COLLEGE PARK - Each bad Maryland loss these days elicits tortured fan analysis of what went wrong, who is at fault and how it can be remedied.
After Saturday's mortifying 41-point defeat at Duke, the questions raised in blogs and message boards were more pointed than usual, and the criticism was more venomous.
What in the world, fans wailed, has happened to the Terps?
In its seventh season since winning the national championship, Maryland is a victim of high expectations and recent recruiting difficulties, according to interviews with experts familiar with the program. Turnover among assistant coaches has made recruiting even more challenging.
The recruiting problems are evident in this season's freshman class. After losing leading rebounders and double-digit scorers James Gist and Bambale Osby to graduation, the Terps were unable to replace them effectively. Maryland's lack of size was evident in the Duke game, in which the Terps surrendered 21 offensive rebounds and 12 blocked shots in the 85-44 defeat - the worst since head coach Gary Williams arrived in 1989-90.
Williams has often suggested this season - and others - that fans tend to overreact to individual games. He acknowledges that the Terps are undersized but suggests that the gap on this season's team is not his fault.
"We've had [players] that were here for different lengths of time," Williams said yesterday. "The kid [Shane] Clark up at Villanova was turned down for admission here at Maryland. A guy starting at South Florida, [Gus] Gilchrist, was here. He'd be playing now."
Gilchrist, 6 feet 10, who is averaging 10.8 points and five rebounds for South Florida and recently scored 22 points against highly rated Pittsburgh, was due to be a Terrapin.
He asked for his release last summer to try to play immediately at another school outside the Atlantic Coast Conference. Because of ACC rules, he would have had to sit out the first semester of games at Maryland because he had initially signed to play at Virginia Tech.
Maryland also ended its relationship last year with another recruit, Tyree Evans, who told The Sun in May that he was "proud to be a Terp" after being offered a scholarship despite a string of criminal offenses.
Evans, a guard, withdrew from consideration to play for Maryland after media reports detailed his troubled past. Athletic director Debbie Yow said she didn't know at the time that Maryland was recruiting Evans or much, if anything, about his criminal record.
"Tyree Evans would be playing here now," Williams said. "You know, they're all qualified to play at other schools. So that's part of it. In basketball, one player is a lot. It's not like football where you have 25 every year."
Williams later said of Gilchrist and Evans: "It wasn't my fault that they're not here. That was somebody else's call."
Evans is averaging 12.8 points for Kent State.
Williams has a reputation for molding talent. Maryland's national championship team was not composed of blue-chip athletes but rather of players who needed seasoning. Steve Blake couldn't get a scholarship to North Carolina State, Juan Dixon redshirted as a freshman and Lonny Baxter started slowly his first season.
But Maryland did once lure players such as Chris Wilcox and Steve Francis, who turned out to be NBA lottery picks. For years, the Terps were aided by having a trio of assistant coaches - Jimmy Patsos, Billy Hahn and Dave Dickerson - who had been in College Park long enough to develop dozens of valuable recruiting contacts, as well as chemistry with Williams and each other.
Hahn, now an assistant at West Virginia, was at Maryland for 12 years. Patsos, the Loyola head coach, was with Williams for 13 years. Dickerson, the head man at Tulane, spent nine years under Williams.
"When you can keep a staff together for a long time, there is continuity and everybody knows their roles and their strengths and weaknesses," Hahn said yesterday. "I think staff continuity is very important. If you see turnovers in staffs, you usually see a drop-off. Duke had a drop-off when they lost Mike Brey and Quin Snyder."
Current Maryland assistants Chuck Driesell, Keith Booth and Robert Ehsan began their current posts in 2006, 2004 and 2008, respectively.
Williams said it speaks well of his programs that so many of his assistants - including Washington Wizards head coach Ed Tapscott and University of Vermont coach Mike Lonergan - are former Williams assistants.
Williams is credited by many basketball experts with getting the most out of teams.
"Coaching-wise, he is one of the best in the country," said Keith Stevens, who heads Team Takeover, an Amateur Athletic Union program in the Washington area.
Stevens continued: "In recruiting, Gary may be just a little old-school. Once upon a time, you could rely on your assistants going out and building relationships. Today, [kids] want to have a relationship with a head coach who is calling the shots. I think he's realizing he's got to get out there with his assistants. The recruiting starts so early now."
Maryland athletic officials have also privately expressed concerns about whether Williams is adequately doing hands-on recruiting.
Maryland (13-6, 2-3) has missed the NCAA tournament three out of four years. The Terps try to rebound tonight against Boston College (15-6, 3-3 ACC).
Fans' frustration is amplified because so many top players in the talent-rich Baltimore-Washington corridor - notably current NBA stars Carmelo Anthony (Towson Catholic) and Rudy Gay (Archbishop Spalding) as well as younger NBA players Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant - left the region to attend other schools.
"I have grown tired of all the excuses being made for a once-proud program that has dropped to drastic depths," said Terrapins fan Bob Lancione of Towson.
Williams' hopes for next season rest on the development of current players, such as junior Greivis Vasquez, junior Landon Milbourne and freshman Sean Mosley. Williams hopes to have more size on the team because of signing forward-center Jordan Williams from Torrington, Conn., and forward James Padgett from Brooklyn, N.Y.
"I'm looking forward for those guys coming in here," Williams said.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Can Maryland rebound from its 41-point loss at Duke? The Terps came back earlier in the season from a blowout loss to Georgetown to beat Michigan and win seven in a row. The Terps need Greivis Vasquez to emerge from his shooting slump.
WHAT IT MEANS
BOSTON COLLEGE (15-6, 3-3) @MARYLAND (13-6, 2-3)
Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM
Line: Maryland by 6 1/2