I have to admit it, I had a stretch run at the middle of the season where even I (one of Gary's most ardent supporters) started to wonder if Gary was done. Then, conference play came, and we kind of held our own to the point where I started to feel better but still wasn't sure if Gary was ever going to get over this run of "bad luck" (if you define winning 18+ games every year in a 5 year period a run of bad luck). Then, the UNC game came, then the Born Ready hype started getting louder, then we followed up the UNC game with a great effort at home against Duke. I knew Gary was back at that moment. Yeah we kind of struggled down the stretch in closing out games, but honestly it's tough to close out a game when you rely on outside shooting so much and can't defend inside. You would expect a team like that to have trouble closing out games.
But moving forward, here are the reasons I'm on the edge of my seat right now as a terps fan and that I'm absoulutely sure Gary has at least one (probably a lot more) deep runs in the tourny left in the tank.
1. The talent level on this team is actually quite good in the backcourt. We have just about every kind of backcourt player there is, a tough grinder in mosely, a slick, gangly slasher in tucker, a quick, explosive slasher in bowie and a good ball handler in hayes. If GV leaves, we will need another pure scorer (hopefully BR). But honestly, I like the youth and depth we have in the backcourt. They had this year under their belts and should play with greater poise and consistency and all be solid acc contributers next year. Having 4 guys who can contribute in the backcourt is nothing to slouch at.
2. I think padgett and williams have an opportunity to be really good. I love what I hear about padgett, he seems like he will fill a crucial void on the glass and as a defensive stopper inside. He's also got a polished, though limited, offensive game and isn't afraid to attack the rim. And jordan williams scored 52 points in his last high school game. A big guy who can score? Oh you know what gary can do with that.
3. Don't give up on our young bigs. Mark my words, out of Brax, Burney, Gregory I expect to get at least one solid acc big man as these guys improve with the program. Brax has an impressive frame and appears to be lacking confidence. We've seen this before, gary taking a big guy who looks like he doesn't belong on the court and turning him into a solid acc player. I'm almost certain that Gregory will mature into a solid bench player.
4. NIT is really better for the team than is a one and done in the NCAA's. Let's face it, we could really use the playing time in the NITs. I really hope we make the NCAAs, but if we don't, you can't tell me we won't benefit from having 4 more weeks (potentially) of playing together as a team. Polish is what all of our young players are lacking. The NIT is where unpolished young teams go to get better for next year. It's not that bad of a place for us to be.
5. If you have been following the 2010 recruitment, we are high on the lists of a lot of big, big time players (no not many top 20 guys, but guys that I would kill to have).
6. Most importantly, I LOVE THIS TEAM. The group of guys we have on this team play so damn hard despite being obviously overmatched in an essential element of the game. It's really amazing that this team was able to make this season so interesting. I will never forget the games that GV and Dave Neal have treated us to this year. Of course this season (WHICH ISN'T OVER AS OF THIS WRITING) had it's ups and downs, but it was one of the most entertaining in recent memories and I think we really worked out whatever was dragging the program down by hitting rock bottom early on against Gonzaga and GTown.
In conclusion, Next year we look poised, in my opinion to make a serious run at a sweet sixteen if BR commits to replace GV, and beyond that the recruiting prospects look good. Gary seems re-envigorated by the scrappiness of his team, and he has a lot of young talent to mold over these next couple of years. In the word's of T.O. "get out your popcorn".