Monday, October 18, 2010 6:15 p.m.
By Ron Thompson
With the celebration of Midnight Madness also comes the de-facto start of the NCAA basketball season. Owing to the loss of their respected star players, the off-season has ushered in a transition period for the men's squads at Georgetown and Maryland. John Thompson III and Gary Williams are facing yet another brutal playing schedule, but the fiercest contests may well be seen in their practices.
The upcoming season will prove for everyone from the coaches to players of these programs how well their remaining members can adapt, how hungry they are to win, and whether the season brings a nightmare ending or the opportunity that the best college players could ever dream possible.
Georgetown upperclassmen Chris Wright and Austin Freeman face a season befitting their roles as seniors: the loss of center Greg Monroe to the NBA will bring the Hoyas greater scoring challenges and shot-making responsibilities than in several previous seasons. Monroe was generally seen as a reliable scorer and exceptional facilitator for his teammates. His absence will leave a void in the paint and on the stat sheet. How will the Hoyas adjust to his loss? Will their two veteran seniors successfully navigate what many analysts say is one of the most punishing schedules in the country? Wright and Freeman were hopeful freshmen behind upperclassmen Jonathan Wallace and Roy Hibbert who were part of that 2008 squad that led the Hoyas to a Final Four the year prior. The Hoyas closed their Final Four run at 30-7, hardly perfect, but extremely impressive. This season introduces Wright and Freeman as seniors who may well be measured against what they saw or did as underclassmen. This is the perfect season for each to prove that they can carry the weight of leading their team.
Like Georgetown, Gary Williams' Maryland Terrapins are overhauling their game-schemes after having lost star guardforward Greivis Vasquez to graduation and the NBA. Vasquez's contributions were key to many of their comeback wins, be it his explosive playmaking to bring the Terps back from several points down, or putting them over the top after a tied score. Previously, Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker, and Sean Mosley were subordinates to Vasquez's dominant playmaking. Now seniors and a junior they will assume prominent roles. Sophomore Jordan Williams will also be relied on to put up key numbers on the inside. Opposing game schemes will now be designed around stopping him. He'll join Bowie, Tucker and Mosley in proving just how consistent a player he can be for the Terps.
Coupled with their association to storied programs, these guys also share the distinction of being formidable players who have been suddenly elevated to positions where they are expected (if not required) to produce consistently. For players who often press their coaches for more shot opportunities or minutes played, moments like these are precious indeed. For those who have ever complained about not having such a chance, their wishes are about to be granted. It's a sizeable load for many to shoulder, but one thing is certain: Coach Thompson and Coach Williams as well as other coaches across the country are anxious about whether their returning players (joined by a healthy mix of fresh faces) can handle that weight.
One of the joys of coaching is the process of starting each season by molding a team into shape. Like an artist who molds a ball of clay, coaches take raw material with texture similar to the previous year, but ultimately develop a form that differs from that previous model. The result is a totally different creation. It may well be that the 2010-2011 season brings a renaissance to Georgetown or Maryland that eventually yields a masterpiece.