It was a weary Maryland basketball team, awakened at 5 a.m. for an 11-hour, two-stop flight, that flew home Monday. But it was also a team that had come away from a 2-1 season-opening weekend with some major questions answered.
Can the Terrapins compete on a national level without Ben Coleman and Herman Veal? Yes. Maryland should have beaten a good Kansas team -- but lost, 58-56 -- in the opening round of The Great Alaska Shootout Friday and dismantled a solid Tennessee team, 72-49, Sunday. The embarrassingly narrow 54-52 escape Saturday against Alaska-Anchorage probably was an aberration.
"I thought we had a good weekend up here," said Coach Lefty Driesell. "We could have won the tournament, but that's spilt milk. I was real happy with the way we played against Tennessee, especially on defense."
The defense Sunday, buoyed in the middle by freshman Derrick Lewis, answered another question. This team, even without Veal, can play well defensively. It will probably play less man to man than last year's team did, but might end up stronger in the middle with 6-7 Lewis, a great shot blocker, playing center.
Can the Terrapins' guards, Keith Gatlin and Jeff Adkins, produce offensively with enough consistency? Friday, forwards Len Bias and Adrian Branch, both selected to the 10-man all-tournament team, scored 40 of Maryland's 56 points in the loss to Kansas. The guards will have to provide more scoring because the combination of Lewis and Terry Long at center is not going to produce a lot of points.
The other unanswered question is rebounding. Maryland is a small team. Bias, with 27 rebounds over the weekend, showed indications he is ready to contribute more, and Lewis is a very good rebounder. But the Terrapins were outrebounded by Alaska-Anchorage and were even with Tennessee, two of the smallest teams they will face all season.
"We came up here to learn and I think we did," said Branch. "I think, overall, after being disappointed the first two days, we feel pretty good about what we showed ourselves we can do."
The other seven teams that made the Arctic trek for Thanksgiving weekend left, like Maryland, with mixed emotions. All except Alabama-Birmingham.
The Blazers, starting just their seventh season of basketball, beat second-ranked Illinois Saturday and No. 19 Kansas Sunday to win the tournament. They got great play from point guard Steve Mitchell -- 62 points in three games -- and excellent play up front from a group of 6-foot-8 leapers, led by Jerome Mincy, the tournament's second-leading rebounder.
Kansas, in spite of the 50-46 loss to UAB, had to feel good. The Jayhawks have 11 freshmen and sophomores. Saturday, after they dismantled Oregon, Ducks Coach Don Monson said, "They are a young team that is growing up very quickly. They are going to be very dangerous, very soon."
The most dangerous of the Jayhawks undoubtedly will be 6-10 freshman Danny Manning. Although he did not shoot well -- 14 for 35 -- Manning had 31 rebounds in the tournament and did the seemingly impossible Friday when he held Bias to five-of-17 shooting.
"He does things instinctively that freshmen just don't do," Monson said.
Manning's poor shooting met the tournament standard. Partly because the rims in Sullivan Arena were extremely tight, partly because it is November, partly because the games were played early in the day and partly because the players felt a little out of their element in Alaska, the shooting was very poor.
For the weekend, the teams shot less than 40 percent. Only twice -- Kansas Saturday and Maryland Sunday -- did a team shoot 50 percent for in a game.
While Kansas is young, Illinois returned everyone from a team that reached the Final Eight last year. Yet, the Illini lost to UAB Saturday and had to go triple-overtime to beat Oregon Sunday.
Their struggles might not be an indication they are overrated but, more likely, that this is going to be a year when ranked teams are knocked off with regularity. In the first week of play, the second-, fourth- (Indiana) and fifth-ranked (Oklahoma) teams have lost and No. 3 De Paul escaped with a one-point victory against less-than-mighty Northern Illinois. No. 1 Georgetown has yet to play a recognized opponent.
"There are probably 40 teams you could rank in the top 15 every week," said UAB Coach Gene Bartow. "We think we're good but so is everyone we played here. We could have lost any one of the three games."