Sunday, March 10, 2002

The CourtMaster on Terp Frustration

Originally posted on

Hear ye, hear ye, court is now in session. I was not planning on convening a session today, but after reading the DBR's editorial titled "Apparently It's Endless", I felt my services were badly needed.

This editorial refuted a column written by Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon, in which he discussed his theories about how the ACC Tournament seemed to be rigged in favor of the North Carolina teams. He wrote how Maryland felt like an outsider, and implied that this was a factor in their history of semi-final round losses.

First, I would like to disqualify Wilbon, who is also co-host of the ESPN show "Pardon the Interruption" as an "expert" on the Maryland basketball program. This is the time of year that columnists all over the nation turn into "instant experts" about college basketball after only casually following it between NFL and NBA games along with whatever other sport is important in their region.

These columnists, of whom Wilbon is one of the best/worst examples, feel they can drop into an event and read deep meaning into it by simply breathing the air and talking to a few people. The fact that they were actually there (and Wilbon will not hesitate to run off the list of important sporting events he covers every year) qualifies them to render judgment on the causes and effects of the outcomes.

Unlike Mr. Wilbon, I have grown up living and breathing ACC basketball and, even though I have not inhaled the rarified air of the conference tournament sites, I still have a deep understanding of what goes on there.

Growing up watching the ACC Tournament in the 1970's in Maryland, I developed the type of attitude Wilbon wrote about yesterday. The only difference is that I grew out of it. I was firmly convinced after watching the Terps lose three straight championship games in the early 1970's that the key to eventually winning the tournament was to move it out of North Carolina.

My prayers were answered when the tournament moved to the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland in 1976, the first time it was ever held outside of North Carolina. I was right in expecting that a North Carolina team would not win it. The problem was, Virginia knocked off Maryland on their way to what is still their only ACC Championship. This was a Cavalier team that finished sixth in the ACC during the regular season.

It was then that I realized there might be some larger forces at work keeping Maryland from post-season success I so passionately KNEW they deserved. With the exceptions of the surprising 1984 ACC Championship (thanks largely to Duke knocking off #1 North Carolina in the semis) and last season's Final Four trip, March has been a month consistently filled with pain for Maryland faithful.

The DBR seems mystified at the negative attitude that comes from Maryland fans. Hey guys, check the record books! In recent history, the Terps have lost in the ACC semifinals seven of the last eight years. Two of those losses were in overtime to North Carolina, and one came on a last second tip in against Duke last year. Prior to last season, Maryland had lost to lower seeds in four of the prior five NCAA Tournaments.

Before breaking through last year, the Terps had made the most NCAA appearances without appearing in the Final Four. Maryland has still never been ranked #1, holding the distinction of most weeks at #2 without reaching the top ranking.

This "close but no cigar" pattern leads to a level of frustration Duke fans have no basis to understand. The DBR correctly points out that much of the 1970's were a down cycle for the Blue Devils, when Maryland and most other ACC schools regularly kicked the crap out of them.

There is a very important difference, however, between rooting for a bad team and one that is good but not great. Bad teams do not raise any level of expectations. Losses are expected, and fans hope they will end at some point in the near future. When a team shows that they clearly have the talent to excel and fall short--THAT is frustration, and one that has built up among Maryland fans for 30 years.

It started in the early 1970's, after Lefty Driesell had revived the program. The Elmore-McMillen teams lost in the finals of the ACC Tournament three straight years, including a two-point loss to undefeated NC State in 1973, and the classic 103-100 overtime loss in 1974. In 1975, the Terps won the regular season for the first time, only to fall to NC State by two points in the semis.

In 1980, Maryland came within a missed Albert King shot and an uncalled undercut by Kenny Dennard (come on, Duke fans, you know he did) of winning the tournament. More heartbreak followed Lefty in the ACC Tournament, included a one-point loss to North Carolina in the 1982 final, an overtime loss to Georgia Tech in the 1983 semi's, and a two-point loss to the Yellow Jackets in 1986 when Keith Gatlin threw a last second inbound pass to Tech's Duane Farrell, which he turned into the game winning basket.

No, Lefty could not win the big ones. So far, neither has Gary Williams. The frustration builds. I have seen that emotion passed down from generation to generation, a feeling which I think is largely responsible for the incidents of violent behavior that have occurred at College Park in recent years. I am not excusing them, mind you, just trying to provide some understanding.

No other fans in the ACC have had to deal with the constant aggravation of being close to championships without winning them. Several of Driesell's and Williams' teams had the talent to win ACC titles and contend for national ones, yet there are still only two conference championships and one Final Four appearance to show for it.

Maybe I'm just too old school for my own good, but Maryland's loss Saturday to NC State really bothered me. I guess it just piled on all of the other post-season failures, which I keep stored in a very dark place of my psyche. I know the tournament does not mean that much for the top teams anymore, but why can Duke seem to get up for it every year (four in a row and counting)? Why can Duke reach 10 Final Fours since 1978 (it's not just Coach K, Bill Foster coached the 1978 team) and not Maryland?

To claim North Carolina bias as a reason for this is silly and unsupportable. Yet, I understand why fans, and even misguided writers, do so. There has to be some discernable reason why this program can't get over the hump. For the last two seasons Maryland has had the talent and shown the ability to beat any team in the nation. Last season, it was Duke who found a way to beat the Terps in the post-season. This year, the Terps have already stumbled in the ACC Tournament. A trip down to Atlanta for the Final Four (and a couple of wins) would go a long way toward changing the karma surrounding the Maryland basketball program.

Up to this point, however, it has been frustrating as hell. I don't expect Duke fans to understand, but I hope this at least helps.

Congratulations to Duke on winning the ACC Tournament. A Maryland-Duke rubber match in Atlanta would certainly be worth waiting for.

That's what I think. Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail at

Wednesday, March 06, 2002

The CourtMaster Hands Out Awards

Originally posted on

Hear ye, hear ye! The ACC regular season is over, and it's time to rule on the best the year has offered. It's time for (insert musical buildup here) The Third Annual CourtMaster Awards!

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: There are three strong candidates for this award, Jason Williams and Mike Dunleavy of Duke, and Juan Dixon of Maryland.

If the award were called "Offensive Player of the Year", choosing Williams would be a no-brainer. If it were for "Most Versatile Player", Dunleavy would be a fairly obvious winner. While both have had outstanding seasons, my choice for Player of the Year is Dixon.

I had one overriding reason for choosing him. Take the three players I listed above (probably the three biggest offensive threats in the ACC) and answer this question, when their shot is not falling, who is the most valuable player to their team? I think Dixon is the obvious choice here. He leads the league in steals, plays outstanding individual defense, and is an amazingly strong re-bounder for his size. He is not quite as good a passer or ball handler as Williams or Dunleavy, but his defensive prowess more than makes up for that.

COACH OF THE YEAR: In this category, there are also three valid choices; Coach K at Duke, Gary Williams at Maryland, and Herb Sendek at NC State. I have chosen Williams and Sendek to share the award.

Williams has led his team to the finest regular season in Maryland history. The Terps have won every game against a team they should beat, and his squad has found ways to win in games they did not play particularly well.

Previous Terps teams would have lost the Virginia or Wake Forest games rather than make last minute comebacks. Cast in the shadow of Duke, Williams has led the Terps beyond it and established them as the team to beat going into the ACC Tournament.

Sendek began the season under a shadow of his own, with his job beyond this year seriously in doubt. He has led a team without any discernable low-post game to the brink of ending its 11-year NCAA Tournament drought.

The Wolfpack has been successful with outstanding team defense and senior leadership from Anthony Grundy and Archie Miller. I thought Sendek was either blowing smoke or delusional when he spoke of the high hopes he had for this team in October. I guess that's why he's the coach, and will be next season also.

FIRST TEAM ALL-ACC: In addition to Dixon, Williams, and Dunleavy, I fill the roster with Carlos Boozer of Duke and Anthony Grundy from NC State. Boozer has been the most consistent low-post player in the ACC, and Grundy has excelled at both ends of the court.

SECOND TEAM ALL-ACC: Lonny Baxter and Steve Blake from Maryland, Roger Mason and Travis Watson from Virginia, and Tony Akins from Georgia Tech.

Baxter has been dominant at times this year, but his numbers are down due to sharing the paint with Chris Wilcox. Blake, who recently set Maryland's career assist record, leads the ACC in assists and assists-to-turnover ratio. Mason had to take on the additional burden of running the offense most of this season, but has still managed to place third in the conference in scoring. Watson plays as hard as anyone in the conference and posted a lopsided victory in the race for the ACC rebounding title. Akins has been the key to Georgia Tech's remarkable comeback from a 0-7-conference record to finish 7-9 and head into the ACC Tournament as the second hottest team in the league.

NEWCOMERS OF THE YEAR: Transfer-Dahntay Jones, Duke. Jones came in billed as a scorer, but the defensive end of the court is where he has excelled. Freshman-Julius Hodge NC State. He often showed a lack of maturity on the court, but even more often he demonstrated that he has nearly unlimited potential. He was a key part of the Wolfpack's success this season. Ed Nelson of Georgia Tech made a late challenge to Hodge, and he will be another player to keep an eye on next season.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER-Chris Wilcox, Maryland. Fans clamored for Wilcox to see additional playing time when the Terps struggled last year, but he simply was not ready. Early this season, he often looked lost out on the court, but improved seemingly every time he stepped on the court. He went from a bench warmer to a potential lottery pick in the NBA draft in one season. No other player in the conference improved anywhere near as much as Wilcox has this season.

DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR: North Carolina. Are you kidding me, they might just retire this award. Virginia would earn this distinction in a normal season, but no one saw this train wreck of a season at Chapel Hill coming. The Tar Heels have shown some signs of improvement later in the season, and they also extended their streak of never losing to Clemson in Chapel Hill by winning their 48th straight home game against the Tigers.

Carolina could be in contention for a return to the NCAA Tournament next year if Matt Doherty is able to get more out of the incoming freshmen than he did this year. If he doesn't?well, you thought THIS year was unpleasant for the Tar Heels.

GAME OF THE YEAR-TEAM: Clemson's 118-115 double overtime victory over Wake Forest. The Deacons have had more nail-biters than any other ACC team this season. They made up an 11-point deficit in the last two minutes of regulation and forced overtime on Taron Downey's bank shot three-pointer at the end of regulation. Edward Scott and Tony Stockman both had career games for the Tigers, who proved capable of playing exciting basketball at times this season.

GAME OF THE YEAR-INDIVIDUAL: Tie between Craig Dawson of Wake Forest and Steve Blake, Maryland. Dawson evolved into a one-dimension offensive player this season, spending most of his time drifting outside the three-point arc. In the overtime loss to Clemson, however, he was a lethal weapon. Dawson knocked down an ACC-record 11 three-pointers and led Wake's frantic comeback at Clemson on his way to 38 points.

Blake's effort came in Round 2 vs. Duke. He had earned a reputation for playing stifling defense against Jason Williams, but in Round 1 seemed to have trouble even getting in his way. Williams spent most of that evening making Blake look like his feet were nailed to the ground.

Blake responded to that embarrassment by reestablishing his defensive success against Williams and dishing out 12 assists while committing only 1 turnover. He was the catalyst in Maryland's romp over Duke, and gave anti-Duke fans one of the season's highlights when he stole the ball from Williams right before halftime when Williams turned away to receive instructions from Coach K.

UPSET OF THE YEAR: Florida State defeating Duke. As the Seminoles slid back toward their accustomed position near the bottom of the ACC and Duke remained at or near the top of the national rankings, this game became more of a head scratcher. In hindsight, this type of loss seemed inevitable for Duke, a team playing well below their best level at the time. They responded to that loss by slicing and dicing their ACC opponents until they arrived at College Park.

It occurs to me that I am not giving Duke a lot of props in this column. Let me counter that by saying that I feel they are still the most dangerous team in the nation. No team is anywhere near as explosive as the Devils when they are on a roll. Their combination of Williams, Dunleavy, and Boozer can be virtually unstoppable.

As has been correctly pointed out on this site, Duke has staggered at the end of other seasons and still been very successful in the NCAA Tournament. Time will tell if this season falls into that category, or if the Devils are running out of gas after all the minutes their key players have played to this point.

Maryland received a lot of recognition here. They won the regular season title by two games over Duke and SIX games over Wake and State. I think that deserves a bit of recognition, don't you?

That's what I think. Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail at

Until next time, court is adjourned.