Top Terp Tournament: #2 Joe Smith vs. #15 John Gilchrist

via 1.bp.blogspot.com

And with that, the bracket reveal is complete. This matchup, as one-sided as it will be, does have an interesting storyline to it: the #2 seed started Maryland's long, long run of making NCAA Tournaments, and the #15 seed was a part of the team who ended it.

That pretty much sums up how the voting will go.

The #2 Seed: Joe Smith, PF/C, #32 1993-1995

Juan Dixon was given the top spot in our bracket, an honor that really couldn't have gone to anyone else given his status as the best player on Maryland's best team. That's not to say that Dixon doesn't deserve it, but had he not won the national championship, I can't help but feel like Joe Smith would be giving him a fight, if not taking the top spot outright.

It was Smith, after all, who garnered Maryland's only Naismith National Player of the Year Award, recognition that eluded Len Elmore, Albert King, and even Len Bias. He had probably the two best seasons of any Terrapin ever, and turned in some of the greatest single-game performances in Terp history as well.

The beginning of his career was unassuming enough. Overlooked in his Virginia high school, he spurned childhood favorites Duke and UNC in favor of Maryland, which was by far the biggest school recruiting him. Unlike so many other stars, particularly from the Lefty era, who held a reputation before ever setting foot on campus, Smith was just about invisible.

And then the season started.

In his first game, the no-name Smith came out of nowhere to lead all scorers with 26 points against Georgetown, easily besting 2nd Team Preseason All-American Othella Harrington. After that, it was pretty obvious who Smith was: a star. He never slowed down after that 26 point performance, even against brutal ACC competition. He finished his freshman season with averages of 19.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game - a double-double as a freshman - and 1st Team All-ACC honors.

His sophomore year was similarly spectacular. He was great from start to finish, and his only truly poor game - a six-point performance at home against Duke - was avenged with probably the best single-game performance in Maryland history: a 40-point, 18-rebound game against the Dukies in Cameron Indoor that included the game-winning shot. Greivis Vasquez would end up dropping 41 against VT years later, but for my money it'll take a lot more than that to topple the enormity of Smith's performance.

Despite being a top 10 team all season long, Smith and the Terrapins couldn't better their postseason performance from the year before, again bowing out of the ACC Tournament after a round and falling in the Sweet Sixteen, falling to 8th-ranked UConn despite a predictable double-double from Joe. He left for the NBA after that, going #1 in the draft before bouncing around and becoming the ultimate NBA journeyman.

In terms of final, year-end, team results, I suppose Smith's Maryland career is a little lacking. But that's about all his career is lacking. His stats are immense, his talent obvious, and his impact on the program immeasurable - Maryland had begun the rebuilding process before Smith arrived, but it was his arrival that signaled its completion. The Terrapins went from 12-16 the year before his freshman season, and by the time he left they were top 10 regulars once again. Oh, and there's that little NPOY thing, too.


The #15 Seed: John Gilchrist, PG, #11, 2002-2005

It often seems that John Gilchrist's time at Maryland is remembered more for his quirks of personality than his prodigious talent. And, in truth, saying he had "quirks" is understating the issue. This is the same guy who thought it'd be a good idea to get in a fight with legend Steve Blake in his first practice. It's the same guy who was a notorious thorn in Gary Williams' side, who was the most dysfunctional piece in a disaster year full of dysfunctional pieces. As mentioned above, his junior season was the first time the program missed the NCAA Tournament since 1992-93. It's tough to land the blame on any single character - Nik Caner-Medley, Travis Garrison, and Chris McCray were also on that team - but Gilchrist's constant butting of heads didn't make things any easier.

But he did have that aforementioned prodigious talent. I fell in love with Gilchrist's game in his sophomore year, particularly the magical ACC Tournament run that had all of us falling in love with his game. He's still one of my favorite Terrapins, despite what happened later. I'm a sucker for scoring point guards with swagger, and that was certainly Gilchrist to a tee.

He was always capable of scoring; in his sophomore year, he led the team in scoring with 15.4 ppg his sophomre year, and he followed that up with 13.9 his next season. His assist numbers were always respectable, too - 5.0 his second year, and 5.5 his third, which is good enough to sneak into the top 10 best seasons under Gary. In terms of talent, he was unarguably the best player on both of those teams, not that it says too much when you look at the rest of the team.

But that's not why he's on this list. No, he's on this list primarily - perhaps only - because of a three-day stretch in the March of his sophomore year in Greensboro. Maryland was a bubble team entering the ACC Tournament that year, and at least one win, if not two, would be needed to put them in a strong position. Gilchrist got them all three, beating all three top seeds - Wake Forest, N.C. State, and, most deliciously, Duke - on the way to capturing Maryland's first ACC title in two decades.

Very few players in this competition - certainly none as far down as Gilchrist - put their teams on their back the way he did in those three games. He had 16 points and 6 assists against Wake Forest in the first game, making the game-wining free-throw to beat the Demon Deacons by a point. A decent statline, but one that pales in comparison to what would follow. His second-round performance against Julius Hodge-led N.C. State was phenomenal: 30 points on 11-13 shooting plus seven assists, leading the Terrapins to the largest comeback in ACC Tournament history, coming back from as many as 21 points down. 23 of his 30 came in the remarkable second half, leading the Terrapins into the title game against Duke, the Evil Empire of the ACC, the team that had won five straight ACC titles and was ranked 5th in the nation.

And he was trademark fantastic. 26 points, 6 assists, and all but 2 minutes played in an overtime thriller. When the Terrapins were down three points with under a minute to go, it was Gilchrist who drove the lane, hit a lay-up, drew the 5th foul on Shelden Williams, and then knocked down the free throw to force overtime. Unsurprisingly, he won ACC Tournament MVP honors after the Terrapins won the extra period.

We all know what happened next. The Terrapins had their worst year in over a decade, as the locker room fell apart and the talent on the team failed to live up to expectations. Gilchrist, often derided as being crazy, bore the forefront of criticism. It's tough to debate that Gilchrist's mentality often did the team as much harm as his talent did it good.

But there's on thing worth harping on: out of everyone on this list, all the great names like Joe Smith and Juan Dixon and Greivis Vasquez, John Gilchrist is the only who knows what it feels like to win an ACC Championship.


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