When you look back over the tournament, it's hard to pick a game where Maryland looked imposing throughout the whole game. But what's really easy to find is the key to understanding their success: they were absolutely rock-solid whenever the game was in doubt. Monday night was no exception.
Indiana tried to do the same thing to them that they did to everyone else, namely make them play at their pace, and for much of the game, it looked like things might go the way IU wanted them to. Maryland was playing foolishly, Steve Dixon in particular, Juan Dixon was being held in check, and Indiana was playing with confidence and verve.
Then they made the mistake of catching up, and Maryland, behind Dixon, Baxter, and Mouton, took them apart, and now the Terps are national champs, and they deserve to be.
With such a wonderful team, and the school's greatest triumph, you'd hope that first of all, everyone would be too blissed out to riot (too late - according to our e-mail, the 11:00 news was already showing combat footage), and secondly, that the bitterness that has characterized Maryland for the last several years will dissipate. We heard from a number of Maryland fans over the last couple of years whenever we have wondered why there seems to be such an aura of insecurity around the program. We never understood it. If you've read us for awhile, you'll know that we've always thought Maryland had everything it needed to be a major powerhouse year in and year out. Well, we have questioned coaching, but like Lute Olson, Gary has put most of that behind him now.
Things will change in College Park now, for better and for worse. The most immediate change is losing Juan Dixon, who is now without question the school's greatest player. Passing John Lucas and Len Bias is really amazing for anyone, but for a skinny little guard who never has hit 170, it's remarkable.
Maryland will also lose Baxter, Mouton, and possibly Wilcox, whose stock has shot up dramatically after dominating Drew Gooden and Jared Jeffries on the biggest stage possible.
Moreover, they'll have to deal with everything that comes with winning - more interview requests, unrealistic fan expectations, and on and on and on. When they open the new barn, and hang the banner, it'll seem easy to do in retrospect.
To which we say: 1) those aren't bad problems to have, and 2) it's not. Maryland is a deserving champion, and they had guts enough to take it, but doing it twice wouldn't be easy under any circumnstances, and it's vastly harder when you lose three starters. The roles would have been different even if they had everyone coming back (witness Arkansas), and the people would have changed. All this was true at Duke in 1992, by the way, and it almost caught them in the Kentucky game - and did in the first half of the Michigan game. Laettner, Hurley and Hill had an uncommon will - not to mention Coach K - and that carried them through when they could have failed.
The announcers - particularly Packer - kept saying this was one of the ugliest, and strangest, Final Four games in memory. He's right, and it got us to thinking: could this team have beaten recent champions? Look back a bit and ask:
- 2001 - Duke
- 2000 - Michigan State
- 1999 - UConn
Our memory fades and we don't have anything handy to match teams to years, but Arizona? Kentucky? Either Kentucky team of the '90's?
Don't get us wrong. They won and they're the best team this year and that's all that matters. But Packer got us to thinking about that, and it's an interesting point.
Anyway, so much for 2002. We're already jazzed for next season. Can we start tomorrow?