Apologies for getting sidetracked on the Maryland year in review series. But there’s still eight to go, and hopefully they’ll all get cranked out by the end of the week.
Up right now: Cliff Tucker, who certainly showed glimpses of just how good he might be at times but struggled to earn extended playing time for much of the year.
It was an odd season for the Texan, who began the year in the starting lineup, gradually faded from the rotation, didn’t even play in a Jan. 31 against Miami (much to his chagrin) and then produced his only two double-digit nights after Thanksgiving against the eventual national champion.
The finale against Memphis summed it up: A decent pass or two, the ability to exploit an open look, an occasional head-scratching play and something getting in his way (in this case, an elbow from a Memphis player that led to some stitches around an eye).
It was, to be fair, an erratic year —- but it’s not difficult at all to see upside if you’re watching closely enough. Obviously, the 22-point performance in the Feb. 21 upset of North Carolina was the highlight of his season.
But Tucker contributes a lot when allowed to settle in for an extended time. He’ll set an ideal screen, lob a perfect pass, block a shot from behind … things that can add up to make him more valuable than a guy playing 12.2 minutes a game.
At the same time, he’s clearly a guy still learning —- both a position and situations at a level a little higher than West Texas high schools.
Tucker is a guy who frequently says he loves to pass as much as anything else on the floor, and if it wasn’t for a glut of combo guards (Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes topping that list), it would be fascinating to see how he well he ran the point for spurts.
Given Maryland’s personnel for next year (Hayes, Adrian Bowie, possibly Vasquez), maybe that doesn’t happen. But if things break right, he’ll be better prepared to deal with foul problems (the home Duke game was a study in getting derailed by a whistle or two) and shake the occasional tentative play from his game that probably comes from playing in brief bursts rather than over longer stretches.
It’s not unheard of for a Maryland guard to make a leap in the second half of a career —- and Tucker’s stats don’t look that much unlike a couple of excellent wing guards from the recent past through two years:
Now, Tucker is taller than either Sarunas Jasikevicius or Drew Nicholas, and both of those guys obviously did rather well for themselves down the road. So lumping them together right now isn’t entirely fair to Tucker, even if their stats at their career midpoints aren’t that far out of line.
But Jasikevicius and Nicholas also had some rather stellar players (Johnny Rhodes and Juan Dixon, respectively) in front of them in the early part of their careers. So too does Tucker, given Vasquez’s presence.
The preseason pick for Maryland’s breakout player was Tucker; instead, it was either Bowie or Dave Neal, depending on your vantage point.
But the glimmers are there to suggest Tucker can still make an imprint. Others have nudged their way into larger roles in the past. If the versatile and athletic Tucker can learn from his up-and-down sophomore season, he might just be the next.
—- Patrick Stevens