Ed. Note: check the category team of the 2000s for our other entries in this feature.
We are now seriously in the dog days of summer. The July recruiting period is over, coaches are on vacation, and the college basketball news feeds have dried up like Hillary Clinton in Kenya. Even Congress has taken the month off, meaning that RTC has been left thinking up new ways to entertain ourselves while we wait for the cool autumn breezes to arrive. One idea we’ve been sitting on since the end of the 2009 NCAA Tournament has been to evaluate the top ten programs of the 2000s, culminating in a coronation of the Team of the 2000s. Remember, next season – 2009-10 – actually falls into the 2010s, so when Kansas or Kentucky or Michigan St. or Butler wins that title, they’ll stake an early claim on the Team of the Next Decade, not the current one.
We used a hybrid analysis in constituting our top ten programs of the 2000s. The numbers are extremely important – how many titles, F4s, Sweet Sixteens, NCAA Appearances, did you have? How did you perform in your conference? What about wins and losses? NBA Draft picks? Consistency? But there’s also a qualitative component that we used – which programs ‘felt’ like they performed in the 2000s? How do you handle programs who were consistently good vs. those who had a couple of really good years? What if that team had a losing season, or multiple losing seasons? All of these factors and more were considered in our analysis. Hopefully we’ve come up with a fair representation of the top programs of the last decade, but as always, we encourage you to tell us where we’re wrong.
#10 – Maryland
Overview. Had we reviewed the first half of the 2000s separately, Gary Williams’ program would have been right there with Duke and Michigan St. as the top program, with five NCAA appearances, two F4s and a title in 2002 to its credit. However, the Terrapin program has fallen off considerably in the second half of the decade, with the Terps failing to make the NCAAs in three of the last five seasons and only winning a total of two NCAA games in the other two appearances (cf. with 14 wins from 2000-04). Of the twenty-three programs we considered, Maryland had the worst overall W/L record, yet it’s a testament to their early-decade postseason success that they still managed to sneak into our top ten of the 2000s. One positive for the program throughout the decade has been its relative consistency. Although the Terps haven’t been a mainstay in the NCAA Tournament in recent years, they’re always in the conversation. The program hasn’t endured a losing season since 1993, and even in their ‘bad’ years, Gary Williams still manages to coax a 19-13 type of year out of his players (resulting in NIT appearances). The Maryland program is still a program to be feared (“fear the turtle”), but there are legitimate questions as to whether this program can again achieve the success that it did at the beginning of the decade under its current leadership.
Pinnacle. Clearly the 2002 national title team featuring Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter and Chris Wilcox. This team exorcised several years of obsesssive frustration on the part of Terp fans with respect to its most hated rival, Duke, and in so doing gave Maryland its long-awaited first national championship. But it wasn’t easy: in fact, conventional wisdom at the time said that UM would never get there with that particular group. When Maryland blew not one, not two, but THREE, games to Duke in utterly confounding collapses in 2001, there was a prevailing sentiment that the Terp program simply could not get over the mental hurdle necessary to beat the Devils and (by proxy) win a national title. After an early-season shellacking in Cameron in 2002, though, the Terps finally put it all together and reeled off thirteen ACC wins in a row (including a convincing win over Duke in College Park) to win the regular season and secure a #1 NCAA seed. Then, with the fortuitous news that the Devils were knocked out in the Sweet Sixteen by Indiana and Jared Jeffries, the Terps cruised through the field without worry about facing their longtime nemesis, and behind the scintillating shooting of Juan Dixon (26 ppg on 54% shooting), they cut down the nets for their first and only national championship.
Tailspin. Other than the gut-punch moments in 2001 mentioned above, we’d have to say that Terp fans must be extremely frustrated by recent vintage Maryland teams consistently tanking down the stretch of the regular season. In 2005, Maryland was a promising 15-7 coming off a win vs. Duke – they lost five of their next six games (incl. 0-1 in the ACC Tourney). In 2006, the Terps were 14-4 only to finish 5-8 (1-1 ACCT) and settle for another NIT bid. In 2008, they sat at 16-8 prior to a 2-6 finish (0-1 ACCT) that again led to the NIT. Even last year, the Terps finished 1-3 prior to making a nice run in the ACC Tourney, and the one season they actually finished strong (7-0 down the streetch in 2007), they were one-and-done in the ACC. These disappointing finishes have led some observers to ask questions regarding the leadership capabilities of their longtime coach – has he gotten complacent after winning his national title?
Outlook for 2010s: Grade: B+. As long as the irascible Gary Williams is heading the ship at Maryland, there’s no reason to believe that the Terps will fall off sharply: Maryland will remain competitive both in the ACC and nationally. The question is whether he has the fire and drive to once again get Maryland to the top of the food chain, and we don’t think he does. In order to prove us wrong, he’ll have to step up his recruiting in the fertile DC/Baltimore area. Consider that in the last seven years since the 2002 championship, all-world players such as Kevin Durant, Ty Lawson and Carmelo Anthony went to schools outside of the area – two of them won titles, the other was a NPOY. Would Maryland’s fortunes change substantially if they were once again keeping players like that close to home? Of course they would. The flip side of this is what might happen should Williams decide to retire in the next few years – where would the Maryland program go from there? Williams has already had public battles with Maryland officials over recruiting and his graduation rate is abominable, and it wouldn’t shock us if he hung up the whistle (or had it hung up for him) before the end of his contract in 2012. Some people question whether the Maryland program would flourish without Williams, remembering the dark days of the 80s under Bob Wade, but we disagree. The recruiting bounty in the area alone is enough to attract a top-flight coach, and Maryland has historically supported its basketball program to the max. Some new blood on the sidelines could once again move this program up from the top 20s (where it is now) to a top 10 program, but the key question to answer is how much longer will the state of flux with Williams last?