The Washington Post
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| ||John Gilchrist has has struggled to find a balance between his ability to score and the need to involve teammates in the offense. (Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post) |
Thursday, March 10, 2005; Page G8
How They Could Win It All
The Terrapins won the ACC tournament last season with a less experienced group that had to beat the tournament's top three seeds in three days. In most aspects, they are in better position this season. Maryland plays best when John Gilchrist assumes the leadership role, but the junior doesn't have to score 30 points, as he did in last year's league tournament, for Maryland to win.
The Terps have plenty of players capable of getting hot on a given night. Junior Nik Caner-Medley carried Maryland during the middle of the season, scoring 20 or more points in four of five games. Chris McCray perhaps has been the team's most consistent player on both ends of the floor. McCray held Virginia's Devin Smith to two second-half points on Jan. 19 and contained Duke's J.J. Redick in two meetings.
A key is for Maryland to get aggressive interior play from Travis Garrison and Ekene Ibekwe, both of whom have proven capable of making clutch baskets. To sustain a three-day tournament run, the Terps need a reserve to step up his game. Mike Jones, a fan favorite, has improved offensively from last season and, if he gets hot, can sink several outside shots in succession. This team plays best when it is doubted and matched against top competition. There is no question that, on a given night, Maryland can beat any team in the league.
How They Could Lose It All
If we've learned anything about Maryland this season, it is that it's impossible to know anything about Maryland. The Terrapins can beat any team in the league; they also can lose to any team.
Maryland likely will have to beat at least a few of the league's top teams en route to the title. That means contending with some of the nation's best big men, namely North Carolina's Sean May, Wake Forest's Eric Williams and Duke's Shelden Williams. One of Maryland's biggest struggles this season has been finding a replacement for the inside presence of Jamar Smith, who scored 25 points in the ACC final against Duke. In addition, guard D.J. Strawberry, the team's best defender, is out for the season with a knee injury.
None of Maryland's four primary interior players has been able to consistently establish himself throughout the regular season. Ekene Ibekwe, Travis Garrison and Will Bowers at times have been prone to foul trouble. James Gist, while possessing enormous athletic potential, is a freshman.
Maryland also plays its best basketball at home (see Feb. 12 against Duke). But the Terps didn't get their second road victory of the season until Feb. 19, and MCI Center hasn't provided much of a home-court advantage recently: Maryland has lost four of its past six games there.
By any standard, John Gilchrist is one of the most intriguing players in the ACC. By his own admission, this has been a trying season for the junior, whose performance fluctuated wildly as he struggled to find a balance between his ability to score and the need to involve teammates in the offense.
Gilchrist scored at least 20 points in five straight games early in the season, but his playing style came into question when he had a brief philosophical disagreement with Coach Gary Williams about how best to run the offense. Gilchrist finally obliged, deciding the team was at its best when he played more of a setup role.
Williams said his point guard has had an erratic season, but not without a few high points. Gilchrist perhaps played his best game in Maryland's 99-92 overtime victory against Duke on Feb. 12, when he came within one assist of tallying a triple-double. More than that, though, Gilchrist was the undisputed team leader, motivating players and pulling teammates together for impromptu team huddles.
Gilchrist's greatest strength can also be a weakness: He is very emotional. That characteristic sometimes inspires superb efforts because Gilchrist has a passion to win that few can match. However, at other times Gilchrist can play as if in a daze, like he did in Maryland's 81-66 loss at Wake Forest on Jan. 11. Gilchrist relishes playing against the ACC's other top point guards and wants to prove he is the best among them.
One Shining ACC Moment
To understand how improbable Maryland's three-day run in the 2004 ACC tournament was, rewind to mid-February of last year. The Terrapins were 13-10 and in danger of missing their first NCAA tournament in a decade. The ACC quarterfinal round was so stacked it was nicknamed "Bloody Friday." And there was Maryland, showing up with a 7-9 conference record, a No. 6 seed and the youngest team in the nation's best conference.
First, the Terps knocked off third-seeded Wake Forest when John Gilchrist's free throw gave them an exhausting 87-86 victory. The next day, Maryland stormed back from a 19-point halftime deficit to beat second-seeded North Carolina State, 85-82. And in the final against Duke, a 95-87 overtime victory, Gilchrist scored 26 points to lead the Terps to their 11th straight berth in the NCAA tournament and their first ACC tournament title since Lefty Driesell's team won in 1984.
"I would say no one has ever had a better three games" in the ACC tournament, Maryland Coach Gary Williams said of Gilchrist. "There has been as good, but not better."
As Travis Garrison concluded, "This is history, right here."
ACC Tournament Section
• After 15 years, the Nation's Capital plays host to country's premier conference tournament.
• John Feinstein: In a glut of tournaments, this one still matters.
• Tournament info and records
• Bracket and schedule
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