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Maryland Madness Recap: Faust, Len Impress, Festivities Fall Short

Nope, still not back. But the play was more entertaining than I had expected. A few quick observations from the night. First up, the actual meaningful, team-related stuff, with the very obvious caveat that "It's Midnight Madness, of course this doesn't really mean anything":

  • The newcomers this year - the scholarship ones, not the walk-ons - are garnering pretty big fanbases early on in their careers. Let's start with Nick Faust: this night was, hopefully, a tantalizing preview of what's to come in the Faust era. He's insanely likable, first off, and seemed like he was having more fun than anyone else on the court. But more importantly, even in a scrimmage setting, he seemed a step above what everyone expected: he drained two of his three attempted three-pointers, and later threw down a massive slam in transition. I'll wager that most people are salivating after seeing that. If nothing else, he didn't seem fazed by the speed of the game at all and wanted the ball, which is an encouraging sign after we saw how Mychal Parker struggled with that last year.
  • But the more crucial development might be Alex Len, the big Ukranian who was also a little better than most had probably expected. First of all, he's extremely athletic: for his intro dunk, he pulled off a cartwheel-to-alley-oop slam, and he also dunked two balls (in one dunk) for the montage video. Sure, it's a little Plumleenian (Plumlonian?), but it's encouraging. Also, he looks much more developed, mentally and physically, than Maryland's other tall European, Berend Weijs. He ran the floor very well, looked a bit beefier than the Dutchman, and seemed pretty well in-tune with what was going on. Again, it's just a scrimmage, but I think everyone would feel much better about the year if he managed to get cleared.
  • It's easy to forget we actually have three freshmen on the team this year, the third being Ashton Pankey, who redshirted last year due to injury. This was more or less the first time he's played in front of fans in a controlled setting in two years, and I was actually pretty encouraged. By "encouraged", I mean he didn't injure his foot again. Seriously, though, he's more athletic than I had heard (certainly more than James Padgett) and seemed to have the confidence everyone expected out of him. Maryland has a lot of holes this year; boldness isn't one of them. 
  • Elsewhere, the sophomore guards are just as you remember them. Pe'Shon Howard appears to have developed a little bit from last year in terms of fleshing out his game, but for the most part he's the same ultra-flashy, ultra-confident floor general he's always been. I feel guilty at how much I have watching him play sometimes. And, yes, his intro song was "Baby" by Justin Bieber, but at least he owned it. Meanwhile, Terrell Stoglin was a little quiet but looked as deadly as ever. I know Turgeon said his guard play wasn't as good as people had said, but perhaps he gotten some exaggerated reviews, because they look as good as I've ever seen them.
  • It was good to see the walk-ons get their moments in the sun. They're not likely to get them again, so seeing Arnold Richmond hit a three and Jonathan Thomas get a lay-up was heart-warming. (Richmond, BTW, wasn't lacking for a stroke. If he was 6-2, he might have a scholarship somewhere.)
Now, onto the "other" stuff - that is, the presentation - which, in a roundabout way, is the stuff that matters, given that this is an event for fans and recruits.
  • The alumni game was a great idea in theory, but horribly boring in execution. It was an all-star game in terms of the quality of ball, and the lack of jerseys or commenting made it pretty impossible to even attempt to follow it. The fans were incredibly quiet and it was strung out much too long. Worst of all, it was kind of depressing: watching an overweight Evers Burns try to take a strung-out-looking Steve Francis off the dribble with a bunch of silent fans watching quietly is, frankly, a little sad and almost a tad creepy. It was a pretty big disappointment after the hype it had received.
  • Likewise, what's up with this starting at 9:30? Do we really need to see a game of knockout? Was it necessary to bring Sasho Cirovski out after a huge win over Duke on his birthday to do play-by-play for a game of Keep The Balloon Off The Ground? It horribly dilutes the experience and makes it seem like a joke. The state of disrepair Madness has fallen into is more than a little sad.
  • That said, seeing all the alumni was pretty cool, and should probably still be integrated into later years, if possible. You kind of get shivers seeing such a collection of talent at the same spot.
  • The Madness Memories, which included Maryland greats like Lefty and Walt Williams talking about their madness experiences, was pretty awesome. Unfortunately, it was contrasted with tonight, a relatively demure experience by comparison. That's the best example for reviving Madness we could ever have.
  • And lest you think I'm making too much out of this: seriously, would you want a recruit to sit through that entire event? Or even half of it? Especially with other ones - Memphis, Georgetown, Syracuse - getting good reviews for being great fun?
  • One of the random slogans in the women's basketball team's montage video was "swag." It's good to see that this fanbase's unhealthy obsession with swag is stretching to the marketing team.
  • They fixed the player intros, finally. Some video boards, some lasers, some pyrotechnics, a stage, and then let the player come out and dunk. Unless we're bringing them down from the rafters or doing some equally cool, that's the way it should always be.
  • I've come to a realization as to what the perfect Maryland Madness would be. First of all, be good again, so fans - even the casual student ones - will come out in force. Then rent a floor for Cole Field House and set it up there. Start it at 10:00 or 10:30 with a short Wale mini-concert, doing a song or two. Transition to the women's basketball intros, followed by a short scrimmage. Then introduce two alumni guest coaches for the men's scrimmage, which is a good way to keep the alumni cool factor without boring everyone with another pickup game. Do the men's intros, do the men's scrimmage, do a final Wale song preferably incorporating the team members somehow. And then everyone goes home at midnight. No games, no periphery. Sound good? Good.
  • Yes, I've given this way too much thought.
I expect to see everyone back here tomorrow for the Clemson game, too. Either the Danny O'Brien Era survives or the C.J. Brown Era begins. Now go and get some sleep.