In last year's Maryland preview, there were three things we didn't understand
about the Terps:
- we thought the lack of midsized athletes would kill them, particularly
since they base so much of their game on pressing defense
- we never thought Chris Wilcox would emerge so quickly
- we underestimated the guts of the seniors (excluding Juan Dixon) and also
Steve Blake. After the previous season it was maybe understandable, but it
was still short-sighted.
Maryland obviously answered all the questions, winning the national
championship and becoming the fourth ACC school to do so and they're still
enjoying the afterglow, as they should. It's a great feeling.
Incidentally, every team in the ACC has now been to the Final Four but
Clemson. Florida State hasn't been as an ACC team, but did make it when
Dave Cowens was playing there.
N.J. (Allegany CC)
Md. (Crisfield/Hargrave Military)
Fla. (Dr. Phillips)
Beach, Va. (Salem)
N.Y. (Long Island Lutheran)
Heights, Md. (Fairmont Heights)
N.J. (Seton Hall Prep)
Bay, N.Y. (St. Dominic)
Lakes, Fla. (Oak Hill (Va.) Academy)
Texas (Allegany CC)
Bank, N.J. (Red Bank Regional)
This year, Maryland faces a radically different challenge. Of the starters,
only Blake returns. That's vaguely reminiscent of Duke in 1986, when Tommy
Amaker was the only returnee. Duke actually started that season looking like a
better team, but injuries and academics really put a crimp in things. That team
was a defensive juggernaut early on. But replacing four experienced
starters is exceedingly difficult. Maryland will likely find that out, but
they have a pretty good shot at being a very good team anyway. Good as last
year? No. But pretty good anyway, and certainly a threat to go deep in the
Look for Drew Nicholas to move into Juan Dixon's spot opposite Steve
Blake. Up front, playing time could be tight, since Taj Holden is a solid
holdover (for perspective, he started last season ahead of Chris Wilcox, but
Wilcox took control of that spot fairly early). He is a solid player and
smart. Unfortunately, he's not quite as talented as Ryan Randle, JUCO
transfer Jamar Smith, and ace rookie Travis Garrison. That's a
pretty good group of big men, and it may take a while to sort out the
rotation. There's not really a center though, strictly speaking, though no
one else has one anymore either, and it's not like Lonny Baxter was really a
center, and he did fine.
Blake and Nicholas will be a solid backcourt, and this is about the time in
Gary's world that a guy like Andre Collins becomes a bit of a pain. At 5-9
he is small, and he will have to compete now with freshman John Gilchrist, but
that stacks Maryland 3 deep at the point, and he has the potential to be an
enormous defensive pest.
Chris McCray, at 6-4, and Nik Caner-Medley, at 6-7, are both supposed to be
pretty talented as well, though Caner-Medley hasn't played much against
high-level competition. So that's a solid rotation for this year,
and more talent on the way.
Still, there are roles to be defined, and not just starters. It's not
often you have your best player ever and your most physically talented big man
in a generation show up with a tough post player and a gutty point guard. Or
that a guy who was a starter willingly steps aside and is a solid backup.
When you ask who Maryland's clutch player will be, the immediate answer is Steve
Blake. An average athlete, Blake has proven to be one of the toughest customers
to come along. But he cannot do what Juan Dixon did, anymore than Tommy
Amaker could be Johnny Dawkins. Someone will have to step up.
And with Blake, Dixon and Mouton defending the perimeter, and Chris Wilcox
athletic enough to do pretty much anything he wanted on the inside, and Lonny
Baxter willing to do a ton of dirty work - well, those roles didn't evolve
overnight, and they won't this time, either. Which of the big guys will do
the dirty work underneath? Holden likes to drift outside, and Garrison is
probably not physically ready for the pounding you get in the post. Likely
the role will fall to Ryan Randle. We've not seen Smith, but we've heard he's
not really a post player.
Gary Williams has done a sort of new version of the Lefty Driesell "Ah
can coach" routine over the summer, and he did put a lot of doubts to rest,
particularly about player development. However, he had a team which was as close
to self-maintaining as it's possible to find. Did he somehow find a way to relax
last year? Or did he just realize how mentally tough his team was and realize
that, for a year anyway, he had the easiest job in college basketball?
Gary Williams has taken a lot of heat over the years for various things -
collapses, weak tournament performances, fan behavior, and at times elements of
his personal life. Last year, he had what is likely the team of a
lifetime, three seniors and a junior who had been through enough crap to really
have developed some backbone and character. Our point is, we're pretty
sure he didn't have to yell at them. In fact, in many situations, it would
probably have been counterproductive.
This year's team has a chance to be really solid and possibly make a deep
run. Having a gritty point guard like Blake and a lot of good athletes
makes that a distinct possibility. But magic rarely lasts and roles have
to be recast, and only Blake, Holden, and Nicholas have really meaningful
experience. Maryland has established themselves as a permanent power in
the ACC again, and obviously a significant team nationally as well.
Respect has never been higher. The payoff, though, won't come this year,
but over the next few, as recruits line up to play at a school that has clearly
captured imaginations around the country.
For the ACC, it's great news. With UNC still struggling, Virginia erratic,
and Wake, Tech, and State in various stages of establishing programs, the
conference needs Maryland to be good. Aside from the
TV/demographics/marketing angle, it helps to have a solid recruiting base in
D.C. When Georgetown was the dominant power there, a lot of area players
became Hoyas, and also played for other Big East teams. Maryland's
success (and Georgetown's relative decline) has really changed that, and it adds
extra attention to the rest of the conference as well.