What trouble might await the Terps in 2006-07?
Last season, nobody expected Maryland to capture the national title. But now, the Terps are the consensus favorites heading into 2006-07. What potential bumps in the road might await the defending champs in their quest to repeat?
Maryland has all its talent back and adds more. That doesn't mean there will be the same terrific chemistry that worked so well in its championship season. The Terps didn't blow away every NCAA Tournament foe on the way to the title. In fact, they were fortunate not to lose in regulation to Utah in the Elite Eight. But the bottom line was they played the best in the biggest moments, which is what won them the national title. And that might be hard to replicate.
Also, I think there are more serious challengers for the NCAA crown this year than last. Once again, three of those will come from the ACC in Maryland, North Carolina and Duke.
The Terps' nonconference schedule is just so-so, especially compared to some of the other top teams. However, that might not make much of a difference, because ACC games will thoroughly prepare Maryland for the NCAA Tournament.
The Terps could play pretty loosely last year and keep motivating themselves with the "nobody respects us" clichés but that's over. Now we'll find out if Maryland responds well to being the so-called "hunted." That's the land UConn and Tennessee live in year after year, even when they don't win it all. They love it.
The character that the Terps showed last year would indicate they can thrive on that pressure, too but until a program actually faces it, you never know.
Maryland has earned the right to enter this season as championship favorite, returning every player who celebrated last season's title on the court in Boston. But you don't need Mentos and a bottle of Diet Coke to know that chemistry is a delicate thing, and the Terrapins face internal pressures likely to challenge them almost as much as the schedule (especially given the pastry-like consistency of their nonconference schedule).
Adding Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood to a roster that already includes Kristi Toliver and Shay Doron in the backcourt is the most obvious source of potential disharmony, but it's hardly the only one. No doubt Brenda Frese will be immensely disappointed if players like Laura Harper, Ashleigh Newman and Jade Perry return without having improved over the summer, but at the same time, how will those players feel if their summer's hard work is rewarded with no greater responsibility in a suddenly crowded rotation?
Maryland had the perfect balance to win the title last season. The Terps still have the same players, but defending their title will require finding a new balance for old faces.
Maryland had such great team chemistry last year. But now the Terps are adding Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood to the mix. She's a dynamic player but transferred from Tennessee because she didn't think she was getting enough playing time -- or publicity -- at Tennessee. Could this create chemistry issues for a team that already returns everyone from a national championship run? Of course. So now, the onus is on Wiley-Gatewood to blend in with the team and find her role.
Maryland certainly has the potential to repeat, but as you all know, that's extremely difficult to accomplish (only three teams -- Southern California, Tennessee and Connecticut -- have done it since 1982). Even though the Terps were a legitimate, quality team last season, they did sneak up on people -- nobody was saying Maryland was the team to beat. Now, though, the Terps will face a much different mentality and enter the season defending the title rather than chasing it. Every time they take the floor, teams will be gunning for them. They must learn to play (and win) with that sort of pressure.