2008-2009 Record: 21-14, 7-9 ACC (seventh)
Key Losses: Dave Neal (8.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg), Braxton Dupree
Key Returners: Greivis Vasquez (17.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5.0 apg), Landon Milbourne (11.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Eric Hayes (10.3 ppg, 3.2 apg)
Newcomers: Jordan Williams, James Padgett
In late January last season, after the Terrapins had lost four of five, speculation over the job security of head coach Gary Williams came to a head, as he and the Terps' athletic director had a very public feud in the media about the reason a couple recruits were not allowed into Maryland.
But the Terps were able to rally at the end of the season, knocking off a couple of the ACC bigwigs en route to a trip to the NCAA Tournament's second round and earning Williams a contract extension.
The Terps hope to carry some of that momentum into 2009-2010 as they return basically everyone. They caught a break when Greivis Vasquez, their leader and a potential first team All-American, decided to return to College Park for his senior year.
Vasquez is a bit of an enigma. There may not be a more passionate player in the country, but that passion does not always manifest itself in the right way; Vasquez has a reputation for being vocal with opponents, the media, and the fans (sometimes even Maryland fans), and not necessarily in a good way.
The thing you cannot deny about Vasquez is his talent. While he has been inconsistent from game to game throughout his career, when he is clicking he can take over against any team in the country (case in point: the 35-point, 10-board, 10-assist, three-steal, and three-block performance he had in an OT win over UNC last year might have been the best all-around game of the '08-'09 season).
There isn't much Vasquez can't do on the offensive end, but his biggest problem might be that he knows that. He has three-point range, can score in the mid-range, is able to drive and find the open man, and can also finish around the rim.
The problem is the degree of difficulty of the plays he tries to make. For example, during his breakout sophomore season, Vasquez averaged 6.8 apg but also 4.4 TOs. As a junior, he averaged just 5.0 apg but cut his turnovers to just 2.8 per game.
That was a result of better decision-making—he didn't try to make the spectacular play as often, instead making the smart pass even if it didn't draw the wows. If he can continue to mature in his play and decision-making, a 20, 6, and 6 season is not a stretch.
But Vasquez can only take the Terps so far by himself. As a team, Maryland had two major issues last year—they did not have really have a second option offensively, and they were small on the interior.
The Terps lost both Dave Neal and Braxton Dupree, returning just Dino Gregory in the paint. I did like some of what I saw from Gregory in the limited minutes he got last year, but he is going to be counted on for much, much more production this year in an expanded role.
Williams did address the issue up front, adding two big man recruits. The better of the two is Jordan Williams, a 6'9", 250-lb. Connecticut native (you may know him as this kid).
Williams does show promise, as he is a big body that he can get out and run the floor but also absorb contact in the paint. If he can improve his conditioning (aka trim the baby fat) and continue to improve his developing back to the basket game, Williams could be a significant factor for the Terps this year.
The other newbie is James Padgett, a 6'8" athlete from Lincoln High School in NYC. Padgett is raw on the offensive end, but he has long arms, some serious hops, that NYC mean streak, and he plays hard. He will provide Maryland with some excellent energy off the bench.
Also expect 6'9" junior Jerome Burney and 6'10" Steve Goins to compete for minutes.
The two most important players for this Maryland team will probably be seniors Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne. Both have been solid role players for the past two seasons, but if Maryland has any hope of competing in what is a wide-open ACC race, they are going to need to have a second legitimate scoring option.
The issue is that both guys are stuck in a bit of a tweener role. Milbourne is a swingman, most effective when he can slash to the basket and utilize his length and athleticism, but he has been forced to play a lot on the interior as Maryland has lacked size. While it could be to his advantage when he is guarded by a four (he can get by his man), he does not yet have a perimeter shot that is consistent enough to be respected.
Hayes has basically been a spot-up shooter for the Terps the last two seasons, but he can do much more than that when given the opportunity. He can create shots for himself and others, but he is most effective playing on the ball, which he can't do as much playing with Vasquez.
The one place Maryland is set is with perimeter depth. Adrian Bowie, Sean Mosley, and Cliff Tucker are all capable players on the perimeter. While they each bring a different skill set to the table (Bowie is the most dangerous penetrator, Mosley is a shutdown defender, and Cliff Tucker, at 6'6", is probably the most versatile and best shooter), what they give Gary Williams is the ability to use a variety of different combinations on the perimeter.
With Greivis Vasquez on the court, Maryland is going to have a chance to win every single game they play. However, as they proved last year, they are also capable of throwing up as poor of a showing as anyone in the country (losses to Morgan State and to Duke by 40).
Maryland has to be in the conversation as a sleeper in a wide-open ACC, but unless a secondary scorer emerges and their inexperienced front line develops, Maryland will probably be a middle of the road ACC team and headed to the NCAA tournament.