2001 NCAA Men's Tourney

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Day at a Glance

Maryland completes rise from the ashes

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Posted: Saturday March 24, 2001 10:33 PM
Updated: Sunday March 25, 2001 8:54 AM

By Albert Lin, CNNSI.com

Best Game
Biggest Surprise

Best Matchup
Upset Special
Player to Watch

Maryland's season began Jan. 27. On that Saturday night, the Terps proved they could play with anybody, dominating a Duke club for more than 39 minutes and taking a 10-point lead into the final 60 seconds.

But then Maryland completely unraveled. Duke miraculously tied the game and went on to win in overtime. The collapse took so much out of the Terps that they proceeded to drop four of their next five games, including a stupefying home loss to ACC cellar-dweller Florida State.

The thing is, that debacle may have been the best thing to happen to Maryland. It brought the Terps back to earth, made the players realize they had to work harder and play 40 minutes every night out. It caused head coach Gary Williams to re-evaluate his personnel, his substitution patterns and his team's style of play.

Slowly, the team began to build itself back up, assuming a new identity by shedding the label of underachiever. The Terps reeled off six consecutive wins, comfortably paying back Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium during the streak. Even a two-point loss to Blue Devils in the ACC tournament semifinals, on a Nate James tip-in with 1.3 seconds left, didn't slow their momentum.

Now Maryland paradoxically is reaping the rewards of that descent into basketball hell. The Terps are playing better than they've played in perhaps a generation. Lonny Baxter is dominating inside, Juan Dixon continues to throw daggers from the outside, and the bench is making important contributions day in and day out.

Even Maryland's most talented player, enigmatic senior forward Terence Morris, has settled into his role as a complementary player. The mark of a great team is the ability to win even when one of its key cogs has an off night, of which Morris most certainly has had his share. The mark of a great team player is the ability to do whatever is needed for your club to win, which Morris did Saturday by grabbing 10 rebounds and playing tough defense on either of the much bigger Collins twins.

We said Friday that if Maryland beat Stanford, we'd be convinced that this revival was for real and that we would pronounce the Terps the favorites to win it all. Well, Maryland lived up to its end of the bargain, so now it's the Glance's turn: As much as we still love Illinois, the Terps finally seem to have put it all together. Maryland actually has just as deep and a more talented roster than the Illini, and Williams and his crew have made us believe they have adopted Illinois' toughness. Put those two things together, and you have your 2001 national champions.

Best Game
No. 1 Duke 79, No. 6 USC 69
The Blue Devils weren't playing blow-the-opponent-away basketball and you always had the feeling the Trojans were just about to go on a run and tie things up. Unfortunately for fans, USC only briefly pulled to within three in the second half, so we never got any added drama. In the Stanford-Maryland game, though, the Terps were in control the entire way, and you never felt like the Cardinal were ever going to do anything.
Jason Williams, sophomore, guard, Duke
Explain again how anyone (not the Glance, of course) possibly could name Shane Battier as player of the year? The senior is steadier, to be sure, but Williams makes the Blue Devils go, and anytime they need anything Williams is the first option. Yes, his shot selection can be questionable at times, but we'll take 10 misses in a row (as he did Saturday) if that means he can also score 19 consecutive points (as he did Thursday). Williams makes some of the most ridiculous jumpers imaginable, plus he can take anyone off the dribble and score or pass off. He is also a one-man trap-buster, as he showed against USC. He is unquestionably the best player in the nation.
Mike Montgomery, coach, Stanford
Poor Mike Montgomery. Each year the Stanford head coach and other West Coast hoops aficionados bemoan the lack of respect accorded the Cardinal and their Pac-10 brethren. Each year, Stanford puts together a stellar regular season and appears on the verge of silencing the critics. And each year it collapses in the NCAA tournament, victim this time of a deeper and much more athletic Maryland team. Montgomery was not able to come up with a game plan to counter Maryland's, nor was he able to make necessary adjustments at halftime. After Sports Illustrated picked Stanford to win it all 10 days ago, this was a particularly meek way for the Cardinal to bow out. Maybe it is time to start beefing up that nonconference schedule.
Biggest Surprise
That Maryland took Stanford so far out of its game.
What Williams did was a thing of beauty. He explained the other day that this team is different from all the others he's had at College Park in that it has so much size, it's become more half-court oriented. Williams is known for employing a frenetic, pressing, up-tempo attack. But to his credit, he adapted as the season unfolded and turned the Terps into a versatile half-court team. Saturday marked the end of years of frustration, as Maryland reached the Final Four for the first time in the program's history. Williams devised an approach that completely stymied Stanford -- the Collins twins collected seven rebounds total; Casey Jacobsen was ineffective with 14 points on 4-for-11 shooting; heck, Ryan Mendez even missed two free throws -- and the Terps pretty much cruised.
Best Matchup
No. 1 Illinois vs. No. 2 Arizona, 5 p.m. EST
The only 1-vs.-2 regional final and a contest everyone has anticipated since the brackets were announced. Most people picked Arizona to go to the Final Four, meaning that they think the Wildcats will beat the Illini. The Glance, as you know, has Illinois winning it all. We've been even more impressed with the Illini after seeing their three NCAA tournament contests. On the other hand, we still think Arizona lacks ... something. When the Wildcats are hitting on all cylinders, they are absolutely amazing. But the egos still seem to get in the way. Illinois has enough beef to slow Michael Wright, which also means it has plenty of bodies to beat up overrated Loren Woods (this guy thinks he's going to play in the NBA?). The two clubs split a pair of early-season meetings. Illinois should take the rubber match.
Upset Special
No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 11 Temple, 2:40 p.m. EST
On paper, this one is a huge mismatch in favor of Michigan State. But the more we've seen of Temple, the more we're starting to believe in the Owls. This game boils down to two things: 1) whether the Spartans can continue their season-long domination of the boards by keeping the athletic and tenacious Owls at bay; 2) whether Michigan State has the patience and leadership to not take bad shots when stymied by Temple's matchup zone. This edition of the Spartans seems to be less of a team than last year's national champs, and Charlie Bell's shooting woes (though he did have 21 Friday against Gonzaga) are a real concern. If the Owls can keep the pace slow, then they stand a really good chance of punching a ticket to Minneapolis.
Player to Watch
Cory Bradford, junior, guard, Illinois
Bradford is the closest thing to a scorer that Illinois has, which is not necessarily a good thing. After bordering on all-conference status as a freshman, his numbers have gotten worse and worse. When he's on a roll, he can drop 3-pointers from all over the court. When he's not -- which happens all too often these days (e.g., 1-for-13 Friday, including 1-for-10 on 3-pointers) -- he's a complete liability. Bradford actually can do more than just camp on the 3-point line, but for some reason that's what he's reduced himself to. The Illini will need some production from Bradford, a Memphis native, in order to keep pressure off Frank Williams and to open up the paint for all their big guys.

Check back for a new Day at a Glance every day there's NCAA tournament action.

Related information
Saturday's Day at a Glance: Don't underestimate Temple
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