What If #1: Maryland Beats Michigan State (Part I)


Mar 27, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Marquette Golden Eagles head coach Buzz Williams (left) talks with former Maryland head coach Gary Williams during practice the day before the semifinals of the East regional of the 2013 NCAA tournament at the Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The final piece of the Maryland What If puzzle is a game that still haunts me.

Michigan State 85 Maryland 83, Sunday March 21, 2nd Round NCAA Tournament.

The unfortunate end to Gary Williams last trip to the NCAA Tournament.

After battling back from a sixteen point deficit, ACC Player of the Year Greivis Vasquez led Maryland on a rally to take the lead twice in the final minute. After hitting a floater in the lane with six seconds left to take an 83-82 lead, Michigan State pushed the ball up court. Coach Tom Izzo elected to not use his final timeout, which caused the a scramble in the last play of the game. Draymond Green pushed the ball up court, and then found Korie Lucious at the top of the key. He pumped fake, dribbled once, and then launched a shot that all Terp fans still remember.

Even though Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes, and Landon Milbourne made the NCAA Tournament three times in their four year career, and won all three of their first round games, they were never able to get over the hump to the sweet sixteen. Their freshman year was a three point lose to Butler, a nineteen point lose to Memphis in their junior year, and finally a two point loss to Michigan State.

The 2009-2010 season featured many memorable moments for the basketball team. A share of the ACC regular season title. Due to a postponed game, they played three games in six days; routing Virginia at home, beating North Carolina State in Raleigh, and then the infamous two buzzer-beater game against Georgia Tech. A week later, after a two hour delay in Blacksburg, Vasquez scored a career high 41 points in a double OT 104-100 victory.

Maryland returned home for a senior night showdown against Duke. In front of capacity crowd at the Comcast Center, Maryland knocked off Duke 79-72. The game capped a seven game ACC winning streak, and also iced Greivis Vasquez and Gary Williams place as ACC Player of the Year and ACC Coach of the Year, respectively.

After losing in the second round of the ACC Tournament to Georgia Tech, Maryland received a four seed in the NCAA Tournament. In the first round they knocked off Houston, Michigan State hung on against New Mexico State, and top seeded Kansas beat Lehigh. The day before Michigan State and Maryland were set to square off in Spokane, Northern Iowa shocked everyone and beat Kansas in the second round.

So what if Korie Lucious shot rims out and Maryland defeats Michigan State 83-82 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament? There is the on court part of how far Maryland goes, and then there are also two major legacies at play.

In the next round, Maryland would have played the ninth seed Northern Iowa. The Panthers were a tough-minded defensive team, but also one that struggled to score the ball. They went 28-4 in the regular season, and 15-3 in the Missouri Valley Conference. However, Maryland had one of the highest scoring offenses in the NCAA, ranking 19th in points per game (79.3) and 32nd in field goal percentage (47.3%). Only five teams all season held the Terps to under 70 points. Lets chalk this game up as a win for Maryland.

Following a win over Northern Iowa, Maryland would be appearing in their first Elite Eight since 2002. In the next game, Gary Williams and company would face Bruce Pearl and the Tennessee Volunteers. Tennessee had knocked off the two seed, Ohio State, in the Sweet Sixteen. In 2009-2010 they were led by Wayne Chism, Scotty Hopson, and J.P. Prince.

While Pearl was known for running an up-tempo offense, his team wasn’t blowing away the competition or scoring at an alarming rate. Chism was the highest scoring player out of those three, scoring 12.2 points per game. Both teams were similar in FG % and turnovers per game, but Maryland had an edge in three point shooting (38.1& vs 32 %). On the defensive end both teams played well and held opposing teams to under 39% FG. Maryland had a slight edge in rebounding, but only by two rebounds per game. Across the board the two teams were evenly matched.

In evenly matched games, its fair to give the edge to coaching and the best player on the court. Between the two coaches, Gary gets the upper hand. While Tennessee had some good collegiate players, none of them brought what Greivis Vasquez had. He was the player Maryland rallied behind, and his emotional effect on the game was second to none. In a close game, Maryland takes the edge over Tennessee and advances out of the Midwest Region.

A win over Tennessee would send coach Gary Williams to his third final four. In the National Semi-Final game, Maryland would play the upstart Butler Bulldogs. Butler beat UTEP, Murray State, Syracuse, and Kansas State on their way to the programs first Final Four appearance. Butler was led by 6’9″ guard/forward Gordon Hayward. After averaging 15.5 points on 46% shooting, he went on to get drafted ninth overall in the 2010 NBA Draft. Butler also had point guard Shelvin Mack as well, but outside of Mack and Hayward, they were filled with complimentary players.

There is no discounting a team that finished within a shot of winning a National Championship like Butler. But the Bulldogs struggles on the offensive end was always a problem for them in the 2009-2010 season. Maryland was one of the best offensive teams that season, and Butler would have had to find a third scoring option and while slowing down the Maryland attack. Behind the play of Jordan Williams, Maryland held an edge in rebounding over Butler. At 38% vs 34% in three point shooting, Maryland held an edge in this category as well.

As for the intangibles of this game, Butler would have a slight increase in fans given the proximity of the game to their campus. It is the Final Four, and not a preseason tournament, which leads me to believe that Maryland would probably have strong showing as well. Brad Stevens is one of the best young coaches in basketball, but this was his first Final Four, and Gary Williams third. Given how well Stevens coached Butler that year, he gets a slight advantage in this category.

While Gordon Hayward did get drafted ahead of Greivis Vasquez, and both were the leaders of their team, Vasquez brought more of an overall game to the court. Both players use their size to their advantage, but Vasquez had a much better ability to get his teammates involved, and also had players with better offensive ability to get involved. We will look at both results, but for the sake of this article we are taking a Maryland win.

Part II is here.