If you’re a Maryland Terrapin fan right now, you realize the situation: your team needs to win the ACC tournament to avoid the program’s fourth NIT appearance in the past seven years. With the high standards that Maryland has set over the years, that’s a pretty depressing realization.
Heading into this year’s ACC tournament, Gary Williams’ squad finished with a 7-9 regular-season conference record, which was good for seventh place. Although this was supposed to be a "rebuilding" year, Terps fans still hoped that the team could at least make it into the NCAA Tournament if they had a halfway decent regular season with a win or two against a quality opponent.
But barring a miraculous ACC tournament run (one even more ridiculous than the 2004 run), the Terps will be heading to the NIT, completing what will be a disappointing year for the team and it’s fanbase.
With Maryland basketball, a lot of the blame for failure or credit for their success gets put on the coach. Gary Williams has been criticized at times this season when his team would either start slowly or fade late in games against teams they needed to beat. They’ve seemingly had wins against good teams in their grasp (Duke, Villanova), only to see their opponents rally to defeat them. It’s been that kind of year for the Terrapins, one where Gary knows they probably didn’t deserve to make it to the NCAA’s.
But let’s be honest, Gary didn’t have enough talent to work with this season in order to make a more legitimate run at an at-large NCAA tournament bid. Yes, you could blame that on his own recruiting skills, but it wasn’t any of his recent recruits that were letting him down. His seniors were unable take control of the team and establish themselves as go-to guys when they needed to be. Guards Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker were unable to fill the void left by Eric Hayes, Landon Milbourne and Greivis Vasquez. Dino Gregory played well in his role, particularly on the defense end, but was unable to as much of a force inside to allow more space for sophomore Jordan Williams.
So will this trend of annually living on the bubble continue?
If you look at the current roster plus the upcoming recruiting class, the answer is probably not. Despite the struggles of the 2010-2011 season, despite the criticism that Gary has been receiving in recent years and despite lack of McDonalds All Americans playing in a Terrapin uniform, Maryland still looks set up for a good run over the next few years.
For one, their most talented player, Jordan Williams, has had an excellent sophomore season and showed he can be a scoring threat down low when someone can find him inside. As good as he was, he still has plenty of room of improvement. If he can come back next year (assuming he doesn't go pro) with any kind of jump shot, he will be close to unguardable no matter who Maryland plays.
In addition, Maryland found a scorer in the latter half of the season in freshman Terrell Stoglin. The first-year guard was likely the most improved player on the squad as the year went on, and it showed in the latter part of the Terps ACC schedule. Stoglin was able to put up 20 points or more in four of the final six conference games, becoming the team’s second leading scorer for the season in the process.
In addition to retaining their top two scorers, The Terps have a stable of young role players in Haukur Palsson, James Padgett, Pe’Shon Howard and Mychal Parker who all look like they could be "classic" Gary Williams players --four-year guys who will find a niche and excel as their Maryland career continues.
Finally, while judging an incoming recruiting class is often akin to judging an NFL draft class the day after it's completion, it still looks like the Terps could have yet another solid class coming in next year. With Nick Faust, Sterling Gibbs and Martin Breunig coming in, the hope is that the 2011-2012 team will be a younger, more athletic and more talented team than Gary Williams has had in the last few years. And if Jordan Williams decides to stay all four seasons at Maryland, who knows what could happen.
So while the Terps faithful might be bummed about this year (and there is good reason to be upset), there is still hope that things will get back to the point where fans don’t have to settle for their team avoiding another trip to the NIT.
That is, of course, unless the Terps make a crazy run to the ACC title this weekend.