Hey, at least this season review was way more fun to write than the last one. (Sad joke). Anyway, any season review is a tough piece to write, usually not emotionally but practically. So much happened, and there are so many different ways to look at what happened. Succinctly summarizing the season - and, just as importantly, what it all meant for the team and program - is difficult, maybe impossible, to pull off.
But with NIT Selection Sunday barreling down (9:00 on ESPNU!) and the meaningful part of the season effectively over, I don't think there's any better time to do some analysis. So please, bear with me as we take a not-so-whimsical tour through the 2010-11 season of the Maryland Terrapins, as well as a quick program assessment and future preview.
There's two parts to looking at any season, at least I see it (you may not agree, which is fine). The first has to do with how (or if) expectations were met. For the most part, Maryland did what they were supposed to do: be a bubble team. Sure, they were a little farther outside than most people (and I) thought they'd be, but the majority of serious fans knew this team wasn't NCAA Tournament bound.
Maryland wasn't expected to be very good or make the tournament. They weren't very good and didn't make the tournament. For the most part, people got what they expected to get. Why, then, does it all feel so frustrating in review?
Well, maybe because it seemed like so much more was within the Terrapins' grasp. For one, no one expected Jordan Williams and Terrell Stoglin to be as good as they've proven to be. Williams was supposed to suffer without Greivis Vasquez feeding him the ball and drawing away the defense. Few thought Stoglin would be able to become a decent starter at point guard so quickly. Go back and look at my predictions for the two of them: Williams with 13 and 10, Stoglin with about 7 ppg.
Williams, of course, finished with 17 and 12, while Stoglin averaged 11 ppg. Dino Gregory exceeded expectations, too. If you traveled back in time to the old me and told me that Williams would be ostensibly the second-best player in the ACC, that Stoglin would average 11ppg and make the All-Freshman team, and that Gregory would be an adequate 4 at the ACC level, I'd probably bet money that Maryland would have their name called on Selection Sunday. (I also probably wouldn't like you, because I'd lose that money).
(Then again, I don't think most people expected the other three upperclassmen - Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker, and Sean Mosley - to flame out as (un)spectacularly as they did. More on that later, though).
Maryland's performance early in the year against good teams really inflated expectations. See, NIT bubble teams normally don't play as well out of conference as Maryland did. Play a good team close one, maybe two times? Sure, that's a possibility. But Maryland was far more consistent. Early in the year, they nearly knocked off both a really good Pitt team and Illinois (which, as we've learned, isn't so good). Then they nearly beat Temple, save for a late-game collapse. And then Villanova, too. And hey, they nearly beat Duke at their place.
After they came within single digits of both Pitt and Illinois at Madison Square Garden, I think it's safe to assume that expectations skyrocketed. Like I said, NIT teams don't play that well against teams that were that good. It was only a matter of time before Maryland got the marquee win they so desperately needed, and it was nearly a foregone conclusion that they'd run a weak ACC (with the exception of Duke and UNC). Right?
One problem: they didn't. The same flaws that caused them to lose to Pitt also caused them to lose to Temple. And then Boston College. And then Villanova. And then Virginia Tech, by a longshot. You can see where this is going.
All the while, fans were expecting things to turn around eventually. Up until the point Maryland lost to UNC, I harbored hopes of the Terrapins making a run, and it hardly seemed far-fetched. We had guys like KenPom telling us how awesome Maryland really was - no, really, they are a top-20 team (ha, no). The play was always there. With the exception of the first Virginia Tech game, Maryland was never run out of the gym. It's just that the results never showed up.
Maryland had problems. A lot of teams have problems, but Maryland's were entrenched more deeply, were more costly, and - most importantly - they lacked the experience, leadership, and spectacular play to overcome them. Maryland is a good team with more than a few fatal flaws. They just couldn't overcome them.
One reason for that: the upperclassmen on the team, except for Dino Gregory, did little. Sean Mosley, Cliff Tucker, and Adrian Bowie - not a single one met expectations. They were all around 9 ppg, which doesn't seem terrible, except for the fact that Maryland was all but counting on one of them stepping up and take charge of the perimeter scoring. (Keep in mind, too, that the averages for all three drop in ACC play).
Outside of a decent start for Tucker, a 22-point game for Bowie, and a great defensive play against N.C. State for Mosley, it was a forgettable year for all three. If nothing else, they at least could've provided some senior leadership; that, too, was rare, and was a big reason for Maryland's late-game collapses against Villanova and Duke (three times).
Perhaps those expectations were inflated; after all, the group was relatively inexperienced and had never performed consistently at a high level in the past. Each had glimpses of what we wanted them to be - early-season Mosley in his sophomore year, Bowie's final five games last season, Tucker's UNC games and GT buzzer-beater - but they proved to be just that: glimpses, nothing more. They certainly weren't an indication of what they could do given the limelight.
We could go over why all that happened, why Mosley proved average and Tucker proved inconsistent, but I don't know how much good any of it would do. And I want to point out that Maryland didn't end up the way they are solely because Cliff Tucker wasn't as consistent as we might've liked. No, there were (a lot of) other problems. The only point guards on the team were freshmen, a flaw of Gary Williams' roster planning. Jordan Williams couldn't hit free throws, a flaw of his own. No one could shoot three-pointers, a flaw of everyone associated with the team. Maryland lost this year for a lot of reasons.
I could go over what the future holds in store for Maryland - hint: it's good - but that's a task best saved for another post (we just pushed over a thousand words here). Instead, let's get to the second part of reviewing a season. If one half of it is how a team met expectations, the other half - again, this is just to me, and you can look at it differently - is what those expectations and the final result of the year say about the current state of the program.
This is even trickier, because everyone has a very well-entrenched feeling about it already. This was a rebuilding year, for sure. Maryland had to replace most of their scoring, most of their rebounding, and their best player since Juan Dixon. Expecting a great year out of that is a bit much.
I could go into a thing about how both the rebuilding year (this year) and the peak year (next year) are lower than ideal (Notre Dame, for example, is peaking this year as a top 5 team; they'll suck next year when all five starters graduate, but they got the most out of their good year). But ultimately that's too small of a sample size to say much.
We've seen the fruits of sub-par recruiting for the past seven years or so - ridiculously, four of those seasons ended in the NIT. Yes, that's well below where Maryland needs to be. You don't need to be Billy Packer (thank God; one of him is enough) to know that. When looking at the past seven years as a whole, it's certainly a less-than-ideal picture.
The good news is that I'm not entirely sure that terrible NCM-McCray-Jones-Garrison-Gilchrist-Ibekwe cycle overlaps with this one. The recruiting appears to have turned around - we'll need to wait longer to see for sure on that - and the future is looking up, not down, especially if Jordan Williams returns. This seems very much like a different Gary Williams at the helm, and his assistants definitely seem more capable.
In other words: it's a better idea to wait another year before we look at the program with too critical of an eye. If they're as good as we think they'll be next year - an NCAA tournament team and one of the top 4 or so teams in the conference - most people will be able to overlook this year. That said, if next year's Terrapins don't live up to expectations, for whatever reason, there will be turmoil in College Park.
Maryland basketball is a team that should be consistently good. I'm not trying to go Packer here, but it's the truth. Notice I didn't say "consistently excellent" or "always in the top 25" - they should be consistently good, a regular tournament team with an NIT floor and an Elite Eight ceiling. Since the natty, they haven't been even close to that, and it's frustrating. Moreso than what happens next year, their ability to return (or not return) to that level of play will define where the program stands.
Ultimately, though, this is a conversation with little use outside of simple discussion. Gary Williams is the coach for as long as he wants, the facilities aren't in need of improvement, and the financial commitment is up to par. We're just waiting for it to either start working or get bad enough that we can know where we really are in the world.
I'll have a post about next year once the NIT is over. For now - and I can't believe I'm saying this - let's all just look forward to football season, eh?
*Keep it clean in the comments. I'll be moderating this post heavily. Don't use all caps. Don't be combative. Don't go Chicken Little. If your comment gets deleted, don't take it personally.