Maryland's season isn't over yet. After all, they could win the ACC Tournament.
But barring that, it doesn't look like a dance invitation is in the offing for the Terps in 2011. So their season may not be dead, but its breathing is getting pretty ragged as of now.
That's probably why so many are looking toward next season. In last night's win over N.C. State, coach Gary Williams started his two freshman point guards—Pe'Shon Howard and Terrell Stoglin—for the first time. They played about 20 minutes together and looked pretty good doing it.
Although they made a few questionable decisions (especially during a 14-0 Wolfpack run at the end of the first half), they also united for 29 points on 9-of-15 shooting and 11 assists.
Perhaps most encouraging of all, however, was the way they shared the court, rather than crowding out or negating each other. In short, there was chemistry there.
Next season, Stoglin and Howard will again saddle up with star center Jordan Williams. This year, as a sophomore, Williams added eight points and three rebounds to his freshman-year game averages. Even his free throw shooting has (finally) improved. There's no reason to suspect that upward trend won't continue.
There are other pieces in place as well. Mychal Parker, Hawk Palsson and Berend Weijs will round out a deep bench.
It's entirely possible that this roster could be enough to get Maryland back to the tournament and back among the nation's elite. Yet it is also entirely possible that next season's fate could rest in the hands of a player who isn't even on campus yet. That player is Nick Faust.
Just about every magazine and Web site I read lists Faust, a 6'6" shooting guard out of Baltimore, as one of the top 40 players in the 2011 recruiting class. In this instance, Gary Williams and his staff have scored a recruiting coup.
It's no secret that Williams does not often land (or try to land) players this highly regarded. He prefers project-type players, and that's just the way it is. But this can be a double-edged sword, as looking for players you can mold is a bit like panning for gold—you never know (literally) how things are going to pan out. So for every Juan Dixon or Greivis Vasquez, you have a Mike Jones or an Adrian Bowie—fine players, sure, but not the cornerstones of a great team.
This, of course, is what befell the Terps this year. Seniors Bowie, Cliff Tucker and Dino Gregory will probably get paid to play basketball by someone, somewhere. But they're not top-caliber, especially in a conference like the ACC. At some point, if you want to be elite, you need a guy with five-star tools.
Enter Faust, a high-energy athlete and all-around talent on both ends of the court. He can shoot threes, he can shoot jumpers and he can get to the hoop (can he ever). He can basically play and defend three positions. And don't let the baby face fool you—Faust is fiercely competitive.
This season, Maryland has been missing a consistent perimeter threat, as evidenced by its 34 percent shooting clip from deep (tied for seventh in the ACC). Faust can be that guy.
But there's more to it. While guys like Stoglin are capable of scoring in bunches, there is really no one on the current roster who can unilaterally make a play when the team needs one. That is to say, if something breaks down in the half court offense, it stays broken. There's no one who can bail them out.
Faust, likely a matchup nightmare for most college teams, could be that guy. It goes beyond offense, too. Look at how Kyle Singler dominated Maryland this year, scoring 25 and 22 in the teams' two contests. That's because no one had the tools to lock down the 6'8" Singler. Faust—say it with me now—could be that guy.
So things are looking up for Maryland next season. There's a glimmer of a chance that Faust can slide in and give the program a double dose of what it needs most: firepower and star power.