It was the best of times, It was the worst of times. The last 16 games defined the worst non-conference performance in Gary William’s tenure. The first 12 games (save for the win at Illinois) was perhaps the worst stretch of Maryland basketball since the late 1960’s. It included near losses to doormats (Hampton and Northeastern), demoralizing losses to average teams (Missouri and VCU), and a disastrous two-game suicide-inducing debacle (Ohio U and American).
Just when things seemed at the verge of falling apart, Williams and the Terps someow discovered how to play together. The last four games have demonstrated the innate talent and potential of this young team. Sure, three of the wins came against cupcake opponents; but the way in which the Terps won those games was all that mattered. All four wins saw Maryland with leads of 20 points or more. Finally, they were blowing out the teams they should blow out and playing well on the road.
The resurgence can be tied to the play of James Gist and Greivis Vasquez: our thouroughbreds. Both have displayed consistency and superior decision making over the last two weeks. The team will live and die by their play in the ACC. If Gist and Vasquez continue their play, the rest of the young team can fill in as role players.
If anyone has the capability to step up and become a consistent third option, it’s Eric Hayes. His understated performance against Charlotte proved that he has the steadiness that this team will need to survive on Tobacco Road. If he can come back from his recent ankle injury, I expect him to hold this team together down the stretch of some tough games this year.
We learned that the team’s best asset is its shot blocking and defense. It should keep us in every game the rest of the way. Defense will set the tone and the Terps will need to capitalize on the opportunities that blocks and steals will provide on the offensive end. They are still learning the intricacies of Gary’s flex-offense and that will no doubt lead to frustrating turnovers and many thrown objects at various televisions throughout the country. But, they will learn as the season goes on.
I’m not sure I would have traded the first 12 games for the last four; but if that is what it took to bring the team together, then I suppose I’ll take it. A tournament resume is never decided in December (just ask Clemson), and the Terps have the opportunity to emerge as a tournament team over the next two months.
It starts on Saturday with the trip to Virginia Tech. The Hokies are rebuilding (were they ever actually “built”) and Maryland must win this one. If the Terps can pull out a win, we as fans are officially allowed to consider the possibility of March Madness. After all the team has been through, I suppose that in and of itself is a minor miracle.