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ACC Preview # 4 - Maryland

N.C. State | Wake
| Florida

Maryland fans can be excused for being somewhat giddy as the
season approaches. After last year's remarkable run, culminating with an
amazing ACC Tournament performance, and taking defending champs Syracuse to the
limit in the NCAA Tournament, the sky seems to be the limit for these Terps.

Maryland loses Jamar Smith, but he was at best an adequate
big man, and he's not a critical loss. They return Nik Caner-Medley,
Travis Garrison, Hasson Fofana, Will Bowers, Ekene Ibekwe, Mike Jones, Chris
McCray, D.J. Strawberry, and John Gilchrist. They added t 6-8
James Gist and 6-4 Sterling Ledbetter, a transfer from Alleghany Junior College. Ledbetter was injured in an auto
accident over the summer but is expected to recover.

The returnee who gets the most attention is John Gilchrist,
who had a tremendous stretch run. He proved almost impossible to defend at
times: against N.C. State in the ACC Tournament, he shot 11-13 from the floor
and ended up with 7 assists to boot.

He's a very different sort of point guard than his
predecessor, Steve Blake, who was an old-school, pass-first guy, but it worked.

If he's healthy, Ledbetter is expected to back Gilchrist up.

Maryland has a lot of depth at wing. Six-five Mike Jones
was expected to emerge as a star also, but his defense held him back at times.
He came to Maryland with a reputation as a powerful offensive performer, and it
took him a while to pick up the intensity of Maryland's defense. Expect
him to make a bigger dent this year, and he may well start.

D.J. Strawberry didn't have a problem with defense last year,
emerging as one of the more promising young defenders in the ACC, and a guy a
lot of coaches would love to have.

Chris McCray also had a significant impact on the team and
will also compete for time.

One of Maryland's problems, actually, may be finding room for
them all, a task perhaps somewhat complicated by the fact that Nik Caner-Medley,
who was forced to play more underneath, will probably not be playing there as
much this season, because Maryland's big men should be much improved. He could
be in a tough situation, because Maryland has big guys who are more powerful,
and a ton of other guys who are faster. Having said that, he earned his chops by
being a real hardnosed player, something which no doubt endeared him to his
coach. It's a competitive edge that, say, Travis Garrison won't match
anytime soon.

Travis Garrison, who can probably be fairly called a
disappointment at this point in his career, came on at the end of the year,
and according to Gary Williams, really came on during the Terp's recent
Italian tour. As a DeMatha guy, you'd expect him to be solid, but a lot of
players still have to grow up a bit in college, and Garrison apparently has.

Another guy who has grown - a whole lot - is Hasson Fofana,
who is currently listed at 6-10 and just under 290. Now that's a load.

Fofana is a guy (along with Caner-Medley) who seems like a
classic Gary Williams recruit - a guy who may not have been recruited heavily
out of high school but who turns into a good player at Maryland.

Whatever else you want to say about Gary Williams, and people
(including us) say a lot, but there is no question that he recognizes his type
of players and teaches them very well. Is he abusive? We'd argue
yes. Is he a candidate for anger-management therapy? We'd say yes
again, particularly after watching Williams and an assistant just humiliate
Chris McCray in Cameron. It was up there with some of Bob Knight's

That said, does he take lightly recruited players and make
them highly effective? Yes, absolutely. He probably does this as well as
any coach in the country.

In fact, you could argue that Williams has three great
strengths as a coach: developing players, coaching defense, and transmitting

Garrison, it would seem, is catching up. Our guess is
that Fofana will make a big advance this year, and if his size legitimate, he's
trouble (and one of the few guys around who can muscle with Wake's Eric

A guy who is likely to be a step or two behind Fofana is Will
Bowers. At 7-1, he really didn't play much last season, but he's a guy Maryland
can afford to be patient with, particularly if Fofana and Garrison show
significant improvement.

But let's suppose the opposite happens: let's suppose Garrison
continues to infuriate his coaches and plays below his potential, and that
Fofana, who is in just his fourth year of organized basketball, is not ready for
a big leap. What then?

Well, it's a good time to have an Ekene Ibekwe around.

Ibekwe lacks Fofana's mass, but is a gifted athlete, and could
easily be Maryland's primary big man, not least of all because he may fit better
with a fleet team than Fofana does. He's an excellent shotblocker.
His offense is still a bit suspect, and he's not the strongest guy in the world
or at least wasn't last year, and both could cost him minutes.

Like Fofana, Ibekwe is a native of Nigeria.

Set Bowers aside for the moment, and consider Maryland's
frontcourt: Fofana, Ibekwe, Garrison, and Caner-Medley. All of them
have question marks, with Caner-Medley being the least likely to significantly
advance, only because he's about as athletic as he's going to get, and
competition from the other big guys, not to mention Strawberry, McCray, and Mike
Jones, who could all theoretically move up to a small wing spot, will be brutal.

On the other hand, if Garrison continues to be an
underachiever, and Fofana and Ibekwe don't move up pretty quickly,
Caner-Medley is going to be the man, and that could be a problem.

What made Maryland's late season run so stunning was the
defensive pressure the Terps could generate, and that was a result of tremendous
quickness. In an ideal world, the Terps would use Gilchrist, Strawberry,
Garrison and perhaps Caner-Medley to channel the play down the middle towards
Ibekwe, who (again in an ideal world) would either block the shot, or alter it
and rebound, starting a fast break. In that environment, Maryland is hard to

Maryland has a certain tension on their roster between speed players and
everyone else, and how that is managed will likely determine how far they

They'll be a serious contender for the Final Four, but if we may be so
infelicitous, we should point out that Gary Williams has never made it past the
Sweet Sixteen without Juan Dixon and Steve Blake on his team.

That's no sin. A lot of coaches haven't made it past the Sweet Sixteen,
and even more haven't gotten that far. And that is the best backcourt
Maryland has ever had, and one of the best ever in the conference.

But the suggestion at the time that Maryland and Williams had changed
philosophy and become more of a halfcourt team was bunk. What happened was
this: Steve Blake was such a superb point guard, and he and Dixon were
such superb clutch players, that they didn't require a lot of oversight.
This is why Gary had reportedly mellowed, not any big changes in his

Maryland this season will likely be a truer reflection of their coach:
at their best, and most entertaining, they are relentless, aggressive, and will
run the court superbly.

At their worst, they will play like they don't have a clue.

And as for Gilchrist, who was astonishing at the end of the season, he will
be the subject of a lot of trick defenses and special attentions during this
season. A lot of ACC guards have followed spectacular seasons with seasons
which seemed ordinary. It's not because they regressed; it's because the
opponents came after them more aggressively.

Maryland is going to be one of the most fun teams to watch this year.
They'll have to sort out a lot of roles, but big whoop. How often do you get to
enter a season off of a high like last year's ACC Tournament, and how often do
you have this much fun young talent? It's going to be great to watch, and
the Terps, along with Wake, Duke, UNC, State, Tech, and possibly Florida State,
should make a good run in the NCAA Tournament.