Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Hand wringing

Interesting article in the Baltimore Sun today about the recent fortunes of Maryland basketball. It's relatively balanced and makes some good points. In pointing out that a number of programs have struggled recently the article makes you wonder about the frequency of these "blips" among high profile programs. In addition to Duke's forgotten '95 season in which they went 2-14 in the ACC and didn't play in any post season tournament, there have been a number of recent examples that probably would send most Maryland fans to St. Elizabeth's to munch on Xanax with John Hinkley.

  • Syracuse 1996-7: after losing to Kentucky in the national title game the Orange lost in the first round of the NIT, at home, to Florida State the following season.
  • Oklahoma 2003-4: After playing in the Final Four and Elite 8 the prior two seasons a young Sooners squad had their bubble burst and were send packing to the NIT where they lost to Michigan in their second game.
  • Oklahoma State 1995-6: After playing eventual national champion UCLA in the Final Four the prior year Oklahoma State fails to return to the tournament until 1998.
  • Connecticut 1996-7: The Huskies were flying high in March of 1996. They had secured a number 1 seed by virtue of their being ranked #3 going into the NCAA tournament. An early sweet 16 exit at the hands of Mississippi State must have left a bitter taste in their mouths but not as unsavory as the NIT bid they received the next season.

Recruiting

Clearly several of Gary Williams recent classes have not lived up to expectations since they arrived in College Park. While the proverbial jury may still be out on the younger players, the 2002 class that came in fresh off the heels of Maryland's glorious championship has dashed the high expectations that accompanied them.

Travis Garrison, a McDonald's All-American from local power Dematha, has shown an aversion to playing the game anywhere near the rim. During his high school days he showed a propensity for drifting out of the lane and taking jumpers, something that the coaching staff has been unable to cure him of even though they've work wonders with far less talent. He offense wilts when confronted with physical play and his low post defense is so poor that he usually has to resort to fouling to prevent his man from scoring. While some felt he may have not deserved the hype his burger crown bestowed on him most felt he would do better than the 7.0 ppg and 4.8 rebounds he has averaged over his career. While not the spectacular bust that Shavlik Randolph has been he doesn't have the myriad of injures and bad luck that Randolph can claim.

Nik Caner-Medley was seen as a physical and high flying SF with a decent outside shot. The fact that he played against low high school competition did not scare off schools like Maryland and UConn. When Maryland landed him it was hoped they would have the kind of scoring, slashing SF they had not had since Terrence Morris. A severely sprained right ankle in a sweet 16 game versus Michigan State ended his promising freshman campaign. He was the only player in his class to earn a starting job his freshman year. Gary Williams gave Garrison every chance to unseat the equally streaky Tajh Holden but he folded under the competition. He has improved his offensive play though he is still prone to streaky shooting. A career 33% 3-point shooter, Medley can knock down a few shots when he's hot but more often than not will struggle to consistently hit the outside shot. His favorite spot seems to be the right corner. He has yet to develop a good sense for shot selection and game/time situation when he has the ball. He is far better when given the ball in transition or while cutting to the basket than off the dribble. His defense is often porous. He gambles on shot blocking which often leaves him out of position for defensive rebounds and can be easily taken off the dribble by quicker players. This requires him to play off his man which leads him to be vulnerable to the outside shot. His ball handling skills are mediocre.

Chris McCray always wanted to be a Terrapin. A renowned scorer at Capitol Heights, McCray has not brought that part of his game to College Park. A defensive scrapper, unselfish to a fault and a "glue" guy he has not yet shown the ability to carry the scoring load for Maryland. He shoots an anemic 34% from behind the arch for his career, but is savy enough to get to the free throw line where he is an excellent 85% career shooter. His play during the stretch run has given a glimmer of hope for next season. Over the last nine games McCray posted 18.7 ppg, 4.9 reb, 4.4 assists and shot a scorching 48% from 3-point range. If he can carry that into next season he will become a total package of offense and defense. While not a flashy player there are no glaring weaknesses in his game and the assist average he posted in his last 9 games would put many PGs in the ACC to shame.

I wrote some about Gilchrist in my post ACC tournament wrap up. I am sure in the next few weeks that I'll have the opportunity to sum up his career when he decides to finally leave Maryland and pursue his NBA dream.

As for the sophomore class of 2003 a few thoughts:

  • Mike Jones: was the most hyped of any of the current players on the roster. His lack of defense and McCray have kept him coming off the bench. Has shown flashes of being a streaky shooter who is unstoppable when hot. Rebounds well and has a solid frame. Should be able to score inside or outside.
  • Ekene Ibekwe: has the most hideous looking shot in all of college basketball. Can't understand why the staff didn't break down his shot mechanics and rebuild it into something resembling good technique. Lanky and slight, he gets bullied around the basket but will mix it up on the inside more than Garrison. Has little or no post moves beyond a pivot and falling extention to the rim.
  • DJ Strawberry: the most versatile player on the team. Not a great shooter but has shown improvement. Disruptive defender and essential to Maryland's full court press. Unclear how he will return from his knee injury.
  • Will Bowers: showed dramatic improvement in the last half of the season. Learning how to use his massive size on both offense and defense. Limited Sheldon Williams in the two victories over Duke. Can develop nice hook shot and already has good shot mechanics on his free throws. Likely will shoot 75%+ from the line next season. Can be a better Luke Schenscher if he works hard.
  • Hassan Fofona: felt he deserved more playing time and transferred when passed on the depth chart by Bowers. Could have progressed if he committed to training and crafting his game. Like most African born players he had raw physical skills but weak basketball acumen. Showed to lack the discipline needed to improve his game. Departure leaves a gap in post rotation.

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