Last night's UNC-Maryland
game gave two lessons, really: 1) Maryland is not
going to be as good as last year, period, and 2) while UNC's personnel
transition will go on for a couple of seasons as Matt Doherty gets his
people in, the coaching transition is pretty much complete, and youth is having
its day. The relatively small window of time when UNC might have been
significantly down appears to be over. So far they've taken on two of their top
three rivals in the conference and dispatched them. Wake was a tougher nut to
crack than Maryland, but they cracked nonetheless, and now UNC and Duke, as they
so often have, sit on top of the conference and eye each other warily.
As far as we're concerned, the question is simple: what's
wrong with Maryland? Yes, they ran off 10 straight wins, but who was
in a position to challenge them? Penn, 0-6 at the time, pushed them.
Maryland has not beaten a ranked team this season.
There is a pattern with Gary Williams' coached teams which we have mentioned
before: give him a great hand to play and he's like Richard Nixon with a full
house, glancing around the card table, lips sweating, or a kid who has
overprepared for a spelling bee and who suddenly can't spell Cat.
When he has a team which returns a powerful starting lineup, it often
sputters. Recall Exree Hipp's senior season. Now think back just two years
ago to the Steve Francis group, which people said in December played like UCLA
of old. UCLA was a March team. Maryland hasn't mastered January.
It's hard to understand, honestly. Gary Williams has proven he can
coach guys with almost no talent into near-greatness, but when he has guys with
great talent, he seems to have no idea what to do. Maryland fans
periodically write in to tell us that we should understand they have an
inferiority complex when it comes to Duke and UNC. Makes no sense to us, but
there it is.
Now here's something to chew over. Maybe what Gary did for Maryland was
to restore their credibility and to make them an NCAA regular. Maybe he's
gone as far as he can go. And if Debbie Yow drew that conclusion as well
and someone, say, Rick Pitino, was looking for a job, do you think that Pitino
would accept a sense of inferiority?
Certainly that's not a problem for a guy like Joseph
Forte. One of the periodic UNC kids it's impossible not to respect, like
Hubert Davis, Forte's confidence is sky high, and out of all the ACC players,
perhaps only Jason Williams has the same zeal Forte has for sticking the knife
in and twisting it.
It's fascinating, really, what UNC has done. Dean Smith retires and Bill
Guthridge takes over. Amidst storms of criticism, he has the best three year
record of any new coach in history. Matt Doherty comes in as a late
selection for head coach, after everyone before him for various reasons just
says no to Dean (sorry, couldn't resist). He has various issues, like
everyone being upset about the previous assistants being let go, point
guard blues, and an always erratic Brendan Haywood. Not to mention an
obsessive press and even more obsessive (and impatient) fans. By relative
standards talent is down.
Yet in spite of all that, for whatever reason you might wish to credit, UNC
has confidence which Maryland lacks. There's a lot of basketball left,
of course, and Maryland could turn it around and weaknesses could still haunt
UNC. But there's no denying the fact that with less overall talent, UNC is
where Maryland believed they would be. You can talk about things like
inferiority complexes and so forth, but when you get right down to it, UNC is
being coached very well, and right now at least, Maryland is not.