Maryland men’s basketball bracket madness has reached the climax. We’ve gone from our initial field of 64 players to a top 32, to the Sweet 16, and then the Elite Eight and Final Four. Now we’re down to two Terps vying for your vote as the greatest in program history.
It’s Len Bias against Juan Dixon. Of course it is.
These two have bulldozed their way through the bracket. Bias has recorded at least 90 percent of the vote in every single round, even against former Naismith Award winner Joe Smith in the semifinals. Dixon has cruised on the other side; only John Lucas in the Final Four has kept him under 90 percent.
This is the finals matchup we pretty much all knew was coming. But now it’s here.
Here are the full Final Four bracket results.
|Len Bias||90.7%||1,254||840 (88.8%)||414 (92.6%)||Joe Smith||9.3%||139||106 (11.2%)||33 (7.4%)|
|Juan Dixon||78.1%||1,050||705 (73.7%)||345 (88.9%)||John Lucas||21.9%||295||252 (26.3%)||43 (11.1%)|
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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)
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)
College sports fandom is perhaps unlike anything else on Earth.
There’s a uniquely specific tribalism that comes with high-level athletics attached to major universities. Like pro sports, you’re more likely to root for the team near you, but a large portion of every college fan base is the people who chose a school for the school and got hooked on the sports along the way. College teams often develop niche identities that fans can rally around even when the athletes come and go every few years.
Only college sports offer both a consistently high level of play and the chance to watch young people grow. Athletes come to college as teenagers and leave as young adults. If you follow the team closely enough, you can see how they mature as players and as people. You relate to them because they chose the same tribe you did. And so you root for them on their journey almost like you’d root for your own loved ones.
Sometimes, these kids blossom into borderline superheroes. They become capable of things you’ve never seen in their sport, even at the highest of levels. You believe in them because you’ve witnessed their greatness in action, and their simple existence on your team gives you hope every night they take the floor.
Other times, you can see a group of these players come together and become something greater than their individual selves. You see the puzzle pieces fit perfectly into a cohesive unit. You believe in them because you know they believe in each other. There’s nothing in sports fandom quite like watching your team rise above everybody else. You’ll always remember those moments — where you were, what you felt and who you shared the experience with.
Len Bias was Superman in a Maryland uniform. And Juan Dixon was the centerpiece of the team that climbed the mountaintop. This whole exercise was always meant to come down to these two.
Bias joined the Maryland basketball team as a raw talent, and it took time for him to hit his stride. He was a role player for most of his freshman season, but broke out as a sophomore, averaging 15.3 points for the season and winning ACC tournament MVP as the Terps captured the conference title. As a junior, he averaged 18.9 points and won ACC Player of the Year en route to leading his team to the Sweet 16. And he reached his apex as a senior, tallying 23.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game even when every opponent was singularly focused on stopping him.
They just didn’t make human beings like Len Bias. He was 6’8 and 220 pounds with a heavenly blend of explosiveness, finesse and physicality. His leaping ability manifested itself, not only in thunderous dunks but also in a jumper that seemed to pause in midair and defy known laws of gravity. His game drew comparisons to all-time greats like David Thompson and Julius Erving (and eventually his ACC contemporary, Michael Jordan).
Dixon, meanwhile, would not fit any of these physical descriptions. He enrolled at Maryland with just 145 pounds on his 6’3 frame and redshirted his first season. After functioning as a sixth man for a year, Dixon entered the starting lineup on what was supposed to be a rebuilding team. He ran with the chance and never looked back, averaging at least 18 points per game and earning First Team All-ACC honors in each of his last three seasons.
The Baltimore native brought a mental fortitude that outweighed any tangible disadvantages. He willed his way to greatness. And as the puzzle pieces assembled around him — Steve Blake at point guard, Lonny Baxter at center, Terence Morris and then Chris Wilcox at power forward — Maryland was able to reach new heights. The Terps made the Final Four in 2001 and captured the ultimate prize in 2002. And Dixon was in the middle of everything, winning NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors to go out in storybook fashion.
The career arcs are somewhat similar. Both went from role players to stars in a flash, then kept improving through their final seasons. When all was said and done, their names were all over program record books. Bias left as the school’s all-time leading scorer, and Dixon passed him in the 2002 NCAA Tournament (Bias does still have the edge in scoring average, though).
Bias could make a random Tuesday night in January one of the most memorable games of your life; he seemed to produce a signature moment every time out. Dixon’s brilliance was more subtle on a nightly basis, but it shined through in March, when the stage is bigger and the stakes are higher and each hurdle is more daunting than the last.
The images of Dixon after the final buzzer sounded and Maryland became a champion — winding up and heaving the ball to parts unknown as his teammates swarmed together in celebration — last to this day. Those who saw Bias play will never forget his singular brilliance, and while it can be hard to separate the player from the tragic figure he became, his highlights still jump off the screen decades later.
Maryland basketball has built quite a history over its 101 seasons. This 64-player bracket is, in part, a celebration of that history, which could have grown even richer had a pandemic not wiped out the postseason this spring. But it also examines the ways in which college basketball players can achieve different forms of greatness, and ultimately ponders whose greatness stands above everyone else.
You can make convincing arguments for either of these players (and maybe Lucas and Smith and a couple others as well). You really can’t go wrong picking either the greatest individual force in program history or the cornerstone of Maryland’s only national champion. Choosing one doesn’t have to be a slight against the other.
But we’ve come this far, so let’s crown a champion.
Maryland men’s basketball bracket madness final: Len Bias vs. Juan Dixon
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