Greivis Vasquez gets all the headlines for Maryland, but no one on the team the past few years has been more enigmatic than one Cliff Tucker, a late commit from Texas who has seen sporadic playing time and constant controversy.
Long rumored to be in Gary's doghouse (occupying the space with Jerome Burney) for inconsistent play and poor practices (Gary, actually, has been admitting as much recently) and facing an uphill battle for PT to begin with (plenty of guards in the cupboard here), Tucker rarely saw the floor. He didn't always need to get on the court to make news, though: few will forget his laughing expose against Florida State last year.
Just when you were ready to write the guy off, though, he'd pull you back in. Other than Vasquez, he was perhaps the most instrumental player in the win over UNC last year, dropping 22 points with 5 threes made. His natural scoring ability is second on the team to only Vasquez and maybe Sean Mosley; he simply feels like a natural 2 when you watch him play.
Unfortunately, however, the UNC game was not the standard for Tucker, and since his time in College Park he's been alternating solid and awful performances. The past two games, though, have been arguably Tucker's best since arriving in College Park; in fact, this is the first time in his career he's dropped double digits in back to back games. Against WSS, he looked great, and his stats against FAU were encouraging. He even got his first start in over a year yesterday, albeit aided by Sean Mosley's injury.
Tucker brings a natural scoring ability that few other Terps have. He's not exactly a shooter in the mold of, say, Trevor Cooney (I know he's not in college yet), nor is he a slasher like Adrian Bowie, but something in between. Sean Mosley is a necessity for this team, but if Tucker can consistently give 15 to 20 good, solid minutes in relief as a primary backup at the 2 and 3 marked by energy and scoring ability, Maryland's gameplan gets a whole lot easier. Mosley, while encouraging, is far from a finished product, and Maryland has almost no scoring off the bench unless Bowie can get back to early last-season form. Tucker, by providing just that, could change Maryland's dynamic. It certainly allows for more natural substitutions than before, if nothing else.
Saying Tucker has entirely emerged is premature. It's been two games against mediocre opponents. More encouraging than his play, though, is Gary Williams' acceptance of playing him, which used to be unfathomable. That Gary no longer holds him on the bench is telling; I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up as the first man off the bench before long.
Before I get too optimistic, I should probably remind myself that these opponents are really bad. William and Mary will be the true test for this team, Greivis, Cliff, Dino, and Jordan in particular. Regardless, there's nothing like two low-majors in December for a nice confidence boost.