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ACC Preview #5 - Maryland


Duke
| UNC | NC
State
| Wake
Forest

In our earlier
preview of UNC,
with Ron Curry's ability to come in and defend
keenly in mind. He won't be available to the basketball team now, having
torn his Achilles tendon
against Georgia Tech, so UNC's perimeter defense is
going to suffer. Cota has never gotten a reputation as a passionate
defender. Bersticker's foot problem will slow down his progress as
well. So bear that in mind when you handicap the season.

Maryland is always the enigma of the ACC. Geographically situated to dominate
the basketball world (imagine if Smith or Coach K had that backyard recruiting
advantage), they never quite make it.

Lefty Driesell swore when he won the ACC tourney, he'd strap
the trophy on his hood and drive through the state of North Carolina (he
didn't).

Bob Wade was short-lived and his firing alienated much of the Baltimore
basketball world. Now, of course, Gary Williams is in the saddle.
Last season he had what was Maryland's best or second best team, possibly behind
the 73-74 team, which was brilliantly talented but unfortunate enough to see the
greatest ACC player ever, David Thompson, lose one game in two seasons at NC
State.

Last season Maryland had Laron Profit, erratic but brilliantly talented,
Obinna Ekezie, an African who is rapidly mastering the game he learned only as a
gawky teenager, Terrell Stokes, a limited but savvy point guard, and Steve
Francis, possessed of blinding talent but sometimes petulant and frustrated, as
when he crotched the crowd at Duke, promptly assuring the game was over.

All gone.

But here's a very young potential starting lineup that's as intriguing as any
in the ACC:

  • Lonnie Baxter, 6-8 and thick as a brick.
  • Terrence Morris, who is on the very cusp of greatness
  • Danny Miller, who is tough, smart, and versatile at 6-7
  • Juan Dixon, one of the grittiest kids to come along in the ACC in a long,
    long time.
  • Freshman Steve Blake. Highly regarded as a point, if he can make the
    transition to the ACC, he'll have a lot of targets.

Add to that Mike Mardesich, who has had periods of brilliance, Taj
Holden, and others coming off the bench, and Maryland is as deep as most teams
this season. They are more impressive, in our opinion, than they'll be given
credit for, at least pre-season.

The question marks are these:

  • Can Blake come through?
  • Will Morris step up to greatness?
  • Can Baxter play inside against Haywood, Jones, and Boozer?
  • Can Maryland master the half court game?

The last item is no joke. Maryland plays superbly on emotion and
pressure. When they are pressing and turning the ball over, they reflect
the best of Gary Williams - the dogged determination to deny the other guy.

Their halfcourt game, though, is usually less impressive, and has been their
Achilles Heel. This team, though, may challenge that notion in many ways.

First of all, Dixon pretty much rules out heavy zones, box and one
excepted. His range is deep, and he will run off screens and kill
people. The kid has heart and guts. Blake, from advance reports, is a
savvy point and may be able to steady the team in the halfcourt. Stokes might
have had his talent level been higher - he was a pretty sharp kid on the court,
despite limited talent.

Baxter will patrol the low post. He's too thick to be a latter day Buck
Williams, meaning an undersized but highly effective center (one of the greatest
privileges in ACC history was seeing 6'8" Buck Williams constantly outplay
7'4" Ralph Sampson through sheer heart and desire), but if he attacks the boards like Williams did, he'll be a major
force. Morris, of course, is a huge talent. He can go pop the 15-20
foot jumper, he runs like a dream, and he is smart on the court. Danny
Miller is a guy who we're intrigued with. From what we saw last season he's
tough, smart, and capable of being the silent backbone of this team,
somewhat like David Henderson was at Duke in 1986 (for those who don't remember
or didn't see Henderson play, he was in many ways in charge of that team. Coach
K has a 12 letter word for that kind of player, but, uh, we won't get into that just
now...). He'll have to go a long ways to reach that level of authority,
but he just might be able to do it.

The question at Maryland, just like it was 20 years ago, is basic: can the
talent on the floor overcome the coaching on the bench? That's going to sound
like Gary bashing, particularly because we've said some harsh things about him
this summer, but it's not. Maryland can win 25 games this year, but unless
and until they can manage the half court game efficiently, they won't get beyond the Sweet
16. At the end of the season, when the games build in tension and
importance, patience is paramount. There are things to admire about
Maryland but late game management is not on that list. Having four smart
players on the court (we're reserving judgment on Baxter for now, but that
doesn't mean we think he's not smart) helps, and
this team is a legitimate threat to win the regular season title, but in order
to either win the ACC Tournament, or to make a run in the NCAAs, they'll have to
learn to play at a slower pace than they usually prefer. Once in a blue moon a
Vegas '90 or UCLA '69 shows up and is so overwhelming that the others
might as well mail it in. Maryland isn't in that category, and the race isn't
always to the swiftest.