COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The lavish, smoky spectacle of Maryland Madness tipping off is always full of surprises, from the over-the-top dancing to the unpredictable entrance of coach Gary Williams, this year as a fighter pilot right out of “Top Gun.”
The event always provides conflicting feelings of optimism and uncertainty. The distinct absence of departing seniors and the premiere of freshman faces is an annual ritual in mid-October, but through all the smoke and pyro, Williams faces a much thicker cloud of questions this season.
The graduation of ACC Player of the Year Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes, and Landon Milbourne leaves behind a 43.6-point hole in the offense and an even bigger void in leadership after guiding the Terps to a share of the ACC regular season championship. You just don’t replace one of the more decorated senior classes in the Gary Williams era without significant doubt and tempered expectations.
“What we lose [in the three seniors] is guys who know how to play,” said Williams, beginning his 22nd season at Maryland.
Of course, Williams is not starting from scratch, returning five players who averaged more than 14 minutes per game a year ago. Junior guard Sean Mosley (10.1 points per game) and sophomore big man Jordan Williams (9.6) — the only returning starters — will feel the most pressure to help replace the 55 percent of the scoring pie vacated by the graduated trio.
Mosley has shown the ability to score at times, like in his 26-point effort in a loss to Villanova last December, but the Baltimore native must show more consistency from the perimeter and better ability to finish near the hoop to take his game to the next level where the Terps need it to be.
Williams, on the other hand, appears destined for stardom after a wildly successful freshman campaign in which he averaged nearly a double-double and often looked like one of the most dominant big men in the ACC. The 6-foot-10 center looks leaner and more muscular after providing a powerful presence in the paint as a frosh.
In terms of leadership, Maryland will look to three seniors who have spent their entire careers as role players. Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker, and Dino Gregory have all had their moments in College Park, but none have provided enough consistency to instill confidence that they can fill the shoes left behind by Vasquez, Hayes, and Milbourne.
Among the three seniors, the wildcard who could potentially see the biggest scoring increase is Tucker (5.7 per game as a junior), an enigmatic player who admittedly has spent more time in Williams’ doghouse than in the spotlight of the hardwood. Of course, Tucker has had his moments of brilliance, with his 22-point performance in an overtime win over North Carolina two years ago and his electrifying game-winning three-pointer to top Georgia Tech last season, one of the most exciting moments in the history of the Comcast Center.
“That’s helped me out a lot,” said Tucker about his heroic shot in the 76-74 win on Feb. 20. “It gives coach [Williams] more confidence in me.”
While Maryland will initially lean on its experienced players to start the season, Maryland Madness and the start of fall practice is largely about the newcomers, which include five freshmen and a junior-college transfer.
Guard Pe’Shon Howard has made the bold decision to wear Vasquez’s No. 21 jersey and has already earned praise for the heart with which he plays. Early signs point to him being an emotional player and potential fan-favorite, but will that translate to freshman success?
Mychal Parker’s athleticism and Terrell Stoglin’s quickness appear promising, but how will they translate to the college game?
Can 6-foot-9 forward Ashton Pankey provide help in the frontcourt despite spending the spring and summer recovering from a stress fracture in his left leg?
Is Haukur Palsson — a forward from Iceland — an ACC-caliber player?
All remain question marks with answers we won’t begin to uncover for several more weeks. However, Williams is eager to unwrap his new presents when practice officially begins on Saturday.
Within the group, perhaps there is a Joe Smith, Juan Dixon, or Vasquez who will shine from Day 1 and pacify concerns over the loss of so much scoring and leadership.
“That’s what’s fun about [starting practice Saturday],” Williams said. “You’ll get some surprises. … You want to stay open to everybody — no preconceived notions.”
Notes: Juan Dixon, Johnny Rhodes, Byron Mouton, Rodney Elliott, and Dave Neal were among the notables present for the annual alumni game. Dixon hit a myriad of three-pointers in his return to College Park. … The basketball team sported their new black uniforms while performing the annual team dance for Maryland Madness. However, it is unknown whether the Terps plan to wear the uniforms due to their lack of success wearing black uniforms in recent seasons. The basketball team’s uniforms have been tweaked this season and are still supplied by Under Armour.