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Maryland men’s basketball bracket madness (Final Four)

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The competition to determine the greatest Terp of all-time is down to four.

University of Maryland Terrapins Photo by Maryland/Collegiate Images via Getty Images

It’s not the Maryland Final Four we wanted to see this spring, but it’s the Maryland Final Four we get.

Here at Testudo Times, we’ve been running a 64-player bracket to determine the greatest Maryland men’s basketball player of all time. We trimmed trimmed the field to 32 early last week, started the Sweet 16 last Friday and moved to the Elite Eight this Tuesday. These last couple rounds, I’ve added some storytelling to the players and matchups. I believe there’s still enough to say about our last men standing, so we’ll keep the essays coming.

We’ve got Len Bias against Joe Smith and Juan Dixon against John Lucas. Here we go.

Elite Eight results

Bias and Dixon have cruised to this point, securing at least 90 percent of the vote in all four of their matchups. Smith and Lucas had their hands full with Greivis Vasquez and Steve Blake, respectively — in both cases, a convincing poll result on the site overrode flipped numbers on Twitter.

Here are the full Elite Eight bracket results.

WINNER Total Votes Site Twitter LOSER Total Votes Site Twitter
WINNER Total Votes Site Twitter LOSER Total Votes Site Twitter
Len Bias 91.4% 1,291 865 (90.0%) 426 (94.2%) Walt Williams 8.6% 122 96 (10.0%) 26 (5.8%)
Joe Smith 59.5% 838 655 (67.5%) 183 (41.9%) Greivis Vasquez 40.5% 570 316 (32.5%) 254 (58.1%)
Juan Dixon 92.9% 1,356 899 (92.3%) 457 (94.0%) Len Elmore 7.1% 104 75 (7.7%) 29 (6.0%)
John Lucas 62.0% 860 710 (78.5%) 150 (36.5%) Steve Blake 38.0% 526 265 (27.2%) 261 (63.5%)

The bracket


The matchups

As always, make sure you’re viewing this in a browser so the polls show up.

LEN BIAS (1982-86)
Started: 3 years (19.1 pts, 6.1 rebs, 1.4 asts, 54.4% FG)
Best season: 1985-86 (senior) — 23.2 pts, 7.0 rebs, 54.4% FG
Career totals: 2,149 points (3rd), 745 rebounds (12th), 4,032 minutes (3rd)
Awards: 2x ACC POY (1985, 1986), 2x consensus All-American (first team 1986, second team 1985), 2x All-ACC First Team, 1984 ACC Tournament MVP, 2x All-ACC Tournament (1984, 1986)

It’s impossible to talk about Len Bias for long without openly wondering what he could have been.

After a dominant senior season at Maryland, Bias was drafted second overall in the NBA Draft by the league champion Boston Celtics — thanks to a trade two years earlier that went way in Boston’s favor, Bias became the incredibly rare high lottery pick joining a contender. It felt like a certainty he’d win at least one title with the core of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish before becoming the franchise cornerstone himself.

We all know what happened instead — Bias died of a cocaine overdose two days after the draft. The subsequent fallout cost his coach, the athletic director and the school president their jobs, and it cast a dark cloud over the university and the sport of basketball. Bias didn’t get to serve as a rival to Michael Jordan’s Bulls and Isiah Thomas’ Pistons. He didn’t get the chance to return to Maryland games and receive well-deserved standing ovations every time. One mistake cost him everything.

But there’s a saying that you live as long as the last person who remembers you. And in that sense, Bias is very much alive.

“The first thing that comes to mind when I think about him was total athleticism,” said Johnny Holliday, the voice of Maryland basketball and football since 1979. “Running, jumping, great court vision, tremendous rebounder, and in those days when he was playing, I don’t think I’d seen anybody with the leaping ability he had.”

That leaping ability, above all else, is what still inspires comparisons to the game’s greatest. Longtime Baltimore Sun writer Don Markus compares Bias’ game to Hall of Famer David Thompson’s, except Bias was 6’8 and 220 pounds instead of 6’4, 195. And everyone I’ve talked to for this project says his skill set was more polished coming out of school as a senior than Jordan’s was as a junior two years earlier. None of this is to suggest he would’ve had Jordan’s NBA career, but it certainly highlights the kind of talent he had.

“I think those two guys [Bias and Jordan] would’ve pushed each other to get to the highest level that they could possibly get to,” said Walt Williams, whose decision to play (and remain) at Maryland was inspired primarily by Bias. “It would’ve been interesting to see what type of player both those guys would’ve been having Len Bias around.”

Bias’ career followed a classic progression — he was a promising role player as a freshman, broke out as a sophomore and was the ace on a Sweet 16 team as a junior. But that senior season was where everything came together. He had worked his way into a complete force, putting up monster numbers (23.2 points, 7.0 boards) against constant double- and triple-teams. Former teammate Derrick Lewis said playing with Bias was like having front-row tickets to a show every game.

That show, tragically, didn’t continue. But nobody who saw it will ever forget it.

JOE SMITH (1993-95)
Started: 2 years (20.2 pts, 10.7 rebs, 3.0 blks, 1.5 stls)
Best season: 1994-95 (sophomore) — 20.8 pts, 10.6 rebs, 2.9 blks, 1.5 stls
Career totals: 20.2 ppg (2nd), 10.7 rpg (3rd), 3.0 bpg (1st), 1,290 points (29th), 683 rebounds (17th), 190 blocks (7th)
Awards: 1995 Naismith Award, Rupp Trophy & AP National POY, 1995 consensus All-American First Team, 2x All-ACC First Team, 1995 ACC POY

We’ve written a couple thousand words on this site about classic Maryland-Duke games. But I raise you March 1, 1995, for pure weirdness. Both teams were led by assistant coaches — Pete Gaudet had filled in for Mike Krzyzewski (back surgery) for most of the season, while Billy Hahn was coaching Maryland because Gary Williams had been hospitalized with pneumonia. The Terps were ranked No. 6 in the country, while Duke was a dismal 2-12 in ACC play.

Smith had established himself as a college basketball superstar well before this. He averaged 19.4 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.1 blocks as a freshman. He would finish his sophomore year with averages of 20.8 points, 10.6 boards and 2.9 blocks, leading his team to a Sweet 16 and winning multiple National Player of the Year awards, including the Naismith.

But more so than all other nights, this was Joe Smith’s night. He piled up 40 points and 18 rebounds and tipped in the winning basket at the buzzer to beat Duke on the road. You could not write a more perfect sentence about a Maryland basketball performance.

“I remember talking to him before the game on the floor, and I said, ‘You know, Joe, you’re probably gonna get 30 tonight,’” Holliday said. “And he had [40] and reminded me of it after the game — ‘I thought you said I was gonna get 30!’”

It’s really a microcosm of Smith’s Maryland career. The expectations were reasonably high, but he quickly shattered all of them and ascended into his own stratosphere. He’s second in scoring average, third in rebounding average and first in blocks per game in program history; nobody else is even on the leaderboards of all three categories.

When Smith enrolled in the fall of 1993, a rebuilding and recently sanctioned Maryland had been absent from five consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Starting with his freshman season, the Terps made 11 straight dances. It certainly wasn’t a one-man turnaround — Keith Booth also started from day one, and Maryland already had Johnny Rhodes and Duane Simpkins from the prior recruiting class. Gary Williams recruited all of them, and who knows if Maryland would be a desirable destination had Walt Williams not stayed through the sanctions. But Smith was instrumental in turning a promising young roster into a top-20 team for two seasons.

Players like Smith, who left after two college seasons because he was a surefire lottery pick — he went No. 1 overall to the Warriors in 1995 — are appreciated differently than four-year stars like Bias, Dixon and Lucas. They don’t get a senior day and their career totals don’t often stack up in hindsight. But Smith left no doubt that he belongs on the short list of Maryland greats.

Poll

Final Four: Len Bias vs. Joe Smith

This poll is closed

  • 88%
    Len Bias
    (840 votes)
  • 11%
    Joe Smith
    (106 votes)
946 votes total Vote Now

JUAN DIXON (1998-2002)
Started: 3 years (18.9 pts, 4.8 rebs, 3.0 asts, 2.6 stls)
Best season: 2001-02 (senior) — 20.4 pts, 4.6 rebs, 2.9 asts, 2.6 s
Career totals: 2,269 points (1st), 141 games (T-1st), 333 steals (2nd), 2.4 spg (2nd), 371 assists (15th)
Awards: 2002 NCAA Tournament MOP, 2002 ACC POY, 2002 consensus All-American First Team, 3x All-ACC First Team (2000-02), 3x ACC All-Defense (2000-02), 2x NCAA Tournament All-Region (2001, 2002)

Normally when people reminisce about great basketball players, they focus on the skills that set them apart — their explosive athleticism or their picturesque shooting stroke or their game-changing handles. It’s rare to hear about their intangibles first.

That’s what you hear when you ask about Juan Dixon, though.

“He just had that certain something,” Holliday said. “Every coach wishes they had a player with that kind of fire and desire and the ‘we’re not gonna lose this game’ attitude.”

Dixon had plenty of game. He could shoot from distance and create a shot in traffic. He had good court vision and was a plus passer even though he didn’t need to run the point. If you needed a big play in a big moment, you trusted Dixon. And you certainly knew he trusted himself.

“Coaches like to say they want their players to be confident,” Patrick Stevens said. “Juan didn’t care if he missed a shot. Juan didn’t care if he committed a turnover. He didn’t want to miss shots or commit turnovers, but that wasn’t gonna stop him from doing what he wanted to do the next time down the floor. That’s something that stands out to me about him — just the unrelenting nature of the guy.”

Dixon averaged 7.4 points in 14.9 minutes per game as a freshman backup to Steve Francis and Terrell Stokes. Then, as a sophomore starter on a young team in 1999-2000, he suddenly averaged 18.0 points in 34.0 minutes a night. There’s no singular breakout moment that seems to stand out above the rest — he had just made himself into that caliber of player.

After an up-and-down season in 2000-01, \Maryland reached the Final Four as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Terps lost a heartbreaker to Duke, and Holliday remembers Dixon saying in the locker room after the game that Maryland would win it all the next year. It’s an easy thing to say, but even with most of the core returning, the odds are never in a team’s favor. It’s so hard to make it that far once and even more rare to come back stronger a second time.

That’s what Dixon did though. He averaged 20.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.6 steals as a senior. He won ACC Player of the Year. He led Maryland to 25-4 regular season and the Terps earned a No. 1 seed in the big dance. And Dixon blazed through the NCAA Tournament, scoring 29 points twice on the first weekend and 27 in the Elite Eight before equaling a career high with 33 against Kansas in the Final Four. When Maryland won it all two nights later, he was the no-brainer Most Outstanding Player.

When Dixon joined the Terps as a 6’3, 145-pound combo guard, nobody expected all of this. Even Gary Williams had little more than a hunch. But Dixon played like he knew it was coming all along. And, eventually, it did.

JOHN LUCAS (1972-76)
Started: 4 years (18.3 pts, 4.7 asts, 3.4 rebs, 52.5% FG)
Best season: 1973-74 (sophomore) — 20.1 pts, 5.7 asts, 2.9 rebs
Career totals: 2,015 points (6th), 18.3 ppg (4th), 514 assists (6th), 862 field goals (T-1st)
Awards: 2x consensus All-American First Team (1975, 1976), 3x All-ACC first team (1974-76), 3x All-ACC Tournament (first team 1973-74, second team 1975), NCAA Tournament All-Region (1975)

I want to talk for a second about the Maryland basketball career of Howard White.

There’s a lot to talk about. White’s nickname was simply “H,” and that’s what appeared on his No. 13 Terps jersey. He burst onto the scene as a sophomore in 1970-71, his first season with the varsity team. On Dec. 14 and 16, 1970, he scored 33 and 38 points in consecutive games — from what I could find in Maryland’s record book, I believe that’s still the program record for points in a two-game span. White joined Lefty Driesell’s staff as an assistant shortly after graduating, and he’s most famous now for signing Michael Jordan to a deal with Nike in the 1980s and becoming a prominent figure at Jordan Brand.

It’s still bizarre to see his career stats, though. White averaged 15.6 points on 14.5 shots per game. The next year, Maryland brought in a pair of superstar recruits named Len Elmore and Tom McMillen, so White’s production dipped to 9.0 points on 8.8 shots, but he was still a starter and the fourth-leading scorer on a team that went 27-5 and won the NIT. And then, as a senior, White averaged just 1.9 points per contest. Knee issues limited him to 19 games and sapped his explosiveness, but that kind of dropoff usually requires some other force of nature beyond a player’s control.

That force of nature was a freshman named John Lucas.

Lucas was among the nation’s most sought-after recruits in two different sports — not only had the Durham, North Carolina, native broken Pete Maravich’s state high school basketball scoring record, but he was a tennis phenom and U.S. Junior Davis Cup team member. He aspired to play both in college, and ultimately found that opportunity at Maryland. He was a two-time ACC singles champion, a rare two-sport All-American, and he even played professional tennis during summers while playing in the NBA.

But Lucas didn’t reach the Final Four of this tournament with his tennis skills. He was just that damn good on the basketball court.

Lucas joined a team returning all five starters from their NIT championship run. The lineup featured seniors White, Bob Bodell and Jim O’Brien, plus juniors Tom McMillen and Len Elmore. And this was the first year freshmen were allowed to play, so Lucas and Maurice Howard joined first-year sophomores Tom Roy and Owen Brown. This wasn’t the kind of team where you’d expect a freshman to make an impact. Lucas did, and he did so immediately.

The numbers speak for themselves, starting with nine straight field goals in his debut. Lucas averaged 14.2, 20.1, 19.5 and 19.9 points per game in his four seasons, leaving school with 2,015 career points. He was a First Team All-ACC selection his last three years and a consensus First Team All-American his last two. He was the No. 1 pick in the 1976 NBA Draft, a traditionally rare achievement for a guard. And 44 years after his graduation, he’s still sixth in program history in scoring and fifth in assists.

“He had an aura about him on the floor,” said Len Elmore, who overlapped with Lucas for two seasons. “I’m sure Lefty [Driesell] was happy to put the ball in his hands. ... He brought a confidence on the floor that was contagious.”

It was clear from day one that Lucas would be special. And it’s clear decades later how special he was.

Poll

Final Four: Juan Dixon vs. John Lucas

This poll is closed

  • 73%
    Juan Dixon
    (705 votes)
  • 26%
    John Lucas
    (252 votes)
957 votes total Vote Now