After three straight blowouts, it looks like we might finally have run into a matchup that won't be as completely one-sided. As always, a reminder that this only includes players from the Gary-era, based on the criteria of "best player" with consideration of what they did at Maryland. Though, really, you can use the criteria you want.
Moving down the bracket to the always tricky 6/11 matchup, we have a battle between two very different players who both turned in great senior seasons. Without further ado:
The #6 Seed: #22, Keith Booth, F, 1993-1997
Keith Booth is one of the players probably more remembered for what he meant for the program than what he actually did as a player. Booth, of course, broke the Baltimore-UMD barrier, the first player to suit up for Gary Williams and the Terps since they oh-so-disdainfully dealt with Charm City icon Bob Wade. Baltimore HS coaches essentially had a boycott on Maryland; Booth, a star at Dunbar HS, picked the Terrapins anyway, smoothing over a notoriously rocky relationship in the process. He paved the way for later B-More stars like Rodney Elliot, Sean Mosley, and, yes, Juan Dixon to make their way to College Park. He was of such great import that he later came back as an assistant to help out the cause of getting Baltimore players to stay at home (not particularly fruitfully, I might add).
But Booth enjoyed a fantastic Maryland career in his own right, and putting too much emphasis on his recruiting impact would be selling Booth the Player short.
His first two years, which overlapped with Joe Smith's, were solidly impressive for a young'un, averaging about 11 points and 7 boards in both seasons. When Smith left, Booth was expected to be the main outlet in the frontcourt, and he filled the role with aplomb, scoring 15.3 ppg and grabbing 8 rebounds per game.
Then backcourt stalwarts Johnny Rhodes and Duane Simpkins left the building, and Booth was left to be the start of the team. He answered the call with one of the better single seasons overseen by Gary Williams, scoring 19.5 a game, grabing 8 boards, and earning 3rd Team All-American honors. Not Walt's 26 per game, but not shabby. In fact, that season is probably a little underrated: his supporting cast was made up of one of the weaker teams of the Gary Golden Era, and he was a huge part - sometimes, it seemed, the only part - of how they made it into the NCAA Tournament.
Booth turned in two solid years, one really good one, and one great one. When all was said and done, only three players scored more points for Gary (Juan, Greivis, and Lonny) and only two grabbed more rebounds (Lonny and T-Mo). Only Joe Smith, Juan Dixon, Greivis Vasquez, and Steve Francis received higher national honors than he did. And no one bridged a huge gap - both in its distance and its importance - the way Booth did.
The #11 Seed: #12, Drew Nicholas, SG, 1999-2003
When you think of Drew Nicholas, you probably think of that shot. But hold off on that for a minute; we'll get to it later.
Looking at his career more broadly, Nicholas is like an anti-Terence Morris. While T-Mo always had obvious talent but could never transcend to the next level, Nicholas played the backup role just fine until he made that "next level" leap, going from backup to star in a single season.
Nicholas, a 2-guard from New York, wasn't highly-regarded coming out of high school, but fans got an early taste of his abilities: in just his third game in the program, as a true freshman against lowly Farleigh Dickinson, Nicholas dropped 27 points, hitting 4-6 from beyond-the-arc along the way. For the next two years, though, he was essentially Juan Dixon's ballboy.
It was in his third season where appreciation for him really began to grow. Though he didn't start and averaged only 7 ppg, he was the primary backup for the Terrapins at three positions, backing up Steve Blake at PG, Juan Dixon at SG, and even occasionally Byron Mouton at SF. Being a sixth man on a National Championship-winning team isn't the most impressive accomplishment of the bracket, but it's important nonetheless.
Even still, he was a backup. It was the next year, after Dixon, Byron Mouton, Lonny Baxter, and Chris Wilcox left, that Nicholas was thrust into the limelight. Steve Blake returned, but he wasn't a scorer by nature. Nicholas, unlike T-Mo, was cut out for the job, averaging nearly 18 ppg and playing almost as much as Blake himself. It's not easy for a backup to make the jump to being a starter - just ask Cliff Tucker - but Nicholas was fantastic in his only season as the Terrapins' primary scorer.
In fact, it makes it tough to judge Nicholas' overall talent. That one year showed a lot from Drew, and you wonder what he could've done had he not been stuck behind arguably the greatest Gary-Era player for the first three years of his career. C'est la vie.
But back to that shot. In Nicholas' second-to-last game in a Maryland jersey, he cemented his place in Maryland lore with one of the most clutch shots in Terrapin history, right up there with Simpkins' jumper against Georgetown. You know what I'm talking about, and I've already written about it at length, so I'll just leave you with the video:
What's so remarkable about this and Nicholas, by the way, is that this wasn't a one-off, Cliff Tucker buzzer beater. Drew was consistently clutch. He hit a game-winning three against N.C. State about two or three weeks before this shot, and during the national championship year came in to hit two threes in the final few minutes in a comeback at Virginia.
But something tells me that won't be enough to topple Keith Boooooooooooooooth.