Tuesday, November 08, 2005

So It Begins

It is dangerous to read too much into exhibition games, or even games in the first few weeks of the season. The quality of the opponents is wildly disparate and for the first month of the season you really don't know who is good and who is not. North Carolina lost to Santa Clara in the first game of the season without point guard Raymond Felton and then rolled to a national championship. Maryland looked like a elite team in its third game, crushing 24th ranked Memphis 84-61, but bumbled their way to the NIT. Teams are still developing cohesion and knocking off the rust from the...you get the point.

There were some positive signs in the Terps 90-59 win over St. Francis Xavier on Saturday. Maryland's defense held St. Francis to 40% shooting and only 19% from 3 point range. The defensive pressure forced 33 turnovers, helped by 18 steals, and allowed just 14 assists to the X-men. DJ Strawberry played well at point for his first time out. He admitted being nervous about coming back and so emotional he almost cried before the game and given that he performed with distinction. DJ had an amazing 6 steals to go with 7 assists and only 2 turnovers. Those are the kinds of stats that Gary Williams can live with, and in contrast to last season he only shot the ball 4 times.

James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe both struggled. They were a combined 7-19 from the floor and only grabbed 7 rebounds put together. Those numbers will have to improve or Will Bowers and Garrison will see more playing time. Ibekwe struggled from the free throw line, only hitting 1-4, after revamping his bizarre praying mantis shooting form in the offseason. Ibekwe fouled out after only playing 12 minutes which is the most troubling aspect of his game. He needs to play smarter on defense and stay on the floor. Perhaps the first game jitters got to both of them so I think it is too early to say all the good news on these two was overblown. Garrison filled in admirably with 10 points and 7 rebounds in only 16 minutes. He stayed out of foul trouble and got to the free throw line, which given his 80+% shooting is like getting free points. If he can keep doing both he'll be a valuable bench player. Will Bowers showed he is progressing into a defensive presence with 4 blocks and 7 rebounds to go along with a tidy 13 points. He will continue to improve as the season goes along. Think a better shooting Luke Shenscher if he keeps improving.

Sterling Ledbetter and newcomer Parrish Brown struggled a little in replacing DJ Strawberry. Look for more three guard sets from Maryland with Mike Jones, DJ and Chris McCray. Jones again showed that he can get white hot and blitz the other team. He scored 17 points in the first half and went 7-9 from the floor and 3-4 from the international 3 point line. Jones can score from anywhere on the floor and his defense also showed improvement. He will be a major contributor and more than make up for John Gilchrist's production.

Quote of the day

"I love to give my teammates the ball, I love for them to score," he said. "I don't need to score a lot of points. As long as we win, as long as I get my teammates the ball and run the offense like Coach wants me to do, I'm happy with doing that." -DJ Strawberry

Preseason Predictions

Here is a decent review of the upcoming ACC season from a site called Draft Express. They predict Maryland will finish 3rd in the ACC.

CollegeHoopsNet has Maryland as one of their surprise teams of the year and even goes so far as to predict they will make the Final Four. A little optimistic for my taste but still nice to know Maryland is back in the discussion.

I'll have my ACC predictions sometime next week, hopefully.

ACC Notes

Freshman Sam Warren left the Virginia basketball team without ever playing for the Wahoos. The 6-10 PF was a 3-star recruit of the previous coaching regime. Part of the poor performance of the Wahoo basketball program has been the tremendous turnover on the team and staff. The firing of Pete Gillen was probably long overdue but in the last few years Virginia has lost players like Gary Forbes and Derrick Byars to transfer. New coach Dave Leitao seems up to the challenge of resurrecting UVA's program but it will be a long winter in Charlottesville.

Virginia Tech
Starting SF Wynton Witherspoon broke a bone in his foot and will likely miss at least a month after surgery. This will further hinder a Hokie squad that will struggle to score. I expect them to struggle in their second year in the ACC.

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