way.
7. Sharp Diamond, Rough Stone
…please excuse me while I see myself out for writing arguably the lamest headline you’ll see all season…
Freshman Diamond Stone is just a baby, but his aggression and toughness is apparent, which is a great sign this early in the season. He doesn’t shy away from contact, he’s a willing shot blocker, and he’s a guy whose motor won’t quit.
Stone finished Tuesday with just five points, a rebound, and a block in 31 minutes, but then again this was just his second collegiate game, and first big time action. There’s no worries with this guy moving forward and Maryland fans should probably cherish the time they do have with Stone, who could likely make the one-and-done leap to the NBA following this season if all goes well.
8. Beyond the Arc
You’ll definitely get production from point guard Melo Trimble from three-point land, but senior Jake Layman and sophomore Jared Nickens are the shooting strokes Maryland will need to rely on most this season.
9. The Legends Returned
And the pictures and tweets were so beautiful.
Vasquez with the kids. Melo trey. Place going nuts. pic.twitter.com/RXvl0NEd1a
— Clinton Yates (@clintonyates) November 18, 2015
9.5 Early or Not, Tuesday Serves as Huge Win
If you threw everything into bowl and mixed it all up, Tuesday night was huge. Not only was the game long-awaited, but long-discussed; the Hoyas were hungry after dropping their season opener to Radford; pressure was on Maryland to not only defend homecourt, but defend their No. 3 ranking against their first true test of the season, in a game of this magnitude with tons of alumni and old-timers looking on and praying the Terps prevail. Add on top of that the fact that Maryland had to maintain their composure and play disciplined basketball at the end of a close game to ultimately pull out the win and it was just…a lot.
The massive exhale and sigh of relief from Mark Turgeon following the end of the game was revealing. It was simple, yet expressive of what this game meant, both before the opening tip and after the final whistle.
Also, this Maryland/Georgetown thing should happen every year. Fantastic stuff.
10. Does Maryland Look Like a No. 3?
I’m throwing this out there because it came up in casual chit chat at the coffee machine Wednesday morning. Is Maryland really the third-best team in the nation?
In simplest form, I’d answer by saying it’s way too early to tell.
Do the Terps have as much highlight potential and four-letter network showcase pizzazz as a team like a Kentucky? Probably not. But they’re a very solid team with good foundation, strong guard play, adequate depth, and valuable experience, all of which makes them an undoubted top-10 team in the nation.
With a freshman in Stone, a new(ish) guy like Carter3, and a transfer in Sulaimon all a part of the starting lineup, surely some gelling will need to develop and grow moving forward in order for Maryland to meet their true potential, but that potential is very real.
As it is with many teams (think of John Calipari and his rotating door of one-and-done’s), time and experience and playing alongside one another is what takes a group of talented basketball players and morphs them into a team, and that’s exactly what Mark Turgeon has in College Park. It might take a little bit, but the Terps are legit.