Friday, December 30, 2005

Rumors swirl around Belton

The "facts" behind the Kenny Belton recruitment are growing more uncertain by the day. The Baltimore Sun is reporting from anonymous members of the Maryland staff that Belton never received an offer from Maryland and is therefore not a commit. Belton's father and coach seemed to imply in a Greensboro paper that Belton had received an offer. Nothing is clear about these reports at the moment. The staff is not allowed to officially comment on players who have not signed a letter of intent, which means not till next year for class of 2007 players.

Two scenarios seem likely: there was a miscommunication between the staff and Belton's family or that there is something nefarious going on here. I'm not a conspiracy theorist but it seems odd that Belton came out of nowhere to garner a scholarship offer when Maryland is still going after some of the elite recruits in the '07 class. Maybe some people are trying to make it seem that Maryland is winding up its '07 recruiting so that it will reduce the competition for some of the elite recruits the Terps are still in the running for? Unlikely, but something to consider. The simplest explanation would be just a miscommunication. That wouldn't exactly make things honky dory when you consider the Shane Clark fiasco that occurred only a few months ago.

Around the ACC

Georgia Tech got routed by Utah yesterday 38-10. How could a team upset Miami just a month ago and get embarrassed like that in a bowl game? Answer: Chan Gailey is the coach.

Florida State linebacker A.J. Nicholson was suspended from the teams Orange Bowl game versus Penn State for violation of team rules. There is an ongoing investigation of a allegation of rape against Nicholson. Nicholson was also arressted in the off season for DUI and resisting arrest. This continues the great Bowden tradition of having to suspend players right before their bowl games. Great publicity for the ACC!

In basketball Virginia Tech goes on the road to play Old Dominion and NC State hosts George Washington. Old Dominion should be the favorite in this game as they are 4-0 at home with wins over Georgia, George Mason and DePaul, which are better wins that the Hokies possess right now. ODU also nearly upset Wisconsin earlier in the year and that is one of the toughest places to play in the nation. I'd be surprised if VT pulls off a victory.

The NC State game is more interesting. The high flying and slightly reckless style of the Colonials versus the plodding slow tempo of the Wolfpack. I doubt State's seniors will get rattled like Maryland's did, especially not at home. There will be some matchup problems for the frontcourt of NC State on defense. The Colonials are much more athletic at those positions. As always with State if their 3-pointers are not falling then they will struggle but I expect them to take better care of the ball and pull out a close win.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

We're in Delaware, exciting Delaware.

Actually, I like the Delaware beaches very much but I always thought that Wayne's World skit was funny. Yes, yes, the game.

The poor 2nd half left a bad taste in my mouth, but surprisingly Gary Williams didn't sound too angry about the spotty play that allowed Delaware State to shave 13 points off Maryland's halftime lead by the 10 minute mark. Perhaps he wasn't so perturbed because the defense in the 1st half was so dominating that he must have been giddy at the half. Delaware State only shot 25% in the first half and went to the break with 13 points. They won the MEAC last season and are one of the favorites again this year so they are no pushover in spite of their 2-9 record. All but one of those games was on the road and both Michigan and UCLA struggled to score against their variation of the Princeton offense. It was the first time Maryland was held to under 70 points this season but Maryland still shot a very nice 46% from the floor.

Nik Caner-Medley had a fantastic game. I've been very critical of Nik but felt if he changed the way he played and his shot selection he would be a better player. So far this year both things have happened. He's becoming a true leader on the floor and is doing a great job picking his spots. His scoring may be down from last year but he is playing a much better all around game. He is now passing up open perimeter shots and driving to the basket, where he is converting as well as anyone on the team save Ibekwe. His effort on defense is light years ahead of where it was last season. He'll never be a great defender but his 5 steals last night attest to his renewed dedication to defense. Those who would clamor for Mike Jones to get Nik's minutes need to sit down with a tape of the game and watch their respective play. If you still feel that way afterwards we need to get you some help.

Ekene Ibekwe continues to improve as well. He notched his second straight double-double and fourth straight double digit scoring performance. He's shooting at a 55% clip from the floor and a respectable 67% from the foul line. Ibekwe's emergence is in no small measure due to his ability to stay out of foul trouble this year. In the game last night he passed up a chance to swat at a wing player who came in for a layup, realizing that the basket was not worth him picking up another foul and his value to the team was more important. He has emerged as the most reliable post player for Maryland.

Unless there is some practice issue I still don't understand why Travis Garrison is starting over James Gist. He rebounds a little better than Gist but that is about the extent of his advantage. Gist is far more athletic and active on defense and offense. Travis had another of his notorious slow starts last night when he went 1-6 for 2 points in his first 15 minutes on the floor. Yet Gary Williams insists on starting him game after game. Perhaps Gist isn't earning it in practice but Maryland has a much better chance to go deep into the postseason if Gist is starting by the middle of January. Garrison's offense consists of three basic moves: baseline jumpers, a fade away from the middle of the lane and the spot up jumper from the foul line. That's it. He doesn't get to the foul line much, only one attempt per 5.6 minutes, and for someone with a nice shooting touch has terrible hands.

The Terps are still turning the ball over way too often, with 17 last night. The half court trap that Delaware State went to in the 2nd half gave the Maryland guards some real trouble. Expect ACC coaches to study that film. The guards need to do a better job of passing before the double team collapses on them.

James Gist scored 8 points while only shooting 2 field goal attempts last night. That's what good foul shooting will do for you.

Chris McCray was benched for being late to a team meeting. I love Chris but a senior team captain shouldn't be oversleeping.

Around the ACC

NC State has to have a $5 ticket promotion from Harris Teeter to sell out a Friday night game against 12th ranked George Washington.

Clemson lost in its first real test of the season at Georgia 72-69 but the worse news is that PF James Mays, their leading rebounder and best post presence, has become academically ineligible for the rest of the season. Clemson will become even more guard and perimeter oriented. Unfortunately their outside shooting has been a weak spot all season.

Boston College will get 6-10 Sean Williams back from his drug arrest suspension in time for ACC play. It remains to be seen what kind of shape Williams is in, but his defense and shot blocking are desperately needed by the Eagles.

Air Force is now 2-0 versus the ACC with wins over Miami and Georgia Tech. They defeated the Yellow Jackets last night 54-46. Air Force is a solid squad that will have a great chance at an NCAA bid. Georgia Tech will be in for a rough year, but the talented youngsters will pull off an upset or two.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

New basketball commit

As far as I know it was broken first by a loyal reader of this blog that junior F Kenny Belton, formerly of Salem, Virginia and now at Greensboro Dudley High in North Carolina, has accepted a scholarship offer from Maryland. The 6-7, 220 lbs combo forward had been gathering interest from some ACC schools but this news seems to have caught the recruiting services by surprise as none of them even had Belton listed as a Maryland prospect.

The Roanoke Times is also reporting this story, Salem is a suburb of Roanoke. I expect Belton to play power forward with his solid frame and post oriented offense. He averaged 14.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and shot 52% from the floor as a sophomore. He played on the Boo Williams AAU team with Maryland commit Eric Hayes and other high 2006 talent like Vernon Macklin, Duke Crews, Scotty Reynolds and Chris Wright. With many of those players being seniors Belton will get his chance to shine if he stays with Boo. I wouldn't be surprised to see Belton blossom like Duke Crews did this past year. Crews wasn't highly regarded until he started tearing up the AAU circuit with tenacious rebounding and defense. I'm not sure Belton will have that kind of blastoff but he will be a higher ranked recruit by the end of this school year.

ACC Notes
Looks like Virginia Tech will redshirt about half their team. Forward Wynton Witherspoon who has been battling a stress fracture in his foot will likely sit out the rest of this season. Robert Krabbendam, a reserve center who hasn't played at all this season with a knee injury will try to see if he can play effectively in the next few games before making a decision on redshirting. Not a good position with a bunch of ACC games coming up. Also reserve forward Terrance Vinson is also likely to redshirt. This makes an already thin Hokie team even more depleted. Don't expect them to compete for an NCAA bid. The ACC schedule will wear them down and you'll likely see another second half swoon like last season.

Tune to ESPN
On Saturday. Gonzaga will be playing St. Joes at 6pm in a game that will be shown on ESPN. If you are a fan of college basketball you must watch Adam Morrison any chance you can get. Once they get into the WCC schedule they likely won't be on national tv much so watch this maestro while you can. Watching him fight like a gladiator against John Calipari's Memphis mercenaries was a treat last night. If Batista or Raivio had done better than 8-25 from the floor the Zags would have won on Memphis' home floor.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Top 25 Poll 12/26

1. Connecticut
2. Duke
3. Memphis
4. Illinois
5. Villanova
6. Washington
7. Gonzaga
8. Michigan State
9. Louisville
10. Florida
11. UCLA
12. George Washington
13. Texas
14. Nevada
15. Boston College
16. Maryland
17. Indiana
18. Iowa
20. Oklahoma
21. Wake Forest
22. Ohio State
23. Kentucky
24. Arkansas
25. Bucknell

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Sam's Season

Sam Hollenbach cost Maryland a bowl game. Sam Hollenbach had a dreadful end of the season. There will be changes at the quarterback position. Blah, blah, blah.

Lost in all this is that Hollenbach had one of the better statistical seasons for a quarterback in Maryland history. His 2005 season ranked 7th all time in passing yards, total yards, attempts, completions and completion percentage; 6th in yards; 12th in QB rating. In most of those categories it was the best season for a quarterback since the run-and-shoot days of Scott Milanovich in the mid-1990's. Only Scott McBrien had thrown for more touchdowns in a season since 1994, a list than includes Brian Cummings, Calvin McCall, Ken Mastrole, Shaun Hill and Joel Statham.

Hollenbach deserves some credit for the fact that Maryland was even 5-6. With Joel Statham, who is now bound for I-AA football, do you really think Maryland would have won any of the games they lost? Would they have beaten Navy or North Carolina? Doubtful. Without Hollenbach Maryland would likely be 3-8 to end this season, ponder that.

Yes, Sam locks onto receivers sometimes, he gives up too many sacks holding onto the ball, he has a propensity for turnovers. All this is true. He is also the best quarterback on the roster and will be again in 2006.

Basketball Roundup

Duke handled St. John's at Durham. Both freshman McRoberts and Paulus are playing better and the heart of the team, Williams and Redick, are always solid. They still have no bench, which only provided 10 points.

UNC lost on the road to USC, 74-59. They had 25 turnovers and shot only 37% from the floor. This is still a very young team which only has one notable win against a mediocre Kentucky squad. They will fall out of the rankings once ACC play starts if not sooner.

This could be a rough night for the ACC. Miami hosts the resurgent Florida Gators, a game they could desperately use if they hope to keep their slim NCAA chances alive. Wake Forest and N.C. State both go on the road at Richmond and Alabama respectively. It is the first real test State has had since a road game at Iowa and Wake is trying to right the ship after the bad De Paul loss from last week. Road games are never easy but they should be able to handle a scrappy Spiders team.

A fabulous website for basketball scores and analysis is The Mid-Majority. They have offensive and defensive ratings for each game and a slew of other statistical analysis for each contest. Check it out.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Happy Holidays

Thanks to all my loyal readers, all three of you. It's been a fun year and I feel like this blog has really started to grow in the last few months. It has been a real pleasure to share my passion for Maryland sports with all of you. I wish all of you a happy and safe holiday season and New Years.

It has been a crazy week at my paying job so I apologize for not posting much this week. I'll try to post more in the coming days, including a short analysis of QB Sam Hollenbach's season.

Motor Voter

I've been asked to be a member of the College Basketball Bloggers Association or the "CBBA" college basketball poll. Every Monday I'll have a top 25 poll for college basketball during the season. As a result I'll try to watch more college basketball games and maybe comment on a few here.

Shane Clark
According to CBSsportline's Gregg Doyel former Maryland recruit Shane Clark is eligible to play for Villanova this coming week in the annual Big Five game against Le Salle.

Monday, December 19, 2005

"Lights Out" for Colts perfect season

Former Maryland standout Shawne Merriman helped his San Diego Chargers end the Colts 13 game winning streak and put to rest any chatter about the Colts having a perfect season. As he did when he played for Maryland Shawne Merriman played his best in the biggest game. He recorded 7 tackles and was credited with 2 sacks, while reeking all kinds of havoc on the Colts pass protection. He pressured Peyton Manning on numerous occasions and ran him down on a critical red zone 4th down early in the game. With 9 sacks already this season Merriman is the frontrunner for defensive rookie of the year in the NFL. Getting drafted by Marty Shottenheimer was the best thing that could have happened to Merriman. Shottenheimer knows how to coach aggressive linebackers like the late Derrick Thomas and Merriman.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Portis likely to transfer to Maryland

If you read my previous column you can imagine I'm not doing any cartwheels over this pickup. Portis is more along the lines of the "typical" Fridge quarterback: he can throw and run with equal ability, but I'm not going to predict he'll be the next Joe Hamilton. He was a highly rated quarterback out of high school, having been considered the 4th best "dual threat" QB by, but this is now his third college choice if he come to Maryland. He backed out of a commitment to Utah when Urban Meyer left for Florida and now has quit on the Gators and Meyer. This is not a good sign. He had 81 yards passing in limited mop up duty for the Gators this past season so we really don't know what were going to be getting in 2007, when he'll be cleared to play after sitting out next season due to transfer rules. Hopefully by then Portis will have grown up a little and stop letting his meddling mother run his life.

The 2007 QB situation just got even more crowded. Now Jordan Steffy, Chris Turner, Jeremy Ricker and Portis will fight it out for the starting job in '07. Unless Steffy wins the offseason QB competition this year none of those players will have significant experience. Friedgen has been unable to develop his own quarterback since he has come to Maryland. Joel Statham was a failure, Jordan Steffy hasn't show much promise even when he's healthy which isn't often, and it appears the coach is about ready to throw Sam Hollenbach overboard too. I think that would be a mistake, but we'll see.

Recruit Update

Class of 2007 shooting guard Jeff Jones, who committed to Maryland last month, poured in 34 points in a win over Archbishop Wood the other day. This kid can flat out score folks. He was a great pickup for the '07 class and will be a top 50 player when the final rankings come out.

Class of 2006 commits Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes also both played at Potomac high school the other day, Milbourne for Oak Hill and Hayes for the home school. Hayes scored 19 in an upset win over Baltimore's McDonogh high and Hoya commit DaJuan Summers. Hayes nailed three out of four free throws to ice the game in a 55-54 victory.

Milbourne's Oak Hill crushed an overmatched Herndon high 106-74. Milbourne is showing some very nice shooting range that he didn't have last season.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Terp's hire new defensive coach

Ralph Friedgen announced that he hired Chris Cosh, formerly the linebackers coach for Kansas State, to be the new defensive coordinator, linebackers coach and to assist with recruiting . Cosh held the title of recruiting coordinator at Maryland in 1997 before leaving for Michigan State. It is assumed that Cosh was attractive to Friedgen because of his local contacts since he is from the DC area and a Maryland native. Cosh played at Virginia Tech before an injury ended his career. He's since bounced around a bunch of teams and has been at four different programs since leaving Maryland.

In case it wasn't obvious I'm very skeptical of this hire by Big Ralph. In examining Cosh's resume it isn't all that impressive and in some ways is downright alarming. Consider the three defensive coordinator jobs he's already had in his young career: Illinios 1995, Michigan State 1998 and South Carolina 2003. None of those teams had a winning record for those years and he wasn't asked back for a second year in any of those three seasons. A little concerning, hmm? If he was really a promising young defensive coach why would three different programs send him packing?

In all three of those seasons his defenses had some real drubbings, at least 3 times each season his teams gave up over 30 points a game including allowing 63 points in a blowout to Clemson (South Carolina) and 51 points in a slaughter by Penn State (Illinois). Blackney's defenses only gave up 30+ points 6 times in his first 4 seasons, and giving up those points to Steve Spurrier's Gators or Florida State is a might different than Indiana and Clemson. In Cosh's three seasons as a coordinator his teams gave up 24.5, 26.2 and 18 points per game, which isn't very impressive.

Cosh was saying the same kinds of things about not tampering with the defense of his predecessor and keeping an aggressive scheme when he replaced Charlie Strong, who departed South Carolina for Florida. Well that didn't turn out too well as Holtz fired him after one season in which his defense gave up 36 points and 463 yards of offense per game in its final six.

Another issue that makes me slightly uneasy about this hire is that he can't helped but be tainted by the scandals that rocked South Carolina under Lou Holtz. Going to someplace like Kansas State after that debacle isn't exactly like going to Lordes to get your sins absolved, it's more like going to Bangkok.

I don't quite understand why Fridge made this choice so quickly, as he had said before that they would wait to talk to a few assistants after the bowl season was over, unless he feels he will lose out on some of the top defensive recruits due to the uncertainty. Phillip Taylor and Akeem Hebron, who has committed to Georgia, come to mind and is it just coincidence that the Bulldog commit is taking an official visit to Maryland in the near future? Might be a better sell if he can actually talk to the linebackers coach, hyped as a linebacker "guru", and new defensive coordinator.

There will be some fall out from this choice as no candidate from the coaching staff was promoted. Don't be surprised if Dave Sollazzo moves on soon. I'm not sure how the choice of Cosh will turn out but there isn't much to get excited about right now.

Add another entry into the out-of-control parent file for college recruiting these days. Josh Portis, who was intensely recruited by Maryland last season, has announced he will transfer from Florida because he didn't get enough mop up duty in their blowout of FSU. This is the state of major college sports, a freshman quits because he didn't get enough garbage time in a blowout. His mother spent the whole week blabbing in the Florida papers about why he was leaving; genius move there, mom. She already dragged the poor kid out of two high schools because she didn't see eye-to-eye with the coach. Like Derrick Williams and his papa this is a package deal with Portis and his mother that you don't want any part of, fellow Terps. Sad thing is that Josh is reputed to be a nice kid, but his mother is trying her best to ruin his life.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Undead rivalry

No, I'm not talking about how George Romero didn't like the Zack Snyder remake of his original Dawn of the Dead film. I'm talking about the attempted resurrection of the long expired Maryland Georgetown "rivalry". It's not alive, yet it won't die either. It seems to be all over the media these days, especially around the BB&T tournament last week, and everyone seems to want to see it resume. Everyone except the two programs that is. Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports is the latest to pimp this idea in his recent column. Davis is a local guy from Montgomery County so he has more interest in this game than the average national journalist. Frankly, I can't think of any national sports writer who would care about this matchup. It was never much of a rivalry even before it ended in the Lefty Driesell days. The one-time game at the old US Air Arena in 1993 didn't really change anything. After losing John Thompson decided that he had no interest in playing the return game he had promised Gary Williams at Cole Field House. And that was that.

This "rivalry" isn't based on what occurred on the court, unlike all worthwhile rivalries, it is based on the grudge of a promise broken. The 2001 meeting between the two schools in the NCAAs, when the game really mattered, didn't generate much excitement beyond the fact that Maryland advanced to the Sweet 16. Read between the lines of the quotes from Gary Williams and John Thompson III and there is about zero enthusiasm from either program to see this series revived. It is as dead as Jimmy Hoffa.

I grew up in the Washington area and never quite understood the infatuation with this "rivalry" among some of the locals. I'm not sure what the point is for Maryland to play this game anyway. In the last 15 years there is no comparison between the programs and Georgetown hasn't done much of note to change that in recent years. Short of a Georgetown alum who now writes for the Washington Times no one seriously believes that the Hoyas will overtake Maryland on the local sports scene anytime soon either.

As long as Gary Williams is the coach at Maryland this game will never happen, regardless of Ted Leonsis or anyone else.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Men's soccer bags title

I'm not one of those guys that refuses to watch soccer. I thought the World Cup in 2002 was a very exciting sports event. At the same time soccer probably isn't likely to get me to turn off a Law & Order rerun on TNT. I did watch the last 40 minutes of the men's soccer national title game between Maryland and New Mexico, though it was an accident that I flipped on ESPN. It was a very physical match with New Mexico with lots of tackles and grabbing. Maryland's high powered offense struggled a little and made me more than slightly nervous but they played solid defense and freshman goalkeeper Chris Seitz was sensational, garnering comparisons to Brad Friedel. After their fourth consecutive final four in soccer Maryland broke through with its first soccer title since 1968. Along with the Field Hockey team Maryland now has two national titles already this season, not too shabby.

Wake me up

Did DePaul actually win at Wake Forest last night? It's not like Wake was playing the other Blue Demons, these are the Chicago version. It was the classic, if cliched, trap game. Coming off exams with few students around, a lightly regarded but talented opponent, first action in 10 days, looking past the non-conference games to an opening ACC showdown with Duke in January. Still it wasn't a game that Wake should have lost.

The Wake fans will howl about the foul shooting, but it was the Swiss cheese defense that killed Wake. Whenever the needed a defensive stop they just could not muster the intensity to prevent DePaul from hitting a killer shot. You just can't allow 51% shooting and expect to win. In a stunning turn Wake was also outrebounded 38-30, something that a team with Visser, Ellis and Eric Williams should never allow. Ellis is Wake's version of Travis Garrison. You look at him and think he should at least be a reliable low post player, if not dominating, yet he is enthralled with shooting jump shots from 15 feet.

Justin Gray really struggled with the taller DePaul backcourt. Without a meaningless 3-point basket as time expired he had scored 9 points on 2-10 shooting. It may take until the end of January before Williams and Gray have adjusted to life without Chris Paul. They have to make sure they don't dig themselves too deep a hole with Duke at home and road games at Maryland and NC State in the span of two weeks.

News & Notes

Former Duke player Michael Thompson, who transferred to Northwestern at the beginning of last season, is apparently out of college basketball. He has left the team due to health issues according to reports. I mention this to make a point about recruiting. Everyone assumes that Krzyzewski's recruiting is the gold standard for how to build a basketball program, pulling in McDonald's All Americans like they were on the dollar menu. I'm not going to try to pretend that Krzyzewski isn't the premier college coach, but I will say that those who wish Maryland recruited like Duke need to really think twice. Being able to crow about how many burger guys your coach has coming in only matters in the off season. Once November rolls around that kind of stuff is meaningless.

Thompson was part of a Duke 2002 recruiting class that was widely considered the best in the nation. Looking back the UNC class of Raymond Felton, Sean May, Rashad McCants and David Noel was clearly better but at the time Duke reigned supreme. Two of those players, Thompson and Shavlik Randolph were 5-star recruits, both burger all americans and ranked among the top 5 players in the nation at their position. Neither are on the Duke roster this fall. JJ Redick and Sheldon Williams were certainly solid gold players from that class but other 4-star recruits Sean Dockery and Lee Melchionni are merely roll players. Maryland's 2002 class of McCray, Garrison, Caner-Medley, and John Gilchrist was ranked only a few spots behind both UNC and Duke.

In the years since then Duke had Luol Deng in 2003 and Shaun Livingston, David McClure and Demarcus Nelson in 2004. Deng and Livingston both are in the NBA now, Livingston never even got on Duke's campus, and McClure and Nelson have been beset by injuries. So for the last three years Duke has only Sheldon Williams, Redick and Dockery to show for seven McDonald's selections. Not too great, though Williams and Redick are elite players. Even though Duke will still have about six McD AA players on their roster in 2006 I expect Duke to struggle with the departures of Williams, Redick and Dockery. This is an example of the importance of continuity over highly rated recruits.

Football Honors

More All-American honors for TE Vernon Davis and LB D'Qwell Jackson. Davis was voted to AP's 1st team and Jackson was voted to the 2nd team. This was the first time since 1952 that Maryland had two AP All-Americans in the same year and Davis was the first offensive player to win the honor since 1955. Don't think that the commitment of Drew Gloster, an All-Met selection at Good Counsel high school and top 30 WR in the nation, had nothing to do with the honors rolling in for Davis. Gloster will likely be tried at TE and used like Davis was in his two years as a starter. He'll be given the chance to start right away but I feel like Dan Gronkowski will be hard for him to beat out except on obvious passing downs.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Holiday Cheer

I guess you could indulge in all the cliches about "gritty" play and "gutting out" a win to describe the game last night. It was a fairly well played game for both sides in what seemed like an atmosphere more often seen in late January. Both of these teams are loaded with upperclassmen and it was the kind of game you would expect to see given that, except for the last 10 seconds which was a bizarre series of errors and mental mistakes by both teams.

Ekene Ibekwe again showed flashes of the type of player Terp fans hoped he would mature into last year. He finished with 21 points and 9 rebounds against a very good BC frontcourt. His baseline pivot moves are really turning into a fantastic weapon for him. If the other team gives him a little space and his teammates clear the lane with some good spacing on offense he can be deadly. He stayed out of foul trouble and sunk enough of his freethrows, while playing a career high 34 minutes.

Chris McCray came back in a big way from that sprained ankle scoring 16 points on 4-8 shooting along with 5 assists and 5 rebounds. McCray was a tad shaky in the 2nd half and had a team high 5 turnovers for the game, but he sunk his free throws when it mattered.

Strawberry got into trouble and only played 9 minutes in the first half after picking up two early fouls. In his place Parrish Brown and Sterling Ledbetter did a nice job in keeping the offense moving. Neither had a turnover in a combined 13 minutes in the 1st half, but they only played a total of one minute after halftime between them. Clearly Gary will still stick with DJ when the game is tight. Still it was valuable experience for both of them. The Boston College backcourt isn't going to scare anyone in the ACC but they held their own.

Nik Caner-Medley had a very nice game that was quietly effective. He grabbed 7 rebounds in the 2nd half and scored 9 points but rarely threw up a bad shot. His defense on Jared Dudley was more than acceptable. I think Nik was pressing a little in some of the early games, possibly feeling he needed to impress the NBA scouts in Maui, but has settled down recently. Through 9 games last season Nik had attempted 35 3-point shots and so far this season he's only jacked 13 attempts from beyond the arch. Improved shot selection has helped Caner-Medley and the Maryland offense.

Gary Williams started Travis Garrison again tonight. Partly due to James Gist's struggles and off of Garrison's big game against Western Carolina. He rewarded the honor by going scoreless and committing two fouls in only 8 minutes. He came out better in the 2nd half and scored 8 points while grabbing 3 rebounds. If you've read my blog you know I'm not Travis' biggest fan. I think he's much better suited as a bench player, given that he's a notorious slow starter. If Maryland is going to reach it's full potential this year James Gist must be more of a factor than Garrison, who is a fairly limited player by comparison.

Craig Smith earned the preseason All-ACC accolades he received. He is very similar to Maryland's Lonny Baxter. He is crafty around the basket and has great hands with a soft shooting touch. He can score against much more athletic big men. There is not a more technically solid low post player in the ACC. Lucky for Maryland he was limited by foul trouble, though he did play 37 minutes.

Jared Dudley is a great player but struggled last night. He only shot 6-15 from the floor and missed all four foul shots. He doesn't have much range and makes his living around the basket. Maryland prevented him from getting too many second chance points which he lives off. He's a nice player but he probably is the biggest mouth in the ACC, though teammate Sean Marshall also made a solid case. He taunted the Maryland students throughout the game and had been on record as relishing the opportunity to show up the obnoxious student section. If he hadn't been so focused on his gamesmanship he may have led his team to a victory.

Let's be honest, if BC had not shot a dreadful 33% from the free throw line they'd probably have won. To Maryland's credit they forced the deliberate BC offense into 18 turnovers but also got outrebounded 36-31 and allowed 52% shooting. There are things to work on.

Still, it was a great win for the team going into a nice break for exams. Maryland won't play again until the 23rd and ACC play doesn't start up till January 7th. Maryland should be 11-2 heading into road games with Miami and Duke.

Other Notes

How do some of these people get their jobs? Columnist Rick Maese wrote about DJ Strawberry's transition to PG this year and said this:

Strawberry finished last night with four points, four assists and three turnovers. He's tied for the Atlantic Coast Conference lead in turnovers.

If you're going to make a factual statement like that at least look up the numbers to make sure you're correct. I guess Maese has never heard of any of these guys:

Zam Fredrick 25
Justin Gray 38
Greg Paulus 24

Those numbers are their turnovers for the year. DJ has 23 for the season to go along with 44 assists. Get a new fact checker, please.

Friday, December 09, 2005

How's that working out for ya?

Is this as close as you'll come to an admission that he was wrong from Tom Knott? Apparently the Wizards are not better than they were last year and the departure of Juan Dixon hasn't improved their defense or offense as Knott suggested a few months ago. Antonio Daniels was supposed to be an upgrade over Dixon but he's averaging about half the points that Dixon is in Portland and is shooting worse, in most cases much worse, than Dixon from all over the floor. All this while playing more minutes per game. For this cretin Daniels ability to keep playing in spite of a field goal percentage that is abysmal only shows his "competitiveness". Uh, huh. I guess Dixon wasn't competitive even though he produced better numbers. Don't expect to look at the stats of the other "upgrade", Chucky Atkins, and have a favorable comparison to Dixon either. At least Knott didn't try to convince Wizard's fans that getting rid of Dixon and his "chucking" ways for two guys who can't shoot better than 35% from the field is a good thing. Not yet anyway.

Football News
So you thought the 5-6 season was a disappointment? Just wait till football signing day. Penn State has leveraged their impressive season and the efforts of the bitter little pied piper Derrick Williams into a very good recruiting haul in Maryland. Former Maryland leans OL Antonio Logan-El and DT Phillip Taylor are looking more and more likely to end up in Happy Valley. A highly rated linebacker Navarro Bowman, who was originally slated for Virginia Tech, committed to UPS this week. The 2005 season was a disaster in more ways than just on the field and the repercussions will be felt well into the off season. Maryland managed to hold onto DE Melvin Aleaze, who was in prep school this fall, but that only prevented it from being a disaster of Titanic like proportions. Maryland looks to lose out on all five Maryland seniors ranked in the top-100 nationally. I feel like the Maryland high school football scene is becoming very overrated but that is a bad sign for a program that hopes to upgrade itself and needs local kids to stay home.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Terps get healthy

In what amounted to a tune up Maryland blew away Western Carolina last night 87-57. In customary fashion they only led 39-35 at the half and I'm coming to the sobering conclusion that this team isn't going to blow the doors off any opponent in the first 20 minutes this year. Western Carolina is coached by a Herb Sendeck disciple and they play the same kind Princeton style offense. Perhaps it indicates that this team will again struggle with guarding NC State's perimeter shooters down the road.

The absence of SG Chris McCray and PF James Gist may have contributed to the offensive lethargy in this game. McCray was nursing a sore ankle that he injured in Maui and Gist was still feeling the effects of the rugby scrum that was the game on Monday. He played only 10 minutes before leaving the game with back spasms. Travis Garrison replaced him in the starting lineup and put up a career day with 23 points and 14 rebounds. It's always the same with Garrison, tantalizing ability that shows itself in flashes and then fizzles. This was only the seventh double-double of the former McDonald's All-American's career. Looking closer it's easy to see why Garrison was able to grab 14 rebounds against a team that was taunted with chants of "Frodo", as in the Hobbit, and score 12 points on put backs after rebounds. It was a nice game for Travis but don't expect some sort of revelation for this inconsistent senior. He leads the team in rebounding now, which isn't a fantastic achievement in that his fellow frontcourt teammates are great athletes but only mediocre rebounders. I have a feeling he'll be going back to the bench once James Gist is completely healed.

Both Gist and McCray should be ready for the Boston College game on Sunday.

Last night was also a small dose of reality for those who see Mike Jones as the panacea for all that ails this club. In 33 minutes he had 6 points, 1 rebound and 3 assists on 2-7 shooting. Not all that impressive. His defense is better but still a work in progress. I think Jones will have a nice senior year in 2006 but it isn't Gary Williams that is keeping Jones from being a superstar.

Football News
I'd like to forget the 2005 football season but first let's give credit to LB D'Qwell Jackson and TE Vernon Davis who both became the first All-Americans since EJ Henderson in 2002. Word has Vernon Davis declaring for the NFL draft as a junior, which shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Davis is a likely mid-first round pick in the spring, while Jackson is likely a 2nd or 3rd round selection.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Comedy of Errors

Step away from the ledge, put down your bullhorn and "Free Mike Jones" sign, use your hanky to wipe the poison spittle that collected at the corners of your mouth as you cursed every member of this team and calm the fuck down.

One game in December Terps fans, that's all it was. They certainly looked terrible at times and would cause anyone to wonder if this team would ever act like a bunch of seniors and juniors, however if you keep opening the oven every five minutes to check on it this cake is never going to rise. I'm not wavering from my feeling that this is a good team with a chance to be very good if they can mature through the season. I'm not going to make some silly statement like Mike Wise did in the Post about how GW was ready to take off as a program but they have enough talent to be one of the better teams in the ACC if they played there. Not top 3 but in the top half. It wasn't a bad loss like the bunch that happened the last week to Indiana, Iowa, Stanford and other top teams.

A few thoughts on some of the "conventional wisdom" that has come out of Monday's game. First is that DJ Strawberry can't play point guard again. Interesting that a kid who still averages more steals per game than turnovers can't play point guard because he had a rough night and turned the ball over 7 times. It was his worst game of the year, that is obvious, but to portray DJ as the reason Maryland struggled with turnovers is unfair and plain wrong. The other guys on the team committed 18 turnovers, which is usually bad enough to lose a close game by itself. Not one person on the team had more assists than turnovers and only McCray had an equal number of each. I suppose it is easier to single out Strawberry than to mention that every player on the team had at least one turnover and that 7 other players besides DJ had at least 2 turnovers. It's easy for the Post's beat reporter to mention that last season under Gilchrist Maryland never turned the ball over 25 times without mentioning that in last year's GW game Gilchrist had 5 turnovers himself and in the BB&T game against West Virginia the year before he had 8 turnovers. Unless Ledbetter or Parish Brown take point guard growth hormone they are not going to replace DJ, nor is Chris McCray.

Second, that GW's press caused the large number of Maryland turnovers. Couldn't be more ridiculous. Most of the turnovers by Maryland occurred in the half court, not in the open court on a press. The press did give Maryland some trouble, but resulted in only a few turnovers. For every turnover in the press GW probably committed two fouls, which isn't a good trade off. The Colonoscopies only scored 6 points off turnovers in the 2nd half compared to 9 points by Maryland. Only 7 of the 25 turnovers by Maryland were off steals. Their half court pressure did give Maryland fits. They succeeded in getting Maryland to play a sloppy and impatient style of offense that resulted in poor shots and few offensive rebounds. How many unforced turnovers were the result of traveling, offensive fouls and passes that just sailed out of bounds? More accurately, Maryland gave away too many possessions to win in a close game. A great defense doesn't give up 45% shooting from the floor which is what Maryland shot against GW. Their defense is even less impressive when you consider that they let Boston University shoot 56% the previous game. So let's not yap about GW's stifling defense, okay?

I'm sure at halftime Gary was wondering if he had left Mike Jones and Chris McCray back in College Park. The tandem totaled 2 shots in the entire opening 20 minutes. Two shots in a combined 25 minutes of play! I realize Gary's plan was to pound the ball inside to Gist and Ibekwe and early foul trouble by Jones and Ibekwe may have contributed, but that isn't a formula the Terps can live with this year. If I had said before the game that the SGs would have a combined 3 points would you have thought Maryland would be winning?

I love Chris McCray as a player. He's solid in almost every facet of the game and is a nice kid. Unfortunately, even as a senior, he isn't a leader. He just doesn't have it in him. It's not his fault, that's just the way he is. DJ may be the emotional leader of the team but McCray has to realize when the team needs him to step up. He did that in the 2nd half but he can't wait to do that in ACC play. The outcome would have been different if he hadn't been a non-factor in the 1st half.

The frontcourt play was very disappointing. Maryland should have had a huge advantage there. Gist never seemed the same after that collision around the basket and only had 1 point and 2 rebounds after the half. Ibekwe got himself into early foul trouble and wasn't a big factor on the boards, though he did come up with 7 points in the 2nd half. Free throw shooting by the group was abysmal as Ekene and Travis Garrison combined to go 7-13 from the line. Totally unacceptable, especially for Garrison who is a good shooter.

One positive note is that even though Maryland gave up 18 offensive rebounds they limited GW to 38% shooting for the game including 26% from 3-point range. The defense isn't perfect but it is improving.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Post game BB&T

What an atrocious display for Maryland. They played like a team of freshman and sophomores. McCray was a total non-factor in the first half, DJ pressed and turned the ball over, the frontcourt and bench for Maryland was dominated by GW, Nik Caner-Medley was unable to guard the quicker and athletic GW players, Travis Garrison couldn't hit his free throws; in short it was a total team effort. Even Gary Williams misused his bench and didn't switch over to the zone defense quick enough in the first half. Let's not make GW out to be a great team to mitigate the loss either. At best the Colonials are a round of 32 type of team. Maryland must improve dramatically to contend in the ACC.

The perspective is that this games doesn't mean much in the framework of the season. The Boston College game on Sunday is a game with much more meaning for the postseason hopes of the Terrapins.

Call it sour grapes, but the officiating in this game was a disgrace. The referees let the game turn into a rugby match. There was literally blood on the floor during the game. There were several missed calls including a technical foul on Mensah-Bonsu for slapping the backboard after a dunk. The bad calls went both ways.

ACC football season review

I won't hide from my predictions so let's review what I had said about the 2005 football season in the ACC. Here is my predicted order of finish and the actual record:

Predicted Actual
1. Florida State 7-4 (Florida State 7-4 )
2. Boston College 7-4 (Boston College 8-3)
3. Maryland 7-4 (Clemson 7-4)
4. Clemson 6-5 (NC State 6-5 )
5. NC State 5-6 (Maryland 5-6)
6. Wake Forest 4-7 (Wake Forest 4-7 )

1. Miami 10-1 (Virginia Tech 10-1 )
2. Virginia 8-3 (Miami 9-2)
3. Virginia Tech 7-4 (Georgia Tech 7-4 )
4. Georgia Tech 6-5 (North Carolina 5-6 )
5. UNC 3-8 (Virginia 6-5)
6. Duke 2-9 (Duke 1-10 )

So my biggest errors were Virginia Tech (3 games), Maryland (2 games), UNC (2 games) and UVA (2 games). I was surprised Vick played as well as he did. I expected him to play like he did against FSU and Miami the whole year but he only saved those turds for the big games. Virginia really underachieved with a senior QB and a bunch of returning players but injury and NFL defections hurt more than I thought they would. UNC was a surprise team. They were quite good for being relatively young. I probably got caught up in the Sam Hollenbach euphoria too much. The injuries to Heyer, Allen and Henderson were maybe more important than they seemed. For the most part I was pretty close either dead on with Wake and FSU, or only one game off for the other seven teams. Not great but not bad either. No worse than the ACC media hacks who get paid to cover these teams.

Should Maryland play in the BB&T?

To be blunt the answer to the above question is "no". Putting aside the money that the event raises for local charities for moment, from a pure basketball standpoint Maryland has nothing to gain from participating in this event. The Terps already play in the preeminent college basketball conference in America and get plenty of marquee national games as a result. Any program would jump at the chance to have a home and home series with Maryland. Maryland has nothing to gain from playing someone like George Washington, if they win everyone shrugs their shoulders, if they lose it is seen as a big upset. Forget about GW being ranked #19, no one across the country really believes that the Colonials are one of the top 20 programs in the nation. High profile teams are willing to come to the MCI center for the chance to play Maryland on a "neutral" court and that is the only reason. They don't come to play a team that barely matters in its home city let alone anywhere else.

With the BB&T becoming an all local event this year it makes even less sense for Maryland to participate. Unless this changes for next season I don't see Maryland participating. I don't have any interest in cultivating a rivalry like the Big Five in Philadelphia. You can't manufacture that kind of thing in the first place and moreover I could care less about GW or Georgetown. There are few if any ties between the schools and frankly neither are on Maryland's level. Georgetown may be able to build something under Thompson, but GW will always be a 2nd tier A-10 program. Maryland has enough great rivalries in the ACC and it doesn't need to create any more just because it would be neat for the "locals".

The Washington Post had a funny article about the BB&T and GW's obsession with Maryland. I suppose it is a natural result of the fact that Maryland is the preeminent local sports power, probably second only to the Redskins, and GW can hardly get a blurb in the sports section. Given that the GW students are dimwitted rich kids from New York and New Jersey it makes even more sense. During the Boston University game the students started chanting "We want Maryland!" and cheered when the score was posted showing Maryland behind to Minnesota. That shows the contrast in the programs only too starkly. Maryland was playing a nationally televised game against a Big Ten team that had made the NCAAs last year while GW can't get a major school to play them except in an away game. There is no rivalry with GW. Maryland always has far bigger goals than beating GW, such as winning the ACC or a national title, but for the Colonials it is normally the biggest game of their season. It must foster some bitterness when the highlight of your basketball season comes in December every year.

Dookie Miracle
Lost in all the hoopla surrounding Sean Dockery's last second heave that beat Virginia Tech the other night was how ordinary the Dookies looked. Against a totally over matched Hokies squad the Blue Devils shuffled through the game like zombies and yet developed a double digit lead with only a handful of minutes left in the game. The offense was lethargic and the defense porous. Sheldon Williams, in spite of 21 points and 19 rebounds, has been in some kind of funk this year. He isn't the dominant defensive player he was last season. The new players on Duke don't appear to have any sense of what their roles are and Paulus and McRoberts have struggled as a result. JJ Redick still chucks up shots he has no business taking and with Demarcus Nelson out Duke is suffering from a real lack of athleticism. They certainly don't look like the #1 team in the nation and I have a feeling we'll see that when the go to play Texas.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Seven year itch

The ACC won the seventh ACC/Big Ten Challenge, a made for ESPN event, in seven years. For the numerologists out there that is every event since it was started. The Big Ten isn't as bad as that record would indicate but this event seems fairly boring to me at this point. Maybe they'll do a better job of mixing opponents, but how exciting can it be to wonder if Maryland is going to play Wisconsin every year. The juice has been squeezed out of this event, though it makes you wonder why the other conferences don't get into this action. The SEC, Big XII, Big East and Pac-10 all stand around like dorks at the prom while the ACC and Big Ten prance around like Rodgers and Astaire. Does it really boil down to something as simple as the programs in those conferences don't have the twig and berries to play these high profile early season games? If the ACC can get NC State to play a decent team in the first month of the season the other conferences should be able to convince their members.

But, I digress.

Maryland survived a scare by the Gophers last night. Yes, they survived with a 17 point win. The slow start model that Maryland has been following since last season has been mentioned even on the radio so it can't be that important to discuss here. The real difference is last year's squad would have folded like origami after going down 23-8 as they did last night. I had the same feeling last year when they got torched by Clemson the first time. It was almost impossible to believe. I think I whispered something about point shaving to no one in particular when I saw the score. It was a bad first 10 minutes, not Iowa vs NC State bad, but hard to watch. Then Caner-Medley made some steals, who knew he played defense, and Mike Jones hit some threes and before you knew it Maryland was back within six at the half.

Once Dan Monson got ejected for a Network "I'm mad as hell" moment you knew it was over for Minnesota. They were scrappy and kept the score respectable for most of the game. The Gophers were not the pushovers that everyone assumed they would be without Vincent Grier, who had that look in his eye on the bench that said, "if I was playing we'd be killing them". Probably true. I'll spare you the cliched "trap" or "letdown" game discussion. Let's move on and discuss the play.

Travis Garrison got the start with both Ibekwe and Gist still weak from some stomach thingy. You could tell that both were drained, as they both missed free throws off the front rim. So Travis had his day with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Nice stat line, but the Gophers' early advantage was in some part due to his dreadful play in the first 6 minutes. In the second half Minnesota let him do the only thing he's very good at, spotting up with jumpers at the high post and shooting foul shots. If you prevent Travis from doing either of those he simply cannot hurt you. Despite grabbing 10 rebounds he let a decent rebounding Minnesota totally dominate Maryland on the glass. The final tally was 43-31, with 20 offensive rebounds, which makes me think we need a young priest and an old priest for the backboards in Comcast. I suppose I should accept Travis for what he is and rest easy that he isn't getting into the starting lineup any time soon. Back to the bench TG.

There are the various Mike Jones supporters who will claim he saved the game or maybe even a few diehard Caner-Medley fans who have been stuck on a desert island and just returned last night...nah, not even that would ever happen, but it was DJ Strawberry who really saved this game for the Terps. He took over in the 2nd half and his ferocious defense even seemed to rattle the other Gophers he wasn't even guarding. In the first two and a half minutes of the 2nd half Strawberry did the following:

  • Assist to Ibekwe for a monster dunk on first possession
  • One steal and another not credited to him but knocked into Garrison's hands for an easy layup on the press
  • Made two shots including a 3 point play
By the time he was substituted for Mike Jones with 17:26 left Maryland had routed Minnesota with a 13-1 run. He scored 12 points in the 2nd half on 4-7 FG attempts, made all 3 free throws, had two steals all with nary a turnover. Now do we understand why Gary Williams loves him, kids?

Gary will have plenty to work with in practice the rest of the week: defense, rebounding, shot selection. Still, considering Chris McCray disappeared for a large part of the game and the Terp's two best big men were stricken with an illness, it wasn't that bad of a night.

Did you know?
Maryland has six players averaging double digits in points at the moment? James Gist is some bad pizza away from making that seven players. There is no team in the league with better depth.

Other Game Notes

Duke vs Indiana: Killingsworth gave the Dookies all they could handle. 34 points on Sheldon Williams? Unbelievable. If the Hoosiers had anyone else who could score they may have won. Paulus looked very shaky against the Indiana pressure. Oh, and Redick scored 29 points on 10-17 shooting. Yeah, he stinks.

Georgia Tech vs Michigan State: Didn't see much of this game but it seemed to be similar to the Maryland game. Lightly regarded foe suprises overconfident favorite. Spartans looked flat to me. Tech played very well in a hostile environment. This will pay dividends later for Paul Hewitt. If Ra'Sean Dickey can play at that level in the ACC, look out. Still the Jackets will have more downs than ups this year.

NC State vs Iowa: Naismith was rolling in his grave last night. Whatever it was, this gruesome beast of a game wasn't basketball. Imagine sitting at halftime and having someone tell you that at 25-22 it was going to be even worse in the 2nd half? Both teams played so badly the CIA was whisking the tape of the game off to those secret prisons to replace the tortured bunny sounds used in the interrogations. I hear they even got how Osama likes his coffee. Iowa did everything possible to give the game away, but NC State would have found a way to lose even if you spotted them 4 points. I have a dreadful feeling that this is the way State is going to play more athletic teams(meaning every ACC foe) all year since it seems the only way they'll be able to win. Nice to see Herb Sendeck whining after Evtimov's phony attempt to get a foul called on his desperation chuck at the end. When you have to give the ball to Evtimov at the end of a game and hope he makes something happen, you're in trouble Herbie.

Northwestern vs Virginia: They're both very fine schools...oh yeah the game. Do I have to talk about this? If UVA can get this out of Reynolds and Diane on a regular basis they might have a fighting chance in the ACC, but they probably won't. It was on ESPNU, what else is there to say?

Must Read
Great article by Wilbon on why people in this town love Juan Dixon, and why you should too.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

ACC/Big Ten Challenge even

With five games to be played tonight the ACC/Big Ten Challenge is even at 3-3. It is possible that the ACC could squeak out a 6-5 victory tonight but that wouldn't do much to convince me that this is one of the least impressive collection of teams in recent memory for the conference. The matchups for the ACC were not all that bad and the bottom feeder squads like Clemson and FSU got good draws with some truly dreadful teams. The two new weak sisters of ACC basketball, Miami and Virginia Tech, both got embarrassed by middle of the road Big Ten teams. Unless NC State can pull what in my mind would be a huge upset at Iowa (who unlike State has actually played some very good teams so far) then the challenge will come down to Northwestern at Virginia of all games.

Some quick thoughts on last night's games:

Illinois vs UNC: Vitale was in superhype midseason form last night. Sure, UNC has some nice young players but did they really look that good? Not to me. Illinois was extremely sloppy and finished with more turnovers than UNC's collection of freshman. They held a double digit lead until squandering it in the last 6 minutes. Carolina won't be totally inept this year but they are going to take some brutal lumps in ACC play. Unless Reyshawn Terry gets going from the outside the Heels won't beat anyone very good.

Wisconsin vs Wake Forest: The Justin Gray show. There may not be a better pure scorer in the ACC than Gray. Unfortunately the Deacons also need a point guard. Wisconsin isn't known for it's full court pressure and the athletic teams in the ACC are going to test Wake's ballhandling to its limit. In spite of scoring 91 points the bench only chipped in 11, which means Gray will have to have many of these career games for them to beat the better teams in the ACC.

Miami vs Michigan: A brutal loss for the Hurricanes. It drops them to 4-3 on the season and even though it is still November makes the NCAAs a real longshot unless they can upset a few of the heavies on their schedule. My 8-8 prediction in the ACC looks very shaky at this point. They have to hope that the return of Hamilton is the missing ingredient because right now they don't look competitive at all. Diaz still guns the ball every chance he gets and probably scores the most worthless 20 points a game in college basketball. Their defense is atrocious. Michigan only shot 38% from the floor and still won by 21 points, incredible.

Clemson vs Penn State: It would be charitable to describe UPS as a basketball team. There are probably about 30-40 mid-majors that could go to Happy Valley and win on any given night. Clemson has a decent backcourt and is getting some interior play from Akingbala and Mays. Still, allowing UPS to score 88 points and shoot 52% from the floor is very concerning. When Long Island does a better job on defense against a team than you do it is a warning flag. I'm still holding to my prediction of Clemson being a surprise team but they can't rely on outscoring ACC foes.

FSU vs Purdue: Wow, they beat the Boilermakers by 40 points that must mean that FSU is really good. You might think that until you realize that FSU shot 60% from the field and over 50% from 3-point range, then recognize that Purdue shot 39% and turned the ball over 28 times. They should have rolled a utterly terrible Purdue squad. Alexander Johnson has dropped so much weight he looks almost unrecognizable and if he shapes up his attitude as well he could be a solid player. One major concern, Purdue out rebounded FSU 35-27 and grabbed 18 offensive rebounds. It's not like Purdue has the kind of frontcourt that the Seminoles will see on a nightly basis in the ACC.

Virginia Tech vs Ohio State: Do we really have to call the Hokies an ACC basketball team? Maybe "former Big East squad" would be a better name for everyone. This is an ugly team. Apparently guards Jamon Gordon and Zabian Dowdell were miffed that they were not included on the preseason All-ACC lists, have they been smoking JJ Redick's Panama Red trip weed? The Hokies have little inside game and lack the toughness that Carlos Dixon brought to last year's team. They were getting blown out by 20 points to a fairly mediocre Buckeye team until a furious comeback fueled by some bad shot selection on OSU's part made it a "respectable" 13 point loss. With a 5-2 record already and Duke coming up I think you can forget any talk about the Hokies in the NCAAs, or contending for a top 4 finish in the ACC.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Whaa, whaa, whaa

Jim Boehiem and Jim Calhoun did their best crybaby routines in interviews with Andy Katz about the experimental 20 feet 9 inch 3-point line.

"This is a bad experiment,'' Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of moving the line out a foot for all exempted tournaments in the first few weeks of the season.

"This is changing kids' whole game for two weeks and then going back to the old line. It's like playing on a 12-foot basket for two weeks. It's idiotic.''

"I didn't realize how the results would play out. I didn't understand it until I saw the results,'' Calhoun said.

Poor little babies. I guess Calhoun is whining because so far Denham Brown and Rudy Gay couldn't hit the Grand Canyon from 3-point range this year. Perhaps Boeheim realizes what everyone else who looks at the stat sheets already knows, that Gerry McNamara is the most overrated shooter in college basketball. Not even his putrid 37% FG shooting last season could convince "analysts" that he wasn't some deadly outside threat.

Katz goes on to say: "The other half of Calhoun's theory, though, is that the mid- or low-majors will benefit from the added distance. Why? They have plenty of shooters -- at times, that's all they have -- and won't have to bother alternating their offense up to go inside."

I see. So all these chump teams have is shooters and now with the line further out they are not going to waste time dumping it inside like they would have when the 3-point line was closer. Slowing down the game and hitting 3-point shots is really the only way these teams can win against the paid professionals at places like Syracuse and UConn. How does moving the 3-point line further back help them do this? Bucknell only shot 6-15 from 3-point range in their upset of Syracuse, not bad, but not the reason Syracuse lost either.

What these two are pathetically whining about is that they don't have shooters good enough to do much damage from the new distance. The rules don't suit their players so they don't like them. The rules don't suit the way these two Big Cheat coaches recruit their players either so I guess that makes for some consistency.

Calhoun also predicted that the shooting percentages would drop dramatically during the Maui Classic where the experimental distance was being used. Let's look at the actual numbers:

3-point shooting
Gonzaga 43%
Maryland 40%
Michigan State 39%
Kansas 33%
Arizona 32%
Arkansas 32%
UConn 32%

As a group these teams shot 36% from outside, not bad for a team average especially if you consider most were flying around 10 hours across the country and playing on three consecutive days. Maryland was one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the ACC last year and they did fine.

If Mark Few can find players who are not stymied by shooting another 12 inches further back I'm sure Boeheim and Calgoon can find a few pay-for-play guys who can, if they look hard enough.

2005 All-ACC Football

Another media vote on the top players in the ACC. As expected D'Qwell Jackson was 1st team All-ACC at linebacker and recieved more votes than any other player at the position. In a nice ending to what was the best surprise of the season RB Lance Ball was voted 2nd team All-ACC after finishing with 903 yards and 6 touchdowns. Lance did all that only started 4 games and only lead the team in rushing attempts in 6 games before the coaches finally figured out he was the best running back. Ball is only a sophomore and the running back position suddenly seems in good shape for next season. Adam Podlesh was voted 2nd team All-ACC and had another excellent year. He averaged 43.6 yards per punt and dropped 17 punts inside the 20 yard line.

A few morons didn't vote for Vernon Davis for 1st team All-ACC at tight end. They should have their voting privileges revoked. What absolute idiot would vote for Jeff King or T.J. Williams? Davis lead the ACC in receiving yards and averaged over 17 yards a catch, while also scoring 6 touchdowns. Williams and King may be decent tight ends but they are not even in the same universe as Davis. How could anyone with half a brain think differently?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Basketball is rolling

Maryland rebounded from the opening loss to Gonzaga in the Maui Classic to rip off two wins. The kids look sluggish and unfocused in an early morning game with Chaminade but pulled away for the easy win in the 2nd half. They had a tougher time against Arkansas who was coming off a single digit loss to Connecticut and a single point win against Kansas. Arkansas is a tough team and will be in the mix for an NCAA bid out of the SEC. The have a decent inside-outside game and a go to guy in Ronnie Brewer. The game was fairly even till about 10 minutes left when Arkansas' shooting went cold and Maryland pulled away. DJ Strawberry fouled out and Maryland showed it may be able to weather that storm if they need to later in the year. Sterling Ledbetter came in the game and, along with Chris McCray, was able to run the game with efficiency.

Don't look now but...

I almost don't want to mention it for fear of jinxing him but Ekene Ibekwe is becoming a force in the middle for the Terrapins. He has scored in double digits in 4 out of 5 games this season, leads the team in rebounding and, most shocking of all, is shooting 80% from the free throw line. He led the surge which put away Arkansas and added 4 steals and 3 blocks to go along with 16 points. All of a sudden he has a collection of low post moves and is very active on the defensive end and rebounding. With James Gist experiencing some growing pains while staying in the starting lineup, mostly due to some poor shot selection, Ibekwe has been a revelation. With Ekene his flaw has always been his inconsistency so we'll see if he can keep this hot streak going.

We have a point guard, for now anyway. DJ Strawberry will likely come out November with an excellent 2.8 assist to turnover ratio. His defense is still very good, though he gambles too much sometimes, and he has more steals than turnovers for the season. Regardless of who you are playing 12 assists and no turnovers, Strawberry's line from yesterday's game against Nicholls State, is an impressive stat line. He's doing exactly what Gary Williams wants him to do at the position and seems to already have a better feel for when to take his own shot or get his teammates involved than departed PG John Gilchrist ever had in the last two years.

ACC/Big Ten Challenge
More than a few are saying it but this could be the first year that the Big Ten wins the challenge in six tries. I think it will be close and a 6-5 record by whichever conference ends up winning. The ACC will need a few road upsets to win and I don't think that is likely to happen. The only complete "lock" win for the ACC might be Maryland over Minnesota. With Miami and Virginia Tech looking like weak sisters I doubt either will be able to go to a hostile Big Ten campus and pull an upset.

The Future is Bright
Maryland added another elite 2007 recruit over the weekend. Jeff Jones (6-3, 190lbs, 19.5 ppg) is a shooting guard from outside Philadelphia who is a 4-star player by most recruiting services. He is already an early top 100 player and top 15 at his position with a good possibility of moving up the board even further this season. He is regarded as a scorer with the ability to create his own shot and a dangerous perimeter game. Maryland got involved with Jones late in the recruitment and snatched him out from under Villanova and Georgia Tech. Rob Moxley landed Jones with only about a month worth of contact. Jones cited the chance to play in the ACC, proximity to his home and the tradition of Maryland's program. Jones is also considered a very good student. He played in the last two Philly All-City Hoop Classics that produced Duke's Gerald Henderson(#3 SG in the nation for 2006) and UNC commit Wayne Ellington(the #1 ranked SG). In those tournaments he put up 20 points a game and it is likely that his ranking will rise with Jones following in the footsteps of elite guards like those two.

In looking at the 2006 class that was largely unheralded they will still finish as a top 25 group. Now in 2007 Maryland has already landed two top 100 players in C Braxton Dupree and Jones. Another 4-star player, PF Dino Gregory, is rumored to be on his way to Maryland as well. With the three players committed or likely to commit the Terps already have a top 25 class that could finish as one of the top classes in the country if Moxley can land a few other elite players. Several elite recruits like C Kosta Koufos, PF Julian Vaughn and PF James Hickson are on Maryland's list. The early momentum from Jones and Dupree could snowball into a number of other early commits for 2007. Though Vaughn has been enamored with UNC and Duke for some time it is possible that the waves that Maryland is making will catch his attention. Vaughn is one of the best low post players in the junior class with a polished game and ability to score inside or outside, think a less physical Marvin Williams. Clearly he would be a phenomenal catch.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Tidy Bowl

7 Sacks allowed
14 Penalties for 93 yards
4 turnovers
2 missed field goals

In the most important game of the year, what amounted to a bowl elimination game, Maryland produced that ignominious collection of statistics. You would have expected a undisciplined rabble like NC State to produce those yardsticks of failure but it was Ralph Friedgen's squad that bumbled its way to a second consecutive losing season. The kinds of teams that produce those kinds of performances have one thing in common, poor coaching. What else explains the sending poor Dan Ennis out to attempt two field goals of 44 yards or more when he had missed his last 3 field goals from greater than 40 yards, often badly?

It might be considered heresy to take a harsh look at the holy budda coach that Ralph Friedgen has become but it is about time that Terp fans taste a little dose of reality. In the last two seasons Maryland is 1-8 versus teams coached by Tommy Bowden, Chuck Amato, Rich Rodriguez, Al Groh and Chan Gailey. Ponder that for a moment. All coaches that most Maryland fans feel are inferior to the "offensive genius", also known as Ralph Friedgen. Only one win against the trio of Clemson, West Virginia and NC State would have made Maryland bowl eligible in each of the last two seasons, but there were no wins to be had against any of them. In the last two seasons Maryland is a combined 3-7 in its last five games.

Maryland wasn't prepared for their game against NC State. The Wolfpack had come into the game having lost 6 conference games in a row at home, including the last three by a combined 82-50 score. This season NC State had only scored over 20 points in one conference game. I could go on but I think you've gotten my point. They were the kind of team that in years past would have been a tasty morsel for budda to scarf down on his way to a major bowl game. These days Maryland is the team that schools step on to climb up the conference ladder.

When balls were bouncing the Terp's way in the first three years of Ralph's tenure he was the jolly, lovable, and portly coach. Now that the losses are piling up he's become a prickly, grouchy and generally unlikable whiner. Who can forget his comment after last season's rout by Virginia Tech that he would quit if things kept going that way. For a guy who has a 10 year contract that was renegotiated I expect more than a threat to quit when things look bad. He snapped at reporters who asked about the status of seniors Derrick Fenner and William Kershaw who were suspended for their roles in the Halloween night brawl at a local bar. The most inexcusable comment in my mind was his verbal cheap shot to quarterback Sam Hollenbach.

"We can't have a quarterback playing the way he did the last three games," Friedgen said. "Some changes are going to be made somewhere if we keep throwing interceptions all the time."
Hmm, I seem to recall Joel Statham throwing 15 interceptions last season without this kind of statement. To the contrary he started game after game, or should I say loss after loss, and gave Maryland virtually no chance to win with his impotent play. Friedgen kept repeating his mantra about how Statham was a good practice player and just needed to translate it into his gameday play. He never did of course and it took 10 starts for Friedgen to realize that Statham wasn't a legitimate division I-A player. This is from a coach that some consider a quarterback "guru".

Let's briefly review what Sam Hollenbach has done for Maryland the last 12 months.

He won the last game of the season in 2004 so that Maryland could salvage a 5-6 season and end a two game losing streak. In the offseason he stayed at Maryland instead of transferring like most expected him to do even though he was given no promises by Ralph Friedgen. Without Sam the "offensive genius" would have been lucky to win 3 games this season. It would have been the Joel Statham horror show without any safety net since Jordan Steffy was injured and unavailable most of the season.

In spite of a makeshift and mediocre offensive line, which was starting a tight end at left tackle for the first third of the season, and no settled running back, Hollenbach was effective enough to go 4-2 in the first 6 games of the season. He was 1st or 2nd in passing yards for most of the season and completed over 60% of his passes, incidentally the only QB in the Friedgen era to accomplish either of those feats.

In the 7th game of the season against Virginia Tech Hollenbach injured his non-throwing shoulder while scrambling for a first down. He tore ligaments surrounding his clavicle that will require offseason surgery but continued to play after missing most of the Florida State game subjecting himself to further risk of injury. He was sacked 18 times in his final four games, hurried about twice as much and pounded with hits in all those games because of an offensive line unable to protect him. This coincided with the emergence of Lance Ball, which makes you wonder how bad it would have been without that running game.

His mistakes hurt Maryland badly, there is no doubt, but to throw him under the bus like that after the last game that the entire team appeared unprepared to play is inexcusable. Hollenbach knows he made some critical mistakes, as did several other players during the game who were not called out by their coach in the postgame press conference, and there was no point in Friedgen reminding him of that. Nor was it appropriate to threaten Hollenbach with benching in public. I lost a large amount of respect for Friedgen after hearing those comments.

This football program is teetering on the brink of complete disarray. There are rumors that Friedgen lost some of his team during the stretch run which saw Maryland go 1-4. Defensive coordinator Gary Blackney retired hours after the final loss to NC State. Vernon Davis is likely to skip his senior year for the NFL leaving a receiver corps decimated by graduation. Two out the three starting linebackers will depart. Few young players on either side of the ball showed much promise to replace those players. Friedgen dismissed the "doomsayers" and said that the program is about to "take off". Unfortunately, I think he couldn't be more wrong. I see little to make me think Maryland will be much better than 5-6 next season. Does a trip to Boise in 2006 indicate a program on the rise?

I'm not advocating that Maryland replace Ralph Friedgen. I still think he is a good coach and I doubt College Park is an attractive enough place to lure a better coach than him. Maryland fans need to recalibrate their expectations. Friedgen is no messiah or savior, and the last two seasons have shown he is certainly fallible.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Greatest Game on Earth

I'm not sure how you could watch last night's triple overtime classic between Michigan State and Gonzaga and be unconvinced that college basketball is the best sport in America. State's Maurice Ager was certainly phenomenal with 36 points but Gonzaga's Adam Morrison was transcendent. He scored 43 points and shot 50% from the floor. Morrison seemed to always be in the right place just when Gonzaga needed a big basket and there isn't a more dangerous player in the country with the game on the line. Any doubters about this Splinter from Spokane should be placed in cold storage until March, then thawed out to squawk about an early NCAA exit by Gonzaga. Morrison all but locked up an All-American selection last night. What makes him so special?

He moves without the ball as well as any player in the country. He may not have the skills to create his own shot like some others but he moves around the floor so well he doesn't really need to play one-on-one all night. Morrison's precise cuts and crafty use of teammates means that Gonzaga doesn't have to continually run double screens for him in the way that Duke does for JJ Redick. He has a nose for finding a soft spot in the defense and getting there at the right moment. He has a complete inside and outside game and when he gets to the free throw line he's deadly. Morrison isn't a particularly great defensive player but he understands spacing and floor position better than just about any player in the last few years. Part of being a great player is also knowing your limitations and Morrison rarely tries to do something he isn't capable of. Package all that with as intense a competitor as any in college basketball and you've got a national POY candidate.

Gonzaga is a fantastic offensive team but they have two flaws that may bite them later. They are not a very deep team and depend almost exclusively on Morrison, Raivio and Batista. Unless freshman Jeremy Pargo can develop quickly or Mark Few can cultivate an effective bench this will be a weakness. Gonzaga also seems unable to get that critical stop in a close game. Ager burned them at the end of regulation and without a missed layup by Spartan freshman Goran Suton they very well might have lost the game.

In other news Maryland held off a pesky Chaminade team yesterday and advanced to play Arkansas in the consolation game. After an early 8:30am tip off the Terps looked like they were still in bed, allowing Chaminade to shot over 50% and cultivate an 11 point lead. They must have had an espresso, or endured a tirade by Gary Williams, at halftime because they came out and blew Chaminade away in the 2nd half, outscoring them 54-23. Maryland only surrendered 5 field goals in the entire 2nd half. As sloppy and undisciplined as they may have looked in the first 20 minutes they overwhelmed the hosts with 36 points in the first 10 minutes of play of the 2nd half.

Both Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist need to improve on their shot selection and finishing around the basket. Gist also needs to improve his rebounding after only pulling down 3 in 24 minutes of play. Ibekwe is still too focused on the offensive end and high flying dunks. To be a complete player he must bring that same focus to the defensive end.

Will Bowers has struggled badly in his first three games. He fouled out yesterday in only 7 minutes of play. Against Batista he was abused by the more savvy post player on multiple occasions. The mental aspect of the game is perhaps his biggest obstacle at the moment.

DJ Strawberry has silenced the doubters for now. He's doing all the things Gary Williams needs him to do. His defense is at the expected high level and ball handling has been very good. It would be nice to see his assist to turnover ratio at 2.0 or higher but he's not far off and will get better. The .545 he's shooting from the floor has been an added bonus and he's even shown some touch from 3-point range. Oddly enough you get the feeling that Strawberry is becoming the leader of a team with 4 seniors on it. Given the passive nature of this group of seniors it is a role that Maryland desperately needs DJ to grab hold of and make his own.

Mike Jones showed some nice passing ability with 5 assists and is again showing he's not just a jump shooter. Jones' fans will have to show some patience, however, because Mike is still a work in progress. His time will come to shine, perhaps very soon.

Chris McCray still has all the intangibles and hustle plays that make students of the game appreciate him. His early season 3-point shooting is looking distressingly like his dreadful 31% performance from last year. He missed a bunch of open looks in the Gonzaga game that he must hit if Maryland is to play up to their ability this season.

Maryland went from 23 turnovers on Monday to only 9 turnovers on Tuesday. They also added 17 assists to their total for a very nice 19 assist per game average so far this season. Last year's squad only mustered 15 assists per game with a "true" point guard.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Terps in giving mood

With Thanksgiving only a few days away Maryland was feeling very generous on Saturday. They gave Boston College four turnovers in doing their best to allow BC to lock up a decent bowl invite and 2nd place in the "Atlantic division"(a ridiculous contrivance of the league office). It worked, and Maryland fell in a 31-16 clunker on senior day. The Eagles were also in a giving mood for their first visit to College Park in almost 20 years, turning the ball over three times. The first half was a comedy of errors for both teams. They combined for two fumbles and two interceptions and BC's special teams were a nightmare with a blocked punt and a two tries at a field goal to end the half that both missed. It was a dreadful performance by both squads but their mutual errors kept the game close.

As often happens, the better teams wins out after halftime. Boston College's staff made adjustments to their game plan and out scored Maryland 17-6 in the critical 4th quarter. After 4 drives of over 7 plays in the first half Maryland could only muster one in the final two quarters. Maryland converted 5/9 third downs in the first half and only 3/9 after the break. Time of possession showed the same sort of flip as the Terps held the ball for 19 minutes in the first half and only 13 minutes in the second. This has become the familiar story for Maryland's offense this year as the opponent makes adjustments and Maryland is unable to counter with any effective playcalling.

Sam Hollenbach had his worst game of the season, without question. Two of his turnovers directly resulted in two touchdowns and he threw another interception in the endzone, which deprived Maryland of at least a field goal attempt. Sam made some terrible decisions that bailed out the Eagles in the 1st half after several critical turnovers that could have turned the tide of the game in Maryland's favor. Boston College was extremely aggressive in blitzing, probably close to half the time, and that gave Maryland's pass protection all kinds of problems. Hollenbach was knocked down around a dozen times and sacked 4 times on 45 pass attempts. The pass protection was shaky and RT Brandon Nixon again struggle to pass block. For some reason the staff had him blocking All American DE Mathias Kiwanuka one-on-one on several plays including a early third down in BC territory that resulted in a sack knocking them out of field goal range.

Hollenbach strikes me as very similar to Drew Bledsoe. He is slightly more mobile than Bledsoe, it's close to impossible to be less mobile Drew. Still, Sam holds onto the ball like he's in a 7-on-7 drill with no pass rush sometimes and has a knack for turning the ball over at the worst possible time. Don't misunderstand, I think Bledsoe is a decent quarterback and I think Sam is without a doubt the best QB on the roster at the moment. You can't bench him since you have no one to put in his place. Joel Statham came into the game and promptly threw an interception on his first and only attempt. If the staff was trying to just protect Hollenbach from getting injured in a lost cause it would make sense to replace him, but it seemed it was an attempt to jump start something on offense. It was obvious that Sam was struggling but this has to be one of the dumbest moves I've seen Fridge make in his time here. It seemed to indicate total blind desperation and his quote after the game was inexplicable, "I just felt like somebody else needed to try. It didn't take me long to figure out that wasn't the answer.". This is the same coach who stuck with Statham game after horrid game with such stubborn doggedness you wondered what on earth he was thinking.

Lance Ball again proved why he should be the starting running back going into next season. He posted 135 yards on 28 carries for a 4.8 yard per carry average. His 65 yard scamper in the 4th quarter kept Maryland on life support and was the big play Maryland really needed. He's staking his claim to the job for next season as well.

The defense played the same bend-don't-break style they have all year. It worked to a certain extent in that they shut out BC for two quarters, the 2nd and 3rd, and forced three turnovers including two in Maryland territory. Then in the 4th quarter with the offense unable to string together any drives the defense wilted and was plowed under by BC's running attack. The defense gave up 80 yards on the ground in the 4th quarter alone and over 220 for the day. The defensive line was totally unable to control the line of scrimmage and allowed BC linemen to get to the second level and block Maryland's linebackers and safeties. Maryland could only muster one sack(on an intention grounding penalty) and one QB hurry the entire game. Gerrick McPhearson again gave up a big play, this time trying to cover BC's WR Will Blackmon. Senior SS Milton Harris had another excellent game with 12 tackles.

Quick Grades
Quarterback D
Runningback B
Receivers C
Offensive Line C
Defensive Line D+
Linebackers C+
Secondary C+

Maryland ends the season with an inexplicable 1-4 record at home.

Field Hockey wins title

To avoid being accused of only focusing on the revenue sports I had to mention that the women's field hockey team won the NCAA title this past weekend by defeating Duke 1-0. It is the fourth national title won by the program and the first in six years.
Senior Jackie Ciconte of Wilmington, DE scored the game's only goal in faking out the Duke goalie. It turned out to be the only points Maryland needed. Ciconte, in addition to being a total fox, moved into 5th place on the all time list with 20 career goals. Congrats to the girls and coach Missy Meharg.

A few quick thoughts on the loss to Gonzaga in the Maui Classic. Gonzaga is an excellent team. It is no mistake they are in the top 10 right now. They are an experienced team and are excellent shooters. There should be no shame in losing to them this early in the season. There were certainly disturbing things in the game, turnovers being paramount, but the Terps played their opponent to a standstill for over 30 minutes until Gonzaga hit some clutch shots to pull away. It's early in the season and there is no reason to panic. I'll have a more complete review of the game up in the next few days, it's been a busy week so please bear with me.

In other important news Minnesota F Vincent Grier, a Big Ten player of the year candidate, broke his finger the other night and will miss at least 6 weeks. He will be out for the Maryland game next Wednesday.

Monday, November 21, 2005

2005 Basketball Preview

Things just are not the same. Gone are 9 members of the All-ACC teams. Three of the top teams in the conference were gutted of fantastic talent. In 2004 the ACC was the preeminent basketball conference in America with 4 legitimate Final Four teams and a few teams picked 5th or 6th that could have contended for a conference title in other leagues. This year will be very different, which was obvious this week with the loss of Virginia Tech to Bowling Green and Wake Forest needing overtime to beat George Mason. Boston College joins the ACC in the final act that ended almost 50 years of the finest basketball tradition in college basketball. Gone is the round robin and legitimate regular season championship. Now you have to consult a rotation formula to figure out who your team is playing and if the game is home or away.

On the other hand, the more things change the more they stay the same. Duke again starts the season ranked #1 in the country and favored to win the ACC for the seventh time in eight seasons. Returning are seniors JJ Redick, Shelden Williams, Lee Melchionni and Sean Dockery to go along with a talented freshman class. Redick and Williams are the most dominating players at their positions in the ACC. Love to hate Redick but you must respect him as there isn't a more clutch shooter or fierce competitor in the league. Williams is a dominating defensive player that Duke needs to get more involved in the offense if they are to return to another Final Four. Too many times last season the Blue Devils got enthralled with JJ Redick's jump shots and neglected their inside game. Dockery and Melchionni must replace the clutch production of Daniel Ewing. Dockery has never been a dangerous shooter but showed improvement last season. He only hit 24 3-point attempts all last season which was half of the number a roll player like Melchionni was able to sink. He'll need to develop his own outside shot to hurt opponents when they key on Redick. Freshman Josh McRoberts is the most hyped of the 2005 class at Duke. He has NBA level skills for a 6-10 post player. Together with Williams they could provide a devastating frontcourt game.

Boston College is really an unknown. They played very well in the Big East last season until they faded down the stretch. The players will have to adjust to the refs in the ACC which call a slightly different game than the refs in the rough in tumble Big East. This may land them in foul trouble until they adjust, though I think BC will enjoy the same "advantage of the unknown" that Miami and Virginia Tech enjoyed last season. Sean Williams and Craig Smith are both All-ACC caliber players and will anchor the offense for Al Skinner's Eagles. The rest of the team is a question mark. As with Maryland, the PG position is a weakness for BC with senior Louis Hinnant, from Oxon Hill, assuming that role again. Hinnant averaged 4.5 assists per game but limited his turnovers to 1.9 per game. Junior Sean Marshall also returns at guard after averaging 11.1 points and 2.7 rebounds per game last season. Hinnant and Marshall are solid players but are not among the better guard combos in the ACC. The real question is if they will be able to defend against the quick, slashing guards that dominate ACC backcourts. Center Sean Williams is serving a suspension for the first semester due to a drug possession arrest.

Besides North Carolina and Georgia Tech no team in the ACC lost as much talent as Wake Forest. All American point guard Chris Paul left early and seniors Jamaal Levy, Taron Downey and Vytas Danelius exhausted their eligibility. That removes 4 of the top 6 scorers on Wake's roster from last year. Paul is irreplaceable but senior Justin Gray will move to point from shooting guard to try to cushion the blow. Gray played some point as a freshman till Duke's Dahntay "Tauntay" Jones broke his jaw setting a hard pick. He is an excellent player and will produce for Skip Prosser but it will be a downgrade at both PG and SG since Wake doesn't have a player who can step in and play the vacated SG position as well as Gray. Wake also gets Eric Williams back after a brief flirtation with the NBA. Williams doesn't get the attention he deserves as a dominant big man in the ACC, even though he was 2nd team All-ACC. Chris Ellis and Kyle Visser, who combined to average 5 points a game in the ACC, will try to supplement Williams' low post game. Eillis has the greater potential of the two with legitimate range out to the 3-point area. Levy, Downey and Danelius all contributed with defense or as a boost off the bench and Wake will miss their production. Their bench is talented but very inexperienced and unproven.

NC State's Julius Hodge finally left Raleigh to go to the NBA. Prior to Hodge arriving at State they had not been to the NCAA tournament in a decade. Even with Hodge the Wolfpack had only managed to escape the first weekend of the tournament once in his four years there. Hodge lead his team in points, rebounds, assists and free throws, mostly by a wide margin. Losing a player like that would hurt any team, but it will be especially devastating for a team that for the last 4 years was built around Hodge and a bunch of role players. The most amazing thing about NC State's team last season was that Hodge was the only significant player who took less than half his shots from beyond the 3-point line. It is an amazing statistic. Obviously Herb Sendeck's Princeton style offense is centered around perimeter shooting and backdoor cuts, but the backdoor cuts and inside-outside passing are critical to the success of the system. This is why Hodge was so valuable with his ability to penetrate and create off the dribble. State lacks a player with anywhere near that ability on this year's team. No returning player averaged more than 3.8 rebounds a game from a team that was probably the worst rebounding team in the conference. They hope Andrew Brackman will improve this number, but he seems to be most famous for playing on the baseball team.

Imagine if State had not shot 40.5% from the 3-point line in their league games, an incredible 6.5% increase over the average in non-conference games? They saved their season by getting into a hot shooting streak for the last few games and beating a Wake Forest team without Chris Paul, suspended for the Hodge nut punch in the regular season finale. It masked the fact that for the majority of the year they were simply a horrible team. They went 4-8 against ranked teams last season. Throw out two games against Georgia Tech and Maryland, neither of whom finished the season ranked, and the aforementioned victory against Wake they would have gone 1-8 against opponents in the top 25. That is a good indicator of the talent on State's roster. Their grind it out, slow paced game allows them to hide some rather poor defensive players and one of the least athletic group of starters in the league. For some reason the North Carolina based writers feel State will finish 4th in the league. Personally, I feel 8-8 is very generous. State has the best chance to plummet in the standings and not much of a chance to improve on their record from last year. The schedule isn't easy with only 3 total games against Virginia, Clemson and FSU plus 2 games a piece with Wake Forest, Boston College and Miami. The road ACC slate will be very difficult, unlike last season which saw the Wolfpack win 4 games to salvage their season.

UNC & Georgia Tech are both very difficult teams to handicap this year since everyone from last season is gone. Neither team returns a regular starter from last season. The Yellow Jackets do have some interesting young talent in G Anthony Morrow, PF Ra'Sean Dickey and frosh G Lewis Clinch, who many people feel was the steal of the '05 class. This team reminds me of the Chris Bosch team that went 6-10 a few years back, talented but way too inexperienced in the backcourt. The Tar Heels should take consolation in their first national title in a decade because this season won't be much to get excited about. Every significant player from that championship team is gone with the exception of F David Noel. They do have talent in Chapel Hill with freshman PF Tyler Hansbrough and junior SF Reyshawn Terry but other positions like point guard are very shaky. Depth will also be an issue and Roy Williams will have to rely on freshman early and often. That isn't a winning formula most of the time. The schedule is brutal with Illinois, Kentucky, Arizona and even mid-major Santa Clara. Five games versus Wake, Duke and Maryland don't help either.

Miami is a trendy sleeper pick in the ACC and I was tempted to join the herd. Miami's loss to a decent, but not great, Air Force team on Monday made me think twice. Anthony King may develop into a solid inside presence later in the season but for now the Hurricanes lack a legitimate frontcourt game. They will likely play a three guard set for the season with Guillermo Diaz, Robert Hite and Anthony Harris. Harris is currently out with a fractured foot and could miss up to 6 weeks, for now freshman Denis Clemente has filled in with only a modest dropoff. They will go as far as Hite and Diaz can carry them, which last season resulted in a nice 7-9 season. I feel like they benefited from being unknown to ACC opponents for the first part of the season last year. Miami and Virginia Tech went a combined 6-12 in the second half of the season and ACC tournament. That is more along the lines of what people were expecting coming into last year. The weaker ACC might allow them to match their record of last season. Like VT they still don't have a bench to play well in the second half of the season, which will result in Diaz and Hite being exhausted at the end of the year.

Maryland fans don't want to hear about Clemson. The three losses to the Tigers kept Maryland out of the NCAAs for the first time in 11 seasons. It became the Sharrod Ford farewell tour in Washington as he abused Maryland's frontcourt in three games. He's gone now along with his 16 points and 8 rebounds per game in the ACC. Cliff Hammonds was one of the better freshman in the ACC last season and posted 10.6 points per game, however he ran out of gas in ACC play only shooting a horrid 39% from the floor. Senior Akin Akingbala will have to step in and try to give Clemson some inside presence. He must improve his 4.8 points and 3.5 rebounds from last season. Like Miami, Clemson has very little inside game returning and will depend on the improvement of Vernon Hamilton and Hammonds to contend for the postseason. They could be a darkhorse team since they only play Boston College, Duke, and Maryland a total of 3 times, two of those at home. Oliver Purnell is building a good program at one of the toughest places to achieve that in the ACC.

Virginia Tech shocked everyone by finishing fourth in their inaugural ACC season. A gritty defensive minded team last season, the Hokies tried to shorten the game and gamble on steals to try to keep up with superior teams in the ACC. With a paper thin bench and a roster with few ACC level players it was Seth Greenberg's only choice to be competitive. Some clutch shooting by Carlos Dixon and Zabian Dowdell allowed VT to pull out a number of close games. They went 4-1 in games decided by 2 points or less. The Pythagorean Method used by basketball stat man Dean Oliver, who now consults for the Seattle Sonics in the NBA, can be a useful tool to determine which teams finished with better records than their play would indicate. In short, which teams had some luck and good bounces resulting in more wins that you would expect. Using the Pythagorean Method you would predict that the Hokies would have won only 3 games in the ACC last season with a winning % of 0.203, a variation of 1 or 2 games isn't unusual but 5 games is very dramatic. Part of this can be explained by their excellent record in close games and partly by the fact that VT played a league high 10 games against teams that finished below 0.500 in conference play. A baseball term called the Johnson Effect also has applicability to basketball and it states: "The tendency of teams that exceed their Pythagorean projection for wins in one season to relapse in the following season.". The bench isn't in the desperate straights it was last season, when football player Jeff King played critical minutes for the Hokies, but it remains to be seen if any of the newcomers will be able to help.

Florida State continues its tradition of futility with eleven straight losing seasons in league play. The Seminoles have not won more than six games since 1993, their second year in the conference, and seem to have little hope of changing that this year. They ended last season in a freefall, losing 10 out of the last 11 games. Von Wafer was Leonard Hamilton's version of John Gilchrist. It was clear the chemistry on last year's team was toxic. Big men like Alexander Johnson and Diego Romero never provided the inside game that they were expected to and the point guard position was a mess. Johnson's regression last season was especially baffling. With great size and a nice touch around the basket he reminded me of a young Lonny Baxter his freshman year, last year he was more like a young Shavlik Randolph. It seems like Hamilton rarely gets the best out of his talent, except for the occasional upset of Duke at home, and is unable to win any ACC games on the road. Florida State must get tremendous improvement out of Johnson, G Isaiah Swann or Romero to be competitive this year. Losing the versatile Adam Waleskowski will hurt, he was a crafty player who could score from anywhere on the court and had an ability to hit a big shot. Hamilton will struggle to find anyone who can provide consistent point production and that will make for another very long season in Florida.

Virginia finally cut ties with head coach Pete Gillen. After a promising start in Virginia his final years were marked team turmoil and lots of losses. It isn't as if Gillen never had any talent, even with the unfortunate injuries to Magestic Mapp he could have fielded competitive teams. Gary Forbes, Devin Smith, Travis Watson, Todd Billet, Elton Brown may have all had flaws but they could be very good players under the right coaching. Gillen could never provide that. Now Dave Leitao takes over Virginia and the cupboard is fairly bare. Gone are seniors Smith and Brown and junior Gary Forbes has transferred. Sean Singletary may be the best point guard in the ACC this year. He is a feisty competitor who can score from outside or slash to the basket with equal ability. If Singletary can cut down on his fouls and turnovers, as I expect he will, he'll be a formidable player in a weakened ACC. Shooting guard J.R. Reynolds played well at the end of the season including a 32 point explosion against Miami in the ACC tournament. He needs to develop consistency and eliminate the games where he disappears, which happened too frequently last year. The departure of Smith and Brown will certainly allow him more opportunities to score and Virginia will need him to provide that offense. Virginia has little inside game to speak of and will have to cross its fingers and hope that Jason Cain or talented sophomore SF Adrian Joseph can provide some help for Reynolds and Singletary.

1. Duke 14-2*
2. Boston College 12-4*
3. Maryland 10-6*
4. Wake Forest 9-7*
5. NC State 8-8
6. Miami 8-8
7. UNC 7-9
8. Clemson 7-9
9. Georgia Tech 6-10
10. Virginia Tech 6-10
11. Virginia 5-11
12. Florida State 4-12

*- NCAA bids

ACC Player of the Year: JJ Redick (Duke)
Freshman of the Year: Tyler Hansbrough (UNC)
Breakout Player: James Gist (Maryland)
Defensive Player of the Year: Chris McCray (Maryland)
Team that will be better than expected: Clemson
Team that will be worse than expected: Wake Forest, NC State

Pythagorean Method for 2004

Winning % Predicted Wins
0.97565449 15.61 UNC
0.911355772 14.58 WF
0.874025597 13.98 Duke
0.811365441 12.98 BC
0.558092872 8.929 NC State
0.464771682 7.436 GT
0.321483411 5.143 MD
0.278801752 4.460 Miami
0.202774722 3.244 VT
0.186423458 2.982 Clem
0.153698709 2.459 FSU
0.083668626 1.338 UVA