Team preview: Maryland

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

It's really all Gary Williams' fault.

Because of where he has taken the Maryland Terrapins -- 11 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, seven Sweet 16s, two Final Fours and the 2002 national championship -- back-to-back 19-win, NIT seasons just haven't been good enough for Terrapin fans or the persistent Baltimore-Washington, D.C. media the last two years.

"Our bad years are to win 19 games, not to have losing seasons," said Williams, building up some of his trademark passion. "We've beaten a Top 10 team just about every year I've been here. We beat [Boston College], when they were 6th in the country this year. You can throw out all the negatives you want but I think in a 17-year period, we've done pretty well."

And how ridiculous is it that Williams has been on the defensive now for two seasons, rebuilding a program hobbled by some early NBA draft entries. The post-championship defection of sophomore Chris Wilcox in 2002, was the first blow and the extra attention their marvelous run since the late '90s earned has also been somewhat problematic.

Williams has seen seven assistant coaches leave for better positions, four of them becoming head coaches, in the last five years.

Williams knows the deal in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately fishbowl of college basketball. His last two Terrapin teams haven't been up to his demanding standards either, but he won't embarrass his players publicly by saying so.

Trouble is that with the two straight NCAA Tournament misses have come some uncustomary off-the-court troubles, mostly involving a mercurial recruiting class that saw seeming straight-arrows Nik Caner-Medley, Chris McCray and Travis Garrison run afoul of the law, and saw McCray flunk out of school at mid-season last year, helping cripple the team down the stretch. And that doesn't even include the volatile John Gilchrist, who left a year early and found there were no takers in the NBA for his pointedly me-first point-guard play.

But all of Maryland's problems haven't gone away. The Terrapins were last in the ACC in scoring defense, allowing 73.5 points per game, a year ago. Maryland always ranks low in that category because Williams loves to push the ball and score a lot of points, but since Gilchrist imploded after the 2004 ACC Tournament championship, the Terrapins really haven't had solid play at the point and the offense has suffered.

That 2004 team also had Maryland's last legitimate low-post offensive threat, Jamar Smith. The combination of mediocre ball handling and inconsistent low-post offense has too often derailed Williams' flex offense. It hasn't helped that Maryland has been among the ACC's least effective three-point shooting teams the last two seasons, ranking next to last with 4.84 treys per game in 2005-06.

"I think our guys are ready to do a better job," said Williams, citing Maryland's absence from the NCAA Tournament as a great motivator for his players. "We have to want to do the things to be a great team. We have to buy into the mindset that we're going to play a certain way. There have been times the last two years where we've played individually and that style has been worth 19 wins."

Nineteen wins left Maryland on the NCAA bubble looking in twice, and Williams has made concessions this year with a tougher non-conference schedule and in a recruiting class that he is counting on to bring some toughness back to the Terrapins.