Wednesday, November 30, 2005
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
"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.
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:
Michigan State 39%
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.
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
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
7 Sacks allowed
14 Penalties for 93 yards
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
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
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.
Offensive Line C
Defensive Line D+
Maryland ends the season with an inexplicable 1-4 record at home.
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
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
Friday, November 18, 2005
The key matchup will likely be Maryland's defensive line versus Boston College's massive NFL sized offensive line. Unfortunately, I don't see Maryland winning this battle. I still think it will be a close and competitive contest but I see Maryland's defense wearing down in the 2nd half as they have so often this season.
Boston College 26
The Boston Herald reports that Eagle's linebacker Brian Toal is doubtful for tomorrow's game after injuring his shoulder in last week's victory over NC State. Toal also doubles as a fullback in certain formations.
Wake Forest lost to Florida last night in New York city. Justin Gray had another bad night trying to fill in at point guard, with seven turnovers. He really struggled with Florida's press and looked frustrated and out of synch for most of the game. The Deacons got little from the rest of their backcourt with the other guards chipping in only four points. Trent Strickland has improved since last year at both his free throw and outside shooting but his 18 points and 7 rebounds were still not enough to beat a young but talented Florida team. This has to be very concerning to Wake Forest fans. Unless a young player steps up and allows Gray to rotate back to shooting guard they are in for a roller coaster.
Gary Williams is expecting great things beyond the stat sheet from his seniors this season. He hopes they will provide the leadership that has been sorely lacking the last two years.
A variation on this theme in the Baltimore Sun today. This group of seniors came to Maryland in the afterglow of the 2002 national title and perhaps they let some of that hype go to their heads. I'm sure last season's NIT finished snapped them out of that. Let's hope, anyway.
Tonight's opponent, Fairleigh Dickinson, won its conference last season and played in the NCAA tournament. They will give Maryland a fair test in preparation for the crucible in Maui next week.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
An amateur rap recording by some players has surfaced and the Miami football program is in full damage control mode. The crude and misogynistic lyrics are a further embarrassment to a program trying to put its "Thug U" reputation behind it. I guess the increased bowl money will make up for these kinds of incidents, right? At least that's what we were told.
Georgia Tech was placed on probation for two years for playing 17 ineligible athletes including 11 football players. They lose 6 scholarships for both 2006 and 2007. Tech had already imposed reductions in 2005 and 2006 by itself. Records between 1998 and 2004 will also be vacated for the effected sports. This came on the heels of a ruling by a Federal court judge requiring the school to reinstate suspended player Reuben Houston.
Houston was suspended from the team after an arrest on charges of drug distribution and conspiracy. It wasn't a little pot either, this was at least 100 pounds with a value of $60,000, and it was to be distributed on Georgia Tech's campus. Were talking Nate Newton, Bam Morris territory here. The judge claimed the schools suspension was "arbitrary and strikingly dissimilar" to their treatment of past players. Tech AD Dave Braine had no clue what the judge was referring to: "I don't know how you can read into that because we've never had a felony charge before. How it could be uneven, I don't know.".
It wouldn't be the first time a moron on the bench made a ridiculous decision, but the site of Houston playing this weekend against Miami on national television should make even the most jaded college fan a little nauseous. They may be required to reinstate Houston, but does Chan Gailey have to play him?
It hasn't been a good week at Georgia Tech.
The last time Boston College played in College Park was 1986 resulting in a 30-25 victory for the Eagles. Maryland has only played BC twice in school history with a 1-1 record.
On head coach Tom O'Brien's philosophy:
The general philosophy of head coach Tom O'Brien is conservative and inflexible.
On Offense, this is what you can expect: Standard pro sets. Majority out of the I with a TE and two wideouts. Our offensive coordinator rattled around the Walsh coaching tree, so we are very reliant on the short passing game.
We've been a run first team for most of O'Brien's tenure, but haven't had a feature back for two seasons. Both of our tailbacks are sophmores. They both get carries early on and then the staff goes with the hot hand. Andre Callender has more speed and elusiveness. Whitworth is more of the power back.
On Defense: Standard 4-3 with two deep zone coverage the majority of plays. Heavy rotation to keep guys fresh. If the second teamers play well they stay out on the field. We've used more blitz this season than in past. It will either come from the weakside linebacker, the weakside corner or the strong safety.
On BC's quarterback situation:
We just switched quarterback's last week. Matt Ryan's number against NC State weren't that impressive on paper but he added an element -- the deep ball -- that had been missing for weeks. He also has the better arm and seems to make better ingame decisions. He pulled a miracle coming off the bench against Wake earlier this year, so for a core of group of fans, he can do no wrong.
On the matchup with Maryland's receivers:
The key will probably be our DBs against your wideouts. Everyone in our defensive backfield is smallish. And they give the opponents plenty of space. We give up chunks of yardage in order to avoid the big play.
Key player few fans have heard about:
The one guy aside from Kiwi who is a difference maker is DT B.J. Raji. He is a load, yet extremely agile and makes more downfield tackles than any 330 pounder deserves to. I don't know how he keeps it up without getting gassed. He has dominated most centers this season. He is just too much to handle. If he is getting penetration he can disrupt the running game and passing game.
Could tip the balance in a close game:
Special teams: a disaster waiting to happen every week. That might seem like hyperbole. But we never get consistent performance on special teams and it costs us games every year.
I would say EIA is spot on about DT B.J Raji. In the few games I have seen this year he eats up blockers and makes LB Brian Toal and DE Mathias Kiwanuka look great in the process. Speaking of LB Brian Toal, he is a guy I wish Maryland had landed a few years ago. The Terps were in the early running for Toal but went in a different direction and signed Eric Lenz out of Urbana. Lenz has since left the team for disciplinary reasons. With Wesley Jefferson, Erin Henderson, Chase Bullock, Dave Philistin, Chris Clinton and others Maryland won't be hurting for good linebackers next season, but it would be nice to have Toal in your back pocket.
Another impressive factor about Boston College is that they rarely land elite prospects, yet always seem to field competitive teams. In the last few years they have only had about one 4-star recruit a year and most of their classes are filled with solid 2 and 3-star players. They get the most out of the kids that come to Chestnut Hill. Maryland fans would be whining about all the 2-star and lower players that Jim O'Brien has recruited if those were Maryland's classes. Just goes to show that rankings are fun but don't predict a players success.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
As expected, Maryland received its first recruit for the 2007 season this week and it was a big one, both literally and figuratively. Braxton Dupree from Calvert Hall in Baltimore has given a verbal commitment to play for Maryland in 2007. If Calvert Hall sounds familiar to you there is a good reason, another Maryland player by the name of Juan Dixon came to College Park from that high school. Dupree is a 6-8 and 260lbs roadblock at C/PF and automatically plugs a hole in the frontcourt. As of today Maryland will only have James Gist(assuming he stays for his senior year), '06 recruit Jerome Burney and current freshman Dave Neal as potential post players for the 2007 season. Maryland is likely to add a junior college big man in the spring to further bolster the post but don't be surprised if Dupree plays significant minutes right away.
That is not a scary proposition because Dupree has good hands and a well rounded low post game for a high school player. He has the size to hold his own in the rough and tumble ACC, though he could use some conditioning like all high school players. He is also a very good student and by all reports a nice kid.
Dupree is a consensus top 50 junior and his ranking will likely rise if he plays well this fall. He could be in the top 30 by next spring. Recruits are always that Forest Gump box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get, but Dupree is going to be a big time player for Gary Williams. His commitment will likely get the ball rolling on other 2007 commits and there are already rumors that another junior is ready to verbal in the next few weeks. Another Baltimore big man, Dino Gregory, is leaning towards the Terps. Gregory is another 4-star top 100 player that Maryland can put in the frontcourt and could rise up the rankings with a strong fall, like '06 recruit Landon Milbourne.
The staff will also be pushing hard for SG Jeff Jones from outside Philadelphia in the next month. Jones is reportedly down to either Maryland or Georgia Tech, though Villanova is still lurking. Jones has visited Maryland three times already and was at one of the exhibition games. I have a feeling the late push by Maryland has really impressed Jones and that he will commit to Maryland. He would give the Terps another scoring SG to improve the backcourt depth after Mike Jones and DJ Strawberry depart. Jones is also a very good student.
The new assistant coaches, particularly Rob Moxley, have overhauled how recruiting is done at Maryland. After getting in late on many recruits Maryland was still able to land another top 20 class for 2006. This will pay huge dividends not only for the 2007 class but well beyond that. It is a new era at Maryland and I am confident that they have the right people in place to bring the program back to where it was in 2002.
Anyone notice that Miami's basketball team lost to Air Force the other day, the service academy's first ever victory over an ACC foe? Not that Air Force is a bad team but the loss should make anyone who picked them to dance this year think twice. They are still a team with only a few ACC caliber players. Couple this with Virginia Tech's embarrassing loss to Bowling Green at home and this wasn't a good week for ACC newcomers. At this rate programs who have never beaten an ACC team should line up for their chance against these two. They're both football schools, let's not kid ourselves. Neither has even the slightest chance to contend in the ACC for the foreseeable future.
Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey got a 5 year $5 million contract extension. Athletic director Dave Braine called GT one of the three toughest jobs in the nation given Tech's high academic standards. I think GT is a fine school with very good academics but that statement is silly. Has Braine checked out Tech's basketball team lately? There are no engineering majors on Paul Hewitt's squad. That is not a cheap shot, just pointing out that everyone bends the rules to admit athletes and GT is no exception. To excuse Chan Gailey's mediocrity by saying he can't get the best players due to admissions standards is laughable.
Maryland safety Milton Harris was named ACC defensive back of the week for his 16 tackle game against UNC.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
When you consider all that it is a miracle that the Terps won, even in overtime. It required normally reliable Carolina kicker Connor Barth to miss a 38 yard field goal in the extra period for Maryland to win. More of a gift than a great win. I'm sure the team feels like this is justice for the heartbreaking loss to Clemson earlier in the season. Still, a win is a win and one more victory will probably have Maryland in the bowl picture. I say probably because the ACC's bowl bids are very murky at the moment with only 6 bowl tie-ins and the league already has 7 eligible teams. Given that scenario a 6-5 team may have nowhere to go once all the bowl bids are handed out.
Lance Ball had another fantastic game. His consistent production on the ground opened up the passing game for those downfield strikes that won the game. He rushed for 161 yards on 39 carries in a workhorse like effort. He may lack break away speed but he has the best vision and decision making of any back on the roster. To North Carolina's credit they adjusted in the 2nd half after getting gashed by Ball and dominated the line of scrimmage after the break. Ball had only 35 yards on 15 carries in the last two quarters mostly because he had little room to run. The playcalling got a little predictable after UNC made adjustments, which has been a pattern this season. Only after the half in the Virginia game has Maryland's offense made effective adjustments.
The offensive line had a mixed game. They came out and dominated the line in the 1st half. In the second half they struggled to open holes for Ball and protect Sam Hollenbach. More disturbing was that UNC got most of their pressure with only the four down linemen. They didn't need to blitz much and with Mathias Kiwanuka coming to town that is scary. Brandon Nixon struggled badly in the game, especially with DT Chase Page. They need to protect Sam Hollenbach better, though Sam also needs to get rid of the ball when there is nothing there.
Vernon Davis had another dominating game with 139 yards on 7 catches and a spectacular 24 yard touchdown catch. Enjoy watching him on Saturdays, Terp fans, because he'll be playing Sundays next year. Danny Melendez has become a deep threat with a clutch 80 yard touchdown for a go head score. Jo Jo Walker had another clutch 67 yard touchdown catch and a 39 yard reception nullified by a holding penalty.
The defensive line held the impotent UNC running game to 89 yards on 3.2 yards per carry. Not bad but UNC is ranked 12th in the league in both total yards and average per rush. They didn't record a sack in 40 pass attempts by UNC and only 2 quarterback hurries. Trey Covington and Jeremy Navarre again were non-factors on the edge and it requires Gary Blackney to gamble with blitzes to get pressure on the opposing QB. This is a huge problem on the defense. With Boston College coming to town having only surrendered 9 sacks and 2nd in the ACC in passing yards that will keep Ralph Friedgen up late all week.
D'Qwell Jackson added another 10 tackles to his totals in a blue collar effort. William Kershaw made several big plays and probably had his best game of the season. David Holloway had a very quiet game and was mostly a non-factor.
Milton Harris had a career game with 16 tackles, 2 for a loss, and a critical forced fumble. Harris has a knack for making the big hit for a fumble. It was his 4th forced fumble of the year. The senior from Duval high school is making the most of his last college games. Christian Varner hasn't made any big plays lately and didn't even record a tackle in the game. Gerrick McPhearson saved a touchdown in OT by batting down a pass near the end zone. The receiver had slipped behind him in the zone.
Running Back: A-
Defensive Line: C-
The pregame radio show for North Carolina had a clown on who said that Ralph Friedgen's refusal to identify the suspended players for the game or indicate which games they would be suspended for was "like Bobby Bowden". First of all if this was Bobby Bowden there would have been no suspensions to begin with. Not a single Maryland player has been charged or arrested for anything arising out of the Halloween incident. It was obvious that WR Drew Weatherly was suspended for this game due to his roll in that incident. I think that the university should have disclosed the names of those involved who were suspended and announce what games they will be suspended for but this is nothing like what Bobby Bowden would do.
D'Qwell Jackson and Gerrick McPhearson got into a confrontation at halftime after McPhearson gave up a 44 yard pass with under a minute left allowing UNC to take the lead on a field goal. They were separated by the coaching staff.
It was a beautiful day in Chapel Hill. The sun was shining and there was a crisp bite in the air. Keenan Stadium may not be a great place to see football but it has a cozy feel. It's just a shame that the students at UNC have apathy for the football team. The scene on Franklin Street after the game was hopping and all the pretty coeds were out seemingly unaffected by the heartbreaking loss. Chapel Hill is one of the better road destinations in the ACC and you'll rarely get more than a friendly ribbing even sitting in the UNC season ticket holder section like I was.
Monday, November 14, 2005
Maryland was sloppy in the first half, amassing 16 turnovers, including 4 by DJ Strawberry and 3 by Sterling Ledbetter. Virginia Union's 25% shooting kept them from being ahead at the break. Maryland righted itself in the 2nd half and shot a blistering 63% from the floor and 6-10 from the 3-point line. Chris McCray, Mike Jones and Nik Caner-Medley were a combined 6-7 from behind the arch. If Michael Adams and Ron Moxley have really improved the outside shooting that much then Maryland will be a very dangerous team.
Sophomore James Gist continued to demonstrate his improvement and may become a household name by the middle of the season. He recorded a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds to go along with 3 blocks. His free throw shooting was impressive as he nailed 5-6 from the stripe. He has a great feel for the game and explosive athleticism which is a rare combination. He could be the dominating inside presence that the Terps lacked last season.
Ekene Ibekwe had a second disappointing outing. He managed only 16 minutes and accrued 4 fouls in the process. He grabbed an impressive 7 rebounds in that time but needs to play with more poise and avoid silly fouls that land him on the bench. Travis Garrison had a solid game off the bench with 9 points and 5 rebounds. Even if Ibekwe can't correct his fouling problems the combination of Garrison and Ibekwe could be effective. Will Bowers was MIA with only 9 minutes in which he grabbed only one rebound and committed three fouls. He needs to develop consistency in coming off the bench.
Chris McCray and Mike Jones are becoming the best SG combination in the league this season. They combined for 31 points, 10 rebounds 4 steals and 6 assists to go with only 2 turnovers. This will give the Terrapins impressive depth at this vital position.
The point rotation of Strawberry and Ledbetter struggled with 11 assists to 9 turnovers. Maryland won't need either of them to score much but they must play good defense and not turn the ball over. Strawberry admitted to forcing some plays that he shouldn't have and Ledbetter improved in the 2nd half with 6 assists and no turnovers.
Nik Caner-Medley has abandoned his poor decision making and is content to not dominate the ball as he had the last two season. Consequently he is taking good shots and McCray and Jones are flourishing. This is a very promising development.
Adding to their very good 2006 class rumors have Maryland set to get another verbal commitment from 2007 PF/C Braxton Dupree of Calvert Hall in Baltimore. This 6-8 280 pound monster is a consensus top 50 player in the '07 class and would be a fantastic way to start the ball rolling on a fantastic and vital recruiting season. Maryland is in the mix for a slew of top 100 players in this class and a big commit can open the floodgates for others to follow. Assistant coach Rob Moxley is pushing hard for SG Jeff Jones from Pennsylvania, C Kosta Koufos from Ohio and Julian Vaughn of Virginia, among others.
Wake Forest needed overtime to beat a scrappy and good George Mason squad, 83-78. Not a good omen for the Deacons who struggled in their two exhibition games. I had felt they were a strong contender for 2nd place in the conference but now I feel they'll struggle to be in the top 4.
Virginia Tech lost to mid-major Bowling Green at home, 72-71. It was the first time Bowling Green had defeated an ACC team since 1967. Unfortunately for the Hokies it wasn't an exhibition game. It further solidifies the conclusion that VT has a long way to go before they have a respectable basketball program. Last season looks more and more like a smoke and mirrors show when they were able to scrape together an 8-8 ACC record while only playing Wake, UNC and Duke 4 times total.
Friday, November 11, 2005
If Sam Hollenbach can stay healthy and the O-line can open holes for Lance Ball I think Maryland's defense will be able to shut down the Tar Heels anemic offense. It may be very close if Hollenbach can't finish the game.
Lance Ball has been anointed the starter by the staff, finally. Let's hope they don't pull him after a few carries for little yardage. The coaches need to commit to the run and to letting Ball wear down the defense.
Jo Jo Walker will play this week according to coach Ralph Friedgen.
Final Curtain on Exhibition
The men's basketball team plays the final exhibition game of the season tonight against division II champions Virginia Union. It will give Gary Williams another chance to tinker with lineups before the opener against Fairleigh Dickinson next week. Three days after that Maryland will be in Maui playing the seventh ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs. This team will get an early test to see how far they have come from last year's problems.
In Maui the games will be played with new experimental rules. The 3-point line will be moved back 9 inches to 20 feet 9 inches, the lane will be widened by 1 foot on each side and there is a restricted area arch three feet around the basket. Don't ask me what a "restricted arch" is, I have no idea.
Nice article in the Washington Times about the improvement of C Will Bowers. Will opened some eyes with a 13 point 7 rebound 4 block performance in the last exhibition game. He has worked on his conditioning, which was a huge limiting factor for him last season, and honed his post moves. His confidence is probably as high as it has ever been at Maryland. I don't expect Bowers to suddenly explode into a dominant player but he will be able to come off the bench and deliver a fully rounded game, unlike last season when he was fairly limited on offense.
Women's Field Hockey wins ACC Title
The lady Terps beat arch rival Wake Forest 3-2 to win the ACC championship. The team will be seeded #1 in the upcoming NCAA tournament. Congrats to the foxy gals!
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Vasquez impressed Gary Williams when he went to scout teammate Uche Echefu who ended up signing with FSU in the spring. Williams extended an offer shortly after scouting him and ahead of some more highly regarded recruits. This was a kid that Gary wanted badly. On the radio Saturday he sounded almost giddy at the impending signing of Vasquez and called him a "major" recruit. I'll take Williams' talent evaluation over just about anyone else and if Gary thinks he's going to be an excellent player that is something to get excited about. Williams saw that kind of potential in guys like Juan Dixon, whom he told ESPN analyst Jay Bilas would be another Johnny Dawkins when he was a scrawny redshirt freshman, who were questioned as legitimate ACC caliber players.
Vasquez is expected to sign a letter of intent today along with Oak Hill forward Landon Milbourne. Other 2006 recruits include Eric Hayes and Milbourne's former Georgia high school teammate C Jerome Burney. Both Burney and Hayes signed LOI yesterday to play for Maryland. This gives the Terps a very solid 2006 class. Three of the players are considered top 100 caliber (Hayes, Milbourne and Vasquez) and Burney is a talented and hard working big man who could blossom under Gary's tutelage. Other big men before him like Lonny Baxter, Ryan Randle, Jamar Smith, Chris Wilcox, and Obinna Ekezie have developed in solid starters, and you may be able to add James Gist to that list after this season. Burney will develop into a very solid player, if nothing else, and will rebound and play defense. Milbourne is developing a perimeter game to go along with his explosive athleticism and could grow into a Terrence Morris type player. If he can handle himself he will get the chance for a bunch of minutes at small forward in 2006. Eric Hayes plays for his father at Potomac high in Virginia and has the understanding of the game you would expect being a coach's son. He also completely loves Maryland, as he said yesterday, "I am exited about being part of the Maryland tradition, I really like the coaching staff and look forward to playing in front of a great fan base at Maryland.". It's going to be a two way love affair between Terp fans and Hayes.
As it stands the 2006 squad will be:
G/F DJ Strawberry, G Parrish Brown, G Mike Jones, PF Ekene Ibekwe, C Will Bowers
PF James Gist
F David Neal
PG Eric Hayes, G/F Greivis Vasquez, SF Landon Milbourne, PF Jerome Burney
That is a nice mix of offense, defense and experience. A tad thin in the frontcourt but Maryland may sign another Juco big man in the spring to plug that hole.
PG Eric Hayes 6-3 Potomac HS, VA
SF Landon Milbourne 6-7 Oak Hill Academy, VA also played in Georgia
PF/C Jerome Burney 6-8 Westlake HS, GA
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
That makes the continued production of Lance Ball and the running game paramount. The offensive line will have the vital responsibility of protecting Hollenbach both in pass blocking and by establishing a running game. I would also look for OC Charlie Taaffe to get creative in the playcalling early on.
Stephon Heyer has indicated he will accept a redshirt and return for another season after his recovery from a knee injury in August. That adds further depth to a potentially great offensive line.
Sophomore defensive tackle Dre Moore has won a starting nod this week. He replaces Jack Griffin who has been unable to make any plays at DT since he was moved over from DE after being supplanted by frosh Jeremy Navarre. The Terps badly need some playmakers to step up on the defensive line. Conrad Bolston is a solid player in the middle but defensive coordinator Gary Blackney needs some more production from his edge players, namely Trey Covington and Navarre.
Friedgen has refused to discuss the suspensions resulting from a Halloween night brawl any further. It seems obvious that with Jo Jo Walker and Drew Weatherly listed with magical injuries that these two will be serving their suspensions this week.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
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
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.
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.
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.
Sunday, November 06, 2005
A number of the student-athletes have admitted to violating football team rules by breaking curfew or consuming alcoholic beverages. Even though they are of age to consume alcohol, they are required to abstain throughout the season, unless the restriction is specifically lifted by the head coach. These student-athletes who violated team rules will receive an official letter of reprimand. Also, they will be placed on probation if any other violation of the team code of conduct occurs. They will be required to perform 10 hours of community service, and those who were consuming alcoholic beverages will, in addition, lose their complimentary tickets to two upcoming games. Their parents, as well, have been informed that a team policy was violated.
Three student-athletes who are underage have admitted to drinking. They will receive official letters of probation to their student-athlete files and will be dismissed from the team if any other incident occurs. Their parents have been informed. In addition, these student-athletes will lose complimentary tickets to two upcoming games, be required to perform 10 hours of community service and will be required to participate in a ride-along with UMCP police. A suspension from playing time will apply to those in this category who are on the active roster, a sanction imposed on other underage student-athletes for this type of activity.
There were three student-athletes who admitted to being involved in a physical altercation. These student-athletes will be suspended for one game each for violation of team rules. However, all three indicated they acted in self-defense. Two of the three have indicated their intent to file charges against their alleged assailants once their identities are secured. They will also lose complimentary tickets for two upcoming games, will receive official letters of probation to their student-athlete files and will be dismissed from the team if any other incident occurs.
In addition Friedgen threatened to revoke the scholarships of any player who lied during the investigation of the incident. He said it was one of the most difficult things he'd ever done. I applaud the staff for having the courage to do what was right. If anything I think those who were involved with the fight should have received at least a 2 game suspension and no participation in any bowl game if the team qualifies. If these suspensions hurt the team enough that they fail to qualify for a bowl then that is too bad. When players violate team rules and get into fights that send others to the hospital the staff has to respond firmly to get the message across to the players that this will not be tolerated in any way.
Well done, Fridge!
Da'Rel Scott had another phenomenal game to carry his team into the playoffs. Scott could be another Bruce Perry but with more speed and explosiveness.
From the Times Herald:
Scott gave plenty on this night. He ran for a single-game career-high 312 yards with three rushing touchdowns. He also caught two balls and scored a fourth TD through the air.
"The old Wing-T coach giving it to one guy 29 times, how about that?," Iacovitti joked. "When you have a guy like that, you ought to use him."
With the big night, Scott now has run for 2,440 yards on the year, leaving him just 52 yards shy of the area record, set last year by Lansdale Catholic's R.C. Lagomarsino.
Friday, November 04, 2005
Nik Caner-Medley seems to have changed his attitude coming into this season. He was streaky last season and was benched on occasion for a lack of focus on defense and poor shot selection. Simple determination and willingness to play within the system could cure both those problems. When Medley tries to go outside his skills he gets himself into trouble and disrupts the entire team. In a Washington Post interview Caner-Medley described last year's NIT finish as "embarrassing" and a huge disappointment for this group of seniors. He claims they have rededicated themselves to playing with total effort both in practice and in games. In college sports attitude plays a much bigger role than anyone cares to admit. College teams with bad chemistry almost never meet expectations and last year was no different. Medley alluded to the poor chemistry with John Gilchrist, who was his roommate and "great friend",
"That's your teammates; those are the people who care about you," Caner-Medley said of Gilchrist's remarks. "If you're willing to say things about people who care about you, how do you think people are going to perceive that who don't even know you? He made some bad decisions, and it hurt him."His teammates and coaches defended Gilchrist most of the year even after it was obvious he was a divisive figure on the team and set a bad example with his work habits in practice. Clearly his teammates were surprised when he suggested in an interview that they did not match his intensity and were the cause of the team's inconsistent play.
Medley seems to have taken this lesson to heart:
"There won't be one practice this year that I don't go 100 percent. There won't be one game where I don't leave everything on the floor," said Caner-Medley, whose team will open the regular season Nov. 18 against Fairleigh Dickinson. "In the past, when you are immature, there's been practices where I have come with the mentality like, 'I can't wait until practice is over. I am tired. I want practice to be over.'If McCray, Strawberry and Medley can become the senior leaders that Maryland lacked last season then this team could achieve some great things.
The investigation into the brawl at a local bar involving the football team is ongoing. Friedgen hinted that players could press charges of their own if the injured bouncers pursue legal action. Suspensions are sure to follow, the only questions are who gets them and for how long.
Onto better news Josh Allen was interviewed by the Sun about his recovery from a devastating knee injury in last season's finale versus Wake Forest. It seems Josh is doing well and iching to get back to playing. He will give Lance Ball a serious challenge at running back next spring if he is fully recovered.
Sam Hollenbach may need off season surgery on his clavicle (collar bone) that he injured against Virginia Tech if it does not heal properly. Sounds like this will be a nagging injury for the rest of the year. The running game must improve to protect him and the staff should throw out any QB option plays. If Hollenbach goes down for the season then the Terps can kiss their bowl hopes goodbye.