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ACC Preview # 4 - Maryland

NC State | Wake
| Carolina
Before we get too far into looking at Maryland, we should all, regardless of
any peripheral feelings, congratulate the Terps on their success last
season.  We know Maryland fans are passionate, and we know a lot of times
things have gone against them.  Last year's team had heart and guts, and we
admired it a great deal, even if the fans proved all too often to be less than

When we look at the roster from last season and compare it to this years, we
immediately notice a big difference. Whereas last year Maryland had three guys
who were rangy and capable of doing a lot of things in the part of the game that
guards and centers can't usually do - Terence Morris, Danny Miller, and Byron
Mouton - this year, they only have Mouton.  They have six players 6-3 and
under and five players 6-9 and over. We count Lonnie Baxter there though he is
6-8 because he can in no way, shape or form play anywhere except inside.

Morris took a lot of criticism last year, much of it perhaps justified, but
he pointed out after the draft that he was playing out of position at power
forward. It's a fair complaint.  Miller, for whatever reason, was unhappy
and left for Notre Dame for his senior year.

The Terps do have freshman Michael Grinnon, who is 6-6, but we don't know
much about him, which means he's a typical Maryland recruit - underreported and
possibly underrated.  He may or may not have an impact.

This is significant, because while Maryland has a remarkable backcourt with
Juan Dixon and Steve Blake, and a tough center in Baxter, their versatility is
sharply reduced, and their ability to chase guys like Dante Jones,  Adam
Hall,  Jawad Williams, and Julius Hodge is likely to become an issue.

More importantly, it may become even more problematic on offense. Two
magazines last year reported that other teams pick up Maryland's offense with
amazing speed. It would be amazing if it were at all complex but the flex
offense is  not, which is why opponents know what Maryland is likely to do
at any particular time - and why it's hard to win close games, too.  How
can you surprise anyone?  We think back to Terence Morris being stripped by
Chris Duhon at the end of the Final Four game.  One of the things that made
Dean Smith's teams dangerous is you could never be certain what they would do.
You can't say that about Gary Williams. Everyone knows what he is going to do.

With a limited middle game, this could become more pronounced: when your
primary offensive weapon is a 6-3 guard, and you have one other player capable
of slashing effectively, you may have a serious deficiency.

Defensively, there will be a lot of pressure on Mouton, particularly from
teams like Virginia and also possibly Florida State and Clemson, who have a lot
of players to throw at him.

To us, Maryland is now a much less flexible team, and that's a concern. 
But they also have three rocks to build on in Blake, Dixon, and

Dixon is a guy who we admire extravagantly.  He has overcome long odds
in life in general, and athletically, he is as fearless as Randolph Childress
was.  He's a brilliant ballplayer and from all appearances a very decent

Blake we admire in a different, more reserved way. He has done a lot with his
talent, and he has proven to be  a shrewd and effective point guard,
perhaps the best one Gary Williams has had at Maryland.  And when you think
back on great Maryland guards, we think of John Lucas, Brad Davis, and Greg
Manning, who used to work on the Maryland radio network and who is currently the AD at Georgia State. He's not quite in that class but he's close behind. Steve Francis is possible too, but one year players don't make much of an impression. 

Lonnie Baxter has just worked to make himself a great player, like his
teammates, and his heart will carry him to the NBA. 

After those two, and Mouton will also start, we're not sure what Maryland
does.  Taj Holden can shoot, and Chris Wilcox has shown flashes, but if you
start Mouton and Baxter and Holden, who guards Adam Hall, Mike Dunleavy, 
Jackie Manuel,  Michael Joiner, or Olu Babalola?  Do you go to zone?
Not against Duke or Virginia or Wake Forest, and not against Archie Miller,

It wouldn't surprise us too much if Maryland went to a three-guard offense
instead of  using two big men. Actually you could argue that that would be
a four guard offense, with Mouton and presumably Drew Nicholas stepping in. They
pretty much ran a three guard/two forward offense last year anyway.  But
whatever they do, they have matchup problems, and Maryland has rarely won games
on offense. They almost always win on defense.  The exception to that is
when they have an explosive offensive performer like Steve Francis or Juan
Dixon, and just to reinforce our admiration for Dixon, we'd much rather have him
on our team than Francis.

Another really important issue for Maryland is how they deal with their new
status.  Gary Williams is an extremely hardworking coach, and his teams
have reflected that. We admired his early teams a great deal because they worked
hard as hell, were usually outgunned, and they stole a lot of games.

We have never, though, thought that he dealt particularly well with
pressure.  When he has had teams of whom much is expected - think of the
Exree Hipp/Johnny Rhodes team, and the Francis team - those teams ultimately
faded.  Last year's team was magnificent, of course, and the absolute
exception to this rule.  But how teams deal with pressure reflects on the
coach, and it does not reflect well on Williams.  For instance, after the
22 point lead in the Final Four dissolved, he at one point turned to the scorers
table and supposedly yelled "how bad do you want Duke to win this!"

Now we understand he may think this, and that a lot of Maryland fans would
agree, but when you say that in front of your team, you are telling them, in
essence, that you have no answer and that they are basically
screwed.   This is not something you would ever expect from Dean Smith
or Mike Krzyzewski or Lute Olson.  In the Final Four game, if you watch it
slowly, you can see
a lot of turmoil on the bench.
Again, this is not conducive to winning. And
Williams is not always like this. Think of last year's game in Durham, when he
was generally calm. It was strange and unsettling, but probably not for his

Schedule wise, it's a mixed bag. There are 7-9 gimme wins on the schedule,
though Princeton could be trouble, and assume the Terps win 10 conference games,
for a minimum of 19 wins.  

Beyond that, the opening of the season is tough: they draw Arizona in the Coaches
vs. Cancer Classic
, and if we were betting money, we'd bet on Arizona, and
here's why. We don't think Maryland deals well with pressure, as we just said,
and they will have a lot of it not least of all in New York;  Lute Olson is
a tremendous coach and relishes being the underdog (after losing three starters
early to the NBA), and while Arizona will know what to expect out of Maryland,
Maryland will have no clue what to expect out of Arizona.  

In the second game, they get either Florida or Temple, and neither one is a
guaranteed win.

After that, they get American, and here's the thing about that game: we know
nothing about their talent, but Jeff Jones knows Maryland well, having coached
against them for years at UVa.  He may not have the talent to compete, but
he'll be ready.  

Illinois is the pick in the Big 10/1 Challenge, and that's a tough game for
anyone these days.  Then they get Princeton, and an underrated Detroit, and
Oklahoma, and then off to the conference wars.

Finally, one other note: we think Maryland's depth is somewhat overstated.
They return Mouton, Dixon, Nicholas, Blake, Baxter, Holden and Wilcox. Freshman
Andre Collins will play.  Michael Grinnon may or may not, but Matt Slaninka
almost certainly won't contribute as a freshman.  Earl Badu, Calvin McCall,
and Ryan Randle have not made significant contributions so far.  By our
count, that puts them at eight deep, and possibly nine, and while that's better
than average depth, it's not overwhelming.

To sum it up, this is a team which could make a return to the Final Four, but
in order to do that, they have to a) deal with a different kind of pressure, and
b) commit to going large or going small, and figure out how to overcome the
mismatches they'll face either way.