Sometimes it’s enough just showing up.
If you watched Maryland’s men’s basketball team play more than a few games this season, you would probably agree that their selection to the NCAA tournament is extremely gratifying, given all the negativity surrounding Gary Williams’ program this season. That said, their selection can’t help but feel a little criminal, too.
I’ve heard all the arguments as to why they should have gotten in, and the numbers probably supported that they were one of the 34 best teams not to receive an automatic bid. I know they beat three top 10’s, and they play in one of the top two conferences in the NCAA. I know their ‘body of work’ probably gave them the nod over schools in similar positions in other ‘power’ conferences.
I watched this team twice a week for the last two months, and I can tell you that they’re just not very good. Hey- some of it’s not their fault. They’re admittedly undersized and inexperienced. But that only goes so far. This team is truly lacking in the talent and athleticism departments. Sure, Hayes and Vasquez can knock it down from outside now and again, and Neal and Milbourne have pulled down a few boards out of sheer hustle and desire. But these guys aren’t Juan Dixon and Chris Wilcox.
They were 7-9 in conference (9-10 if you want to get technical), with a terrible loss (when they had to have a win) at Virginia to end the regular season. Worse yet, they couldn’t put away Miami in Coral Gables after leading by 16 in the second half. They couldn’t put away Boston College at home after getting out to a big second half lead. They almost made this discussion irrelevant by losing to the Yellow Jackets down in Atlanta, in which was quite possibly the worst exhibition of Division 1 basketball I’ve ever watched. Throw in that 41 point pasting they took at Cameron, and the loss at home to Morgan State, and there just shouldn’t be much reason to be dancing down on Route 1 tonight.
I guess that’s where the gratifying part comes in. To watch a team this bad get invited to the dance provides a much needed sense of hope in College Park and throughout the alumni and Terrapin Club community.
In 1992-93, the Terps absolutely stunk. They were 2-14 in conference and 12-16 overall. Things were at a low point in College Park. Sure, Gary had brought the promise of a new day after the fallout from Len Bias’ death, but where were the wins?
The following year the Terps handed their 18-12 (8-8) resume over to the selection committee and gained their first tournament berth of the Gary Williams era. The Terps were seeded 10th and pulled an ‘upset’ of 7th seeded St. Louis and Charlie Spoonhour’s troops in the first round. But perhaps the biggest win of Gary Williams’ tenure, prior to cracking the Final Four, would come two days later.
The Terps went on to beat a Marcus Camby led UMass team 95-87 in the 2nd round, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. (Highlights here in case you forgot how sweet it was http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGEMV9Hpqwo)
The win helped re-establish the Terps as an ACC force and spring-boarded Maryland to 11 straight NCAA tournament appearances, culminating with a national championship in 2002. It also helped Gary Williams establish a tradition of excellence and high expectations.
I, for one, think they’re on to something here. Like I said, this team isn’t very good and few would think they have a realistic shot of getting past the first weekend, but they’re in- and THAT could go a long way. It sure did fifteen years ago.
*By the way- a win on Thursday will most likely lead to a matchup with #2 seed Memphis, coached by John Calipari. Fifteen years ago, there was an upstart coach up in Amherst that was in a similar position, and his name was…