Saturday, December 30, 2006

Terps top Purdue

Maryland rolled to a convincing 24-7 victory in the Champs Sports bowl over the Boilermakers in the first ever meeting between the two programs. The Terps game plan was to control the time of possession and keep Purdue's high powered passing game off the field. They were able to execute that plan to perfection. Purdue never seemed in sync on offense or defense from the start of the game with two three and out drives in their first three possessions while allowing Maryland an eight and ten play drive in its first three possessions.

While Maryland never had a dominating lead it seemed that the Terps were always in firm control of the game. Sam Hollenbach had an excellent first half tacking what the Purdue defense was offering and playing off the success of the Terps rushing attack. He connected with tight end Joey Haynos for a touchdown in the first quarter and spread the ball to all of his receivers early in the game which helped keep the Boilermaker defense guessing.

The Maryland defense played perhaps the best game of the season, though it seemed the ineffectiveness of Purdue's offense had as much to do with their lack of execution as anything Maryland was doing. The high powered passing game of Purdue under quarterback Curtis Painter failed to make the big plays that they needed. Purdue's running game was a non factor in the game and failed to gain a single first down out of the 12 Purdue had on offense. Purdue managed only a paltry 21 yards on 13 carries and was unable to exploit an area that has been problematic for Maryland's defense all season.

With the Purdue ground game eliminated the Terps' pass rush reappeared for one of the few times all season. The defensive line notched 3 sacks and allowed defensive coordinator Chris Cosh to rush with only the the front four which helped the secondary to cover the talented Purdue receivers.

While the first year, and perhaps last year, of Ralph Friedgen as offensive coordinator has produced decidedly mixed results the gameplan that he crafted for this bowl game was masterful. It was a near perfect balance of run and pass in the first half. The Boilermaker defense was on its heels the entire game as Friedgen switch to a punishing ground game in the second half. You will rarely see the kind of domination in time of possession that Maryland enjoyed in the second half. Purdue's time of possession for the second half was an unbelievable six and a half minutes compared to Maryland's 23 and a half minutes. It was obvious that the preparation by the coaching staff won the game for Maryland.

It was an especially good night for a number of Maryland's seniors. Sam Hollenbach was awarded the Champs Sports bowl MVP, Josh Wilson got an interception late in the game and DT Conrad Bolston got his first full sack of the year in his last game. It was a nice finish for three of the cornerstone seniors that suffered through the last two lean seasons.

Grades

Quarterback

Sam Hollenbach had an excellent night with two touchdowns and 253 yards passing. He did not make any mistakes of significance and did a great job running the offense. It was a fitting end for a quarterback that has received too little credit for his play and far to much blame for Maryland's struggles the last few seasons, even from his own coach.
Grade: A+

Runningbacks
Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore combined for 188 yards on 28 carries. Their physical runs wore down the Purdue defense in the second half and helped salt away the win for Maryland. Fullback Cory Jackson also showed some ability as a ball carrier in addition to his punishing blocks. He scored the first touchdown of his career.
Grade: A

Receivers
Darrius Heyward-Bey made another big play in the passing game connecting with Hollenbach for a 46 yard touchdown. Danny Oquendo made some big catches and finished with 60 yards receiving. Joey Haynos is a great target in the red zone and caught a touchdown pass to start off the game.
Grade: B

Offensive Line
The line dominated an undersized Boilermaker front. Sam Hollenbach had little pressure on him the entire game and was never sacked. On the ground Maryland plowed out 212 yards and controlled the game in the second half. The final game for Stephon Heyer and Donnie Woods was memorable for both. Jared Gaither and Dane Randolph rotated at tackle as Gaither lost his starting job for now.
Grade: A+

Defensive Line
Collectively the Terps line played as well as they have all season. Bolston, Carlos Feliciano, and rising star Berrod Heggs all came up with a sack. Defensive end Jeremy Navarre also got a tackle for loss and Dre Moore helped control the line of scrimmage.
Grade: B+

Linebackers
Erin Henderson continues to establish his leadership of the group and the defense in general. His forced fumble in the 3rd quarter helped keep Purdue from gaining momentum. He also showed his ability in coverage. Wesley Jefferson had a nice game and is a good compliment to Henderson.
Grade: B

Secondary
Josh Wilson finished a distinguished career at Maryland with an interception late in the game. He helped shut down the potent Purdue receivers all game. Anthony Wiseman perhaps gave fans a glimpse of what they can look forward to next year with two pass breakups and some nice nickle and dime coverage. Safety Marcus Wimbush and junior corner Isaiah Gardner combined for 10 tackles.
Grade: B

Special Teams
Maryland didn't really need much from kicker Dan Ennis or punter Adam Podlesh for the win. Ennis missed a 47 yard attempt but made a 22 yard field goal. Podlesh dropped 2 punts inside the 20. Hopefully he can catch on in the NFL. Kickoffs were short and continue to be a deficiency.
Grade: C+

Friday, December 29, 2006

What we've learned: UNC

Now that most of the teams in the ACC have played a league game and are getting ready to start their conference schedules it is a good time to access each team and see what we've learned so far. I'll have a series of short reviews for each team over the next week. We'll start with North Carolina.

North Carolina
What we've learned so far:
This is a powerful, deep and multifaceted team. Like most Roy Williams' squads they are athletic and have speed to burn but are also prone to defensive lapses. The new backcourt players have yet to jell with the hold overs from last years' squad and Williams hasn't found a rotation that seems to work. The reduced roles of Reyshawn Terry and Bobby Frasor have resulted in a decline in the perimeter defense for Carolina. Freshman Ty Lawson is too short to be a very effective perimeter defender. Scary as it may be freshman forward Brandan Wright may be even better than Tyler Hansbrough by the end of the season. He can score and rebound but is also a far superior defensive presence than Hansbrough. Wright already leads Carolina with 21 blocks compared to Hansbrough's 4. Even with all the talent this Carolina team has significant weaknesses and is at least another season away from being a national champion caliber team. They should be favored to win the ACC with relative ease but their loss to Gonzaga showed that the Tarheels can be an inconsistent bunch. Unless Roy Williams can find a better recipe for rotations Carolina will not play up to their talent level.

Key Wins:
Tennessee, Ohio State, Kentucky

Bad Losses:
None

Prediction: 1st place (13-3)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Holiday Cheer

Overall it has been a good fall season for Maryland fans. The field hockey team won their second NCAA championship in a row, the football team is back in a bowl game for the first time in two years, the women's basketball team continues to roll at the top of the polls and Gary Williams' merry bunch are surpassing expectations.

There shouldn't be much to complain about, but then again that is one of the favorite pastimes of Maryland fans young and old. Perhaps reducing your complaints about Maryland sports should be among your New Years resolutions. It will make watching the Terps much more enjoyable, I guarantee you.

Thanks to all of you out there who find your way to my humble writings. I've enjoyed another year of writing about Maryland sports, though the following the Terps wasn't always enjoyable in 2006. Let's all look forward to a prosperous and healthy 2007 for the Terps and our fellow fans. I'll be back next week with a few thoughts on the Champs Sports bowl and the early returns for ACC basketball.

It is somewhat appropriate during this season that guard Donnie Woods announced that he will be leaving the football team after the bowl game against Purdue to pursue a career in the United States military. Woods is on track to graduate but has another year of eligibility that he will forgo to achieve his goal of a military or law enforcement career. Instead of protecting Maryland's quarterback next year Woods may be helping to protect the rest of us in some dangerous and far away place. The physical toughness that was his trademark as a guard on Maryland's offensive line and the camaraderie he shared with his teammates may serve him well in desperate places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Woods won't enjoy any of the "preferred lifestyle", as his father called the life of a college football player, while in the military. It will be spartan and certainly lacking in the trappings of celebrity that come with being a big man on campus, but Woods seems to recognize how shallow and fleeting that kind of adoration is in the cold business of college football. Donnie Woods wants to do something more meaningful with his life. That kind of courage doesn't exist in many people, even less often in a 22 year old college student bestowed with the comfortable and privileged position that Woods enjoys. Let's be thankful that there are men like Donnie Woods and hope that we're worthy of his courage and convictions.

Read more about Woods in the Washington Post and Washington Times.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

All-ACC Football Selections

Four Maryland players made the All-ACC 2nd team. Unlike the Maryland website I don't count honorable mention as "making the All-ACC team". To me honorable mention implies the opposite, that you didn't make the team.

The players that did receive honors are:

2nd Team All-ACC
OG Andrew Crummey
LB Erin Henderson
P Adam Podlesh
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey

A number of other players received votes but did not make the 1st or 2nd team. Quarterback Sam Hollenbach, CB Josh Wilson, OT Stephon Heyer, K Dan Ennis and TE Joey Haynos all made honorable mention.

I think Crummey was solid on an offensive line that underachieved all year but I'm not sure he was 2nd team All-ACC level. Josh Wilson probably deserved to be 2nd team All-ACC but didn't make enough interceptions to impress the voters. The lack of a pass rush hurt him as well. Wilson did receive the Jim Tatum Award given to the top senior football student athlete. Josh is a great representative of the University and football program.

Maryland was tied for 7th in the ACC for number of players on the 1st or 2nd teams ahead of only Florida State, Virginia, North Carolina (who had none) and Duke. That certainly speaks to the perception of the talent on Maryland's roster among the writers.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Terps blow away shooting records

It wasn't much of a contest between Missouri Kansas City and Maryland last week. UMKC stayed in their zone defense and Maryland began a long range attack like the Eight Air Force. Mike Jones hit 9 of his 13 attempts from 3-point range setting a new individual single game record in the process. He started off missing his first few attempts but then got white hot and scored 27 points in just 21 minutes, all on 3-point attempts. Jones also added 5 rebounds and 3 assists to his record setting performance. The team set another record with 17 three point baskets for the game.

There isn't much point in breaking down the game. It was a bad blowout against an over matched foe. A few of the interesting tidbits that came from the game. Greivis Vasquez and Bambale Osby replaced the struggling Eric Hayes and Ekene Ibekwe in the starting lineup. Hayes played well off the bench but Ibekwe didn't look all that great with only 4 points and 7 rebounds in his 19 minutes. If he doesn't get motivated by this demotion it may become a permanent move by Gary Williams. I'd be surprised if Ibekwe wasn't back in the starting lineup against American but he needs to show something in the next few weeks to firm up his hold on his starting job.

James Gist had another nice night with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Hopefully we are witnessing the light come on for Gist who has yet to tap into his enormous potential. It was his second double double in a row and third for the season. His free throw shooting has improved dramatically as he's hitting 78% of his freebies, by far the best rate among any of the big men. By contrast Ibekwe is only hitting 55% of his free throws and has become a real liability against a team with a deep bench that can hack away at Ekene.

I thought it was a embarrassing that Jason McAlpin jacked up a 3-pointer with only a few seconds left in the game. Gary Williams could only smirk when the ball went in and carried Maryland over the 100 point mark. The defense backed off for UMKC and McAlpin had already scored in the game. It was just the latest example of the lack of respect that athletes have for their opponents these days.


Football Notes
Guard Donnie Woods, who had a spinal injury scare during the Miami game, has left the team and will pursue his goal of joining the military or a law enforcement agency. I don't blame Woods at all. It was apparent that he was very scared by the nature of his injury, as any rational person would be, and unless you've lain motionless on a football field not knowing if you'll be paralysed you couldn't say what you would do in his shoes.

Another guard Garrick Clig, who was a reserve, will also leave the team.

This will leave Maryland thin on the offensive line again next season. Jamie Thomas replaced Woods and did a fair job in his absence. Maryland will likely playing with two new tackles next season as Stephon Heyer is a senior and Jared Gaither will likely enter the NFL draft. Gaither had a very mediocre season despite several preseason All-ACC teams but has his sights set on professional football. Dane Randolph and Scott Burley will both have to dramatically elevate their play at tackle or Maryland will struggle to pass protect next year.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Beantown Blunder

I've become convinced that this season will ultimately be a referendum on the senior class. If this team will achieve something notable or will falter after a promising start it will likely turn on the play from the current seniors. Given that Will Bowers is a minor bench player and his career at Maryland is "all over but the shoutin'", as the saying goes, the trio of DJ Strawberry, Mike Jones and Ekene Ibekwe are the foundation that will either be the rock, or sand, that Gary Williams will upon build this season. The play of freshmen Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez has been impressive but neither is at the point where they could carry a team.

If the 2005 season was the epitaph of the disastrous 2002 recruiting class then this season is the last chance for the current seniors to distinguish themselves from the infamy of their predecessors. The bad attitudes that plagued the '04 and '05 versions of the Terrapins are not present in the current bunch but whether they are winners or not has yet to be seen. In his post game interview Gary Williams alluded to the fact that the seniors didn't come through in critical moments during the loss to Boston College the other night. I am fond of DJ Strawberry and admire his determination and the way he sacrificed for the better of the team last season, but he hasn't been able to supply the on court leadership that I think Gary would like him to exhibit. As the closest thing to a leader this group has he can't go 2-10 shooting in an ACC road game and give the Terps a hope of winning.

It is about time that Maryland fans stop judging Mike Jones through the prism of his lofty high school ranking and McDonalds All-American pedigree. After 3 seasons at Maryland Jones is an undeniably talented player with a beautiful shooting form but is also a flawed and incomplete shooting guard. When he shoots in rhythm he can score from anywhere on the floor and can get white hot if he gets into a grove early but if he struggles early his entire game suffers. Usually when a great shooting guard is struggling from the outside he can drive to the basket and score from the foul line. Jones is a very good free throw shooter but doesn't have the type of game to draw those shooting fouls. Despite a rugged frame he doesn't fare well in traffic and usually prefers to take jump shots which tends to make him one dimensional. Boston College extended the perimeter defense on Jones and made him a non-factor. It shouldn't be that easy to shut down a player that can score 20 points on any given night, but with Jones it is either feast or famine. His defense against Boston College probably cost the Terps 7-10 points. Jones seems to be a nice kid and I'm glad he chose to play at Maryland but he isn't the answer to Maryland's offensive woes. Gary Williams gave Jones 32 minutes of playing time because he had a bunch of friends and family in the stands from his nearby home town in Massachusetts, not because he was performing at a high level to justify those minutes.

Of all the seniors Ekene Ibekwe is the most baffling player. He has the skills to dominate games against elite competition, like the 21 point 9 rebound game against BC last season, but then disappears the next night. Ibekwe's lack of focus and motivation are his biggest flaws. Since missing the Illinois game he has, not to mince words, been playing godawful. He has 12 turnovers in the last three games, a feat for a power forward, and his free throw shooting has taken a nose dive at 3-11 in that same span. I don't know if his ankle is still bothering him but his play hasn't been anywhere near the level you would hope from a player that leads the team in career starts. His technical foul for taunting helped to seal Maryland's fate in the loss to Notre Dame.

Given this I think it may be a good time for Gary Williams to give Bambale Osby a reward for his hard work and improving play with a starting spot. With Missouri Kansas City and American coming up it would be a great time to let Ibekwe come off the bench and learn that he needs to raise his level of play. I'm not advocating that Ibekwe lose his starting spot at this point but he needs to learn that he can't give those kinds of halfhearted efforts and keep his starting spot. He hasn't been challenged for his position in almost two seasons but with Osby playing so well that isn't the case anymore. I think Ibekwe is the kind of player who will perform better if he has a little more urgency. Perhaps beginning the next two games on the bench can help instill that in the senior.

As for Osby it is impossible not to love what he is bringing off the bench. He nearly got a double double in just 23 minutes and scored a number of baskets on BC's shot blocking center Sean Williams. His effort is never in doubt and he scraps relentlessly for rebounds and loose balls. He played very good defense with 3 blocks and a number of disruptions on the Eagles high screens, if only Gist and Ibekwe could learn that from Osby's example. Add in 10 points from a tidy 5-10 from the floor and you can't really ask any more from the junior college transfer. His only weak spot now is his sub 60% free throw shooting.

After a sizzling start Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez are starting to look more like, well, freshmen. Hayes seems to have lost a little confidence and is playing a very hesitant game at point guard now which is hurting his best ability. Like a relief pitcher in baseball or a quarterback in football a point guard has to have a confidence or even swagger to play at his best. Right now Hayes has lost a little of that and needs to find his way back to the free wheeling distributor he was for the first eight games. As the season goes on Maryland will also need Hayes to find his scoring touch. Vasquez and Strawberry are more scorers than shooters and Hayes' ability to shoot from the perimeter will help the half court offense. Vasquez plays out of control from time to time but Gary Williams wants that aggressive play from the frosh. He has a dreadful shooting night and really limits himself when he tries to make too many one-on-one plays. In spite of his early season heroics everyone needs to remember he is still a freshman with only a handful of games in college.

James Gist had his best game of perhaps the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds. He played well enough in the second half for Maryland to win but got no help from his teammates. Gist needs to assert himself more on the offensive end and defer to his teammates less often.

Outside of Osby the bench didn't contribute much in this game. The Eagles only played seven men and were normally outmatched athletically by Maryland but controlled the tempo masterfully to limit the Terps advantage. Maryland struggled to get any baskets in transition and if they cannot get a few easy baskets off defense they can't score very well. Boston College just plods along running their version of the flex down your throat. They make you defend for a good 20 seconds into the shot clock and will continually probe for a weakness until the find one. For Maryland that often took the form of terrible defensive rebounding as BC got far too many second chance points. Teams will study this game and the Michigan State game earlier in the year to get a blue print on how to attack Maryland. Slow the tempo down, prevent transition baskets by Maryland, spread your offense out and make Maryland's backcourt defend you one-on-one then attack the offensive glass. This is the formula that teams like NC State and Virginia Tech will try to employ later in the year. Few teams will outlast the Terps in an uptempo game but they have shown a vulnerability to patient teams with good rebounding frontlines.

In the second half with BC faltering and Maryland close to taking the lead the Terps seemed to bumble away every critical possession. With the deficit down to four points early in the half Maryland committed two turnovers and missed a layup with the next three possessions. With the Eagles only ahead by five with 13 minutes left the Terps went 0-5 and turned the ball over twice more. Finally with just over four minutes left in the game and only down four points Maryland turned the ball over 3 times and again missed all 5 field goal attempts with their next eight possessions before hitting a free throw with 45 seconds left. If they had grabbed any of those opportunities the game likely would have gone Maryland's way. Instead they degenerated into an ugly sequence of one-on-one battles that resulted in only 2 assists and 9 turnovers in the 2nd half.

This game wasn't a total disaster. Last years team would have been blown out by 20 on a poor shooting night like this team had on Sunday. They played tenacious and sometimes individually heroic defense to help stay in the game and remain in striking distance until the final minutes. That is something to build on. The offense will improve as the season progresses and the next month will provide the Terps with an opportunity to improve in a number of areas. Let's hope they take advantage of these games starting tomorrow night.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Fordham Efficiency

For those who are not sure what these ratings mean they are a method of evaluating a team's efficiency on offense or defense by taking into account the tempo with which a team normally plays. For instance a run and gun team may actually play better defense than a slow it down Princeton style team that gives up on average 20 points less per game. These techniques were pioneered by baseball stat heads but those principles have been imported to basketball by people like Dean Oliver.

In essence these ratings give a estimation of how many points a team would score or allow in 100 possessions. You can therefore compare teams that play very different styles.

For the Fordham game:

Offense 102.7
Defense 76.4

The numbers seem to indicate that Maryland played a better game than they appeared to at the time. It wasn't pretty but it ended up being effective.

The annual Mike Jones debate has started again. There were some grumblings after the Notre Dame loss which saw Jones play 20 minutes despite not sinking a single field goal all game. Jones is a streaky shooter, we all know this, but I don't really know how you can keep him out there with that scant production. The current bench is too deep to keep other players like Vasquez or the equally streaky Parrish Brown out of the game in the hopes that after seven missed shots Jones will get back on track. You'll end up losing more games while waiting for Jones to get hot, instead of using your bench.

More to the point if you look at Ken Pomery's fantastic website you can see that Mike Jones has a higher percentage of minutes played than any players except DJ Strawberry and James Gist. He is getting loads of minutes and takes a higher percentage of shots for the team while he is in the game than any player on the roster. If Jones isn't producing it is because he isn't hitting shots and failing to get to the free throw line, not because Gary Williams yanks him too quickly. There is an issue with the opposing defense dramatically changing depending on whether Jones is in or out of the game, but that's for another time.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Winning Ugly

Maryland's game against Fordham last night was one of the worst 20 point victories I've seen in a long time. For long stretches the Terps' offense looked disjointed and sloppy while the defense was solid but not spectacular. It seemed that there was still a hangover from the loss to Notre Dame on Sunday as the players were lethargic and unfocused for long stretches. Fordham held a lead until 9 minutes left in the first half but stayed within striking distance until late in the 2nd half. The Rams are a pesky guard oriented team with multi-skilled big men, just the kind of team that gave Maryland fits the last few years. Fordham also has shown an ability to create turnovers which they did with effectiveness against Maryland's young players. The real weakness of Fordham is their mediocre shooting, which prevented them from exploiting more of Maryland's defensive breakdowns. In the end Maryland's deep bench just ground down the Rams and made the final margin of victory deceptive.

Mike Jones had an excellent offensive game scoring 18 points and adding 6 rebounds. He is a streaky shooter and his first few shots of the night will usual tell the tail of how Jones will do in a particular game. There were also moments that showed why he finds the bench from time to time as his defense and ball handling deficiencies were also evident. He must have given up about 6 points due to defensive breakdowns, but that is what Jones will give you.

Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist both got into early foul trouble and only played a combined 14 minutes in the 1st half. At times Gary Williams played DJ Strawberry at the power forward spot. Bambale Osby, perhaps one of the better bench players in college basketball, came in and gave Maryland 6 points and 3 rebounds in 11 minutes of valuable production. He is one of the most effecient players on the team and has the unique ability to come off the bench and make plays immediately. Next season Osby will be able to be a regular double-double producer while playing starters minutes. Ibekwe made some impressive blocks and Gist scored 8 points in the 2nd half but neither had a good game. The were both careless with the ball and made some bad decisions when the got passes in the low post. Neither is a tough and nasty low post player, they both like floating around the lane and getting the ball with seperation from the defender.

Eric Hayes struggled again and he seems to be suffering from a lack of confidence that he displayed earlier in the season. He dribbled himself into some traps, as he did in the Notre Dame game, and made some very tentative passes that resulted in turnovers. Hayes isn't a scorer and Maryland relies on his steady hand to get the other players involved in the offense. When he struggles with his decision making he doesn't contribute much else to the team. Hopefully Hayes can get his game back on track before the game against Boston College. He has 10 turnovers and only 5 assists in his last two games. While Vasquez has received some well deserved hype recently, including in Sports Illustrated, the other players seem to be more comfortable in their roles with Hayes on the floor.

Greivis Vasquez helped to extend Maryland's lead late in the 2nd half with a number of drives to the basket that resulted in fouls. He was perfect from the floor and the foul line in the 2nd period. At times he was out of control and had his share of turnovers. He did contribute 16 points and tends to force the action a little better than Hayes with his current struggles.

DJ Strawberry didn't shoot particularly well but gave the Terps some steady ball handling while the freshmen struggled. He ended with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists which is an impressive stat line. I do wish that Strawberry would become more of a vocal on the court leader. DJ says all the right things after games but it is more important to show that kind of leadership in the court when the freshmen are struggling and the marsh mellow big men need someone to stiffen their spines. Perhaps that isn't in Strawberry's constitution and I don't mean that as a criticisms of the heroic senior. Maryland would be much better if that was part of his game. This team really needs a court leader to reach its potential.

For me the story of the game was the 25 turnovers that Maryland compiled. Fordham may be a pesky bunch but far too many of the turnovers were of the unforced kind by Maryland. Sloppy passes and ball handling resulted in way too many possession being given away to the opponent. The Terps are efficient enough on offense that they have been able to overcome the turnovers for now and the defense has helped keep opponents from going on big runs. Maryland cannot continue to be so careless with the ball once league play starts and expect to win.

On the positive side the defense, helped by Fordham's poor shooting, was able to keep the Rams to 32% from the field and 33% from the 3-point line. It is a good sign that the defense, with a few breakdowns, continues to be solid. Maryland also rebounded better and held a 14 board advantage by the end of the game.

Maryland struggled but was able to right itself during the game and fight off a Fordham team that put a scare in Tennessee earlier in the year and may make some noise in the Atlantic 10. There will be some good things for Gary Williams to work on over the next few days to get ready for Boston College. The Eagles are a tough defensive team that requires an opponent to remain patient and move the ball for a good look at the basket. If the Terps are careless with the ball or settle for quick shots it will be a very difficult game to win. In some ways Boston College is similar to the Michigan State team that gave Maryland a tough and physical game earlier in the season. They don't have much offensive firepower beyond Jared Dudley but have a pair of streaky shooters in Sean Marshal and Tyrese Rice. Two keys will be who Gary Williams defends Dudley with, my guess is Strawberry, and if Boston College can exploit Maryland's problems with offensive rebounds.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Henderson Has Surgery

Linebacker Erin Henderson had fluid drained from a growth on his arm last week. After the Wake Forest game Henderson noticed his arm was swollen and when the area became the size of a baseball he decided to get it examined. Further tests are being conducted on the growth but Henderson is expected to play in the bowl game against Purdue. From the Washington Post.

The first loss by the basketball team resulted in some spirited practices on Monday. You can imagine Gary Williams wasn't too pleased with the effort of his team. There were more than a few culprits in the loss to Notre Dame. The players that Notre Dame has are similar to the kind you'd get at a high mid-major. Not very athletic, but skilled and good outside shooters. Just another example that you can't just show up in college basketball and beat 80% of the teams you play. From the Washington Times.

According to John Feinstein Gary Williams did mention the horrible job that the officials did during the Notre Dame game at the BB&T, but that isn't likely to change Maryland's commitment to playing in this event.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Ratings for BB&T

Maryland
Defense: 100.9
Offense: 92.1

Fairly obvious why this game turned out the way it did for the Terps. That is the highest, and therefore worst, defensive rating Maryland has given up all year. The offensive rating was the also the worst of the season for the Terps and only the second game it dipped below 100, the 95.9 against Winthrop was the only other sub-100 performance.

In spite of the poor defense that allowed 11 consecutive field goals Notre Dame still only shot 43% from the floor and a mediocre 37% from 3-point range. Not many teams would win consistently with those offensive numbers. If Maryland had been able to execute just a little better on offense they could have won with the poor defense.

Football News
I have not forgotten about the football team, even though it may seem that way. They'll get to play Purdue in an intreguing matchup with a decent Big Ten school at the Champs Sports Bowl. Purdue Coach Joe Tiller is one of the better stratigists in college football and seeing him match wits with Ralph Friedgen should be a treat. Interestingly the Boilermakers avoided having to play Michigan or Ohio State in their league schedule and failed to win a game against any conference foe with a winning record.

I'll have a season roundup with my thoughts on the Boston College and Wake Forest losses in the next few weeks.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Young Terps Stumble

Surely no one thought that Maryland was going to go undefeated this season. With young players at key positions the progression of a team is never linear and there will be inevitable setbacks. After three wins over major conference opponents to start the season the Terps got into a game with a scrappy opponent that wanted to prove something by beating the first ranked opponent in seven tries. Notre Dame was fired up for this game and Maryland seemed to still be basking in the glow of their win at Illinois. It will be different for this group now that they have attracted so much attention and some rather lofty rankings by sports writers. Maryland found itself on every "power" poll that is published on the internet and for middle of the road squads like Notre Dame it can make their season to beat the Terrapins. Being able to handle that pressure will be another step in the maturation of this group.

It is true that Maryland has a collection of seniors but the majority of them are only second year starters. The 2002 class acted as a logjam that stagnated the entire program but especially the 2003 class that followed them. In a perfect world this group would have matured as bench players and have been fully formed coming into this season but it is clear after the Notre Dame game that they still have to hone certain aspects of their game. From Mike Jones being a total non-factor, Ekene Ibekwe's stupid technical foul for taunting, to DJ Strawberry waiting till it was too late to take over the game it wasn't a great game for the seniors. The freshman didn't look as mature as they had the first eight games with both Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez both struggling and looking like kids with two months experience on a college campus.

Sometimes when a team is on a hot streak layoff like the one Maryland had after the Tuesday game in Champaign can result in the kind of lackadaisical and uninspired performance that we saw the other night. Nortre Dame clearly wanted to play a very physical game and from the tip they hand checked and bodied all the Maryland players. As it became clear the officials were not in the mood to whistle much of anything the Fighting Irish turned more towards the goon style of defense. I became very concerned that a Terps player would leave the game with a bad injury as the officials let the game spiral out of control. DJ Strawberry and James Gist both were sent crashing to the floor at different points but were thankfully not badly injured. It reminded me of the play in last season's BB&T that saw blood on the floor when George Washington beat Maryland. It was clear that the middling coach of the Irish, Mike Brey, who seems to think that the 1990's jacket and mock turtle neck look is still fashionable, studied the Michigan State game tape and decided to try to be very physical with Maryland. Given that his team has the collective athleticism of Gene Hackman's team in Hoosiers it was his best choice. At one point in the first half his big men were scared to even go into the lane against the jack rabbits wearing Maryland jerseys. After two Notre Dame goons nearly decapitated James Gist as he went up for a dunk in the 2nd half they seemed to gain a little courage.

As ridiculous as the officiating was it wasn't what lost the game for Maryland. A string of 11 field goals in a row for Notre Dame was what turned the tide against the Terps. With a comfortable eight point lead with 14 minutes left in the second half Maryland seemed ready to blow Notre Dame out of the gym then Ekene Ibekwe showed some of his immaturity and taunted a Nortre Dame player after a block. He was quickly called for a technical foul that helped to spark the run by the Irish. Notre Dame spread the floor out after that and beat Maryland with cuts to the basket but it wasn't until after they had started to make a run and Maryland's defense unravled.

James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe had their softness and lack of interior play laid bare for all to see. Neither has the kind of nasty streak you need in a great interior player. They are most effective when Maryland's wing players can drive to the basket and draw defenders giving Gist and Ibekwe the space they need to be effective. In this game Maryland's guards were unable to do that with any effectiveness. It is worth noting that Bambale Osby grabbed 8 rebounds in sixteen minutes which is three more than Ibekwe got in 25 minutes. Gist matched Osby's total but took 32 minutes to do it.

Eric Hayes had the worst night of his young career. The initial pressure by Notre Dame got him out of sorts and he didn't seem the same the rest of the night. For the first time this season he had more turnovers (4) than assists (2). He also struggled badly to defend the dribble penetrations by Kyle McAlarney, who had only scored in double digits once all season.

His fellow freshman teammate Greivis Vasquez didn't have a great night either and shot a terrible 4-15 from the floor. At times Vasquez took some bad shots and rushed possessions giving the opponent more opportunity to increase their lead. This should throw some cold water on fools like Greg Doyle who think Gary Williams is crazy to start Eric Hayes at point.

It is a shame that DJ Strawberry waited until Maryland was down 8 points with just over a minute to start asserting himself. Strawberry scored 9 points in about 40 seconds and clearly showed that Notre Dame didn't have a single player who could match him one-on-one. Makes you wonder what would have happened had Strawberry snapped out of his funk sooner. I'm not blaming DJ since he showed some real heart at the end of the game and nearly had his season ended with another knee injury later in the game. He is as tough and gutsy a player as Maryland has had since Juan Dixon but he needs to realize that he has to bear the burden of being "The Man" for this group. Once he embraces that Maryland will be better off. His post game comments seem to indicate he realizes that he must take leadership of this group.

So far this season there have been a number of surprising losses for ranked teams: Arizona losing to Virginia, Kansas losing to Oral Roberts, Georgetown losing to ODU, this is the state of college basketball. There is a dilution of talent and parity reigns so you'd better be ready to play every night. Maryland learned this lesson against a Notre Dame team they should have handled easily. The same day Georgia Tech learned that lesson when they lost to a terrible Miami squad. That may well come back to haunt the Yellow Jackets. For Maryland this game may be just a learning experience.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Generalissimo Arrives

Or perhaps the term caudillo is more appropriate for the electric Venezuelan.

Simply a transcendent performance by Greivis Vasquez. With Maryland struggling and suddenly down five points at 48-43 the freshman willed the game to Maryland by scoring 8 straight points to get Maryland back into the game. In the last eight and a half minutes Vasquez scored 12 points and had 15 out of Maryland's 38 2nd half points. He played like a senior, giving the Terps the lift they needed after blowing an early double digit lead. As I wrote many months ago Vasquez will be a special player at Maryland. He clearly shines off the bench and for now that is the role in which he is best suited. Eric Hayes did get slightly rattled in the game but he usually brings a more even and controlled tempo to the team. He is a slightly better distributor and the other players seem to be more comfortable with Hayes on the floor.

Maryland started off like gangbusters and blitzed the Illinois crowd out of the game. Then the atmosphere and defensive pressure combined to get some of the younger players out of rhythm. The last 10 minutes of the half and first 10 minutes of the 2nd half were as awful as the Terps have played all year. Maryland got lazy on defense and started settling for poor shots on offense. Keep in mind that not only are Hayes and Vasquez freshman but Bambale Osby, playing for the injured Ekene Ibekwe, was playing in his first truly big game at Maryland. While Osby and Hayes didn't elevated their game to the stratosphere like Vasquez they both regained their composure and sunk four big freethrows to ice the game. The young players got a little rattled but in giving up a large lead and then fighting back to pull the game out they showed impressive toughness.

Mike Jones started red hot and finished with 19 points though he was very quiet in the 2nd half. Jones only played 11 minutes in the 2nd half while Maryland struggled to generate any offense. His defense is still spotty but that is what you get in return for his ability to score almost anywhere inside the NBA 3-point line. Without Jones' 19 points Maryland would not have been able to overcome the absence of Ibekwe and the struggles of DJ Strawberry to win at Illinois. I felt that some of the substitution patterns were a little strange but given the results it would seem a little churlish to complain.

James Gist had a game that encapsulates his career at Maryland so far. At times he was dominant but then disappeared during critical stretches of the game. In the first half he clearly dominated the Illinois front court with 9 points and 3 blocks but he had more turnovers (3) than points (2) in the second half even though he played 19 minutes. Will Bowers played a season high 16 minutes and while he was largely effective on defense his rebounding was atrocious. I feel bad for Bowers as it seems he has lost all his confidence and has been relegated to the fourth big man in the rotation. Unless he shows more passion and intensity for the limited minutes he is on the floor it won't get any better for him. Bowers and the other front court players allowed 21 offensive rebounds to Illinois which allowed them to shoot 15 more field goal attempts than Maryland. Defensive rebounding has been a major problem for the team so far this season but the perimeter defense and the Terps own shooting has allowed them to overcome this problem.

At 8-0 for the season and a showdown with Boston College over a week away Maryland is in an excellent position and forcing everyone in the nation to recognize Maryland is back!

Notes:
Maryland snapped Illinois 51 game home winning streak, the longest active streak in the nation.

Both Will Bowers and Greivis Vasquez had cuts opened up on their noses by the physical play.

The Straw That Stirs the Drink

Nice article by Patrick Stevens on the blossoming of DJ Strawberry with his new role this season. Strawberry is clearly the leader on the team and the most productive all around player, which is a great combination when you have both in the same guy. DJ is comfortable in his new role and is back making plays like he did in his first two seasons at Maryland.

Ekene Ibekwe's status for the game is still not certain. My guess is that he will show tonight. Ekene loves those ESPN broadcast games.

Illinois is getting back SG Jamar Smith but F Brian Randle is still out with an injury. They will need Smith to produce because Illinois was behind in both wins over Bradley and Miami(OH). Illinois didn't go ahead until five and half minutes left in the game against Bradley and led Miami(OH) for only about the first two minutes and the last 1:23 of the game after being down by double digits.

ACC-Big Ten Challenge

I think it is far from certain just how good the ACC will be this basketball season. There are five ACC teams in the top 25 at the moment but the conference has taken some bad out of conference hits from losses by the football members of the league. Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College all have some embarrassing losses to start the year that won't help the league RPI come March.

This ACC-Big Ten challenge will help to correct some of those early stumbles or give ACC members reason to worry about how many Missouri Valley teams will be selected over the once great Atlantic Coast Conference.

Here is how I see the games breaking down:

Michigan at NC State
I had predicted a Michigan win in this game but given how terrible NC State looked while winning I don't feel as bad. I'm sure this may get some of the Wolfpack faithful optimistic about their chances in a potentially mediocre ACC this season but given how bad Michigan played and the scare they gave NC State I wouldn't be optimistic about this bunch. They had great effort last night but are very short on talent.

Florida State at Wisconsin
The Badgers may have lost Missouri State but won't suffer a let down against the Seminoles. Florida State is a terrible road team playing in the most difficult home floor of this whole challenge.
Winner: Wisconsin

Penn State at Georgia Tech
If this was football UPS would have a chance. The Yellow Jackets are young but should blow them off the floor.
Winner: Georgia Tech

Indiana at Duke
Duke has serious weaknesses this year but always comes to play in these kinds of games. I doubt Indiana has the kinds of players you need to exploit their weaknesses.
Winner: Duke

Miami at Northwestern
Wake Forest gets excluded from the ACC side for this matchup? I'd rather watch the Demon Deacons against Air Force. Miami might win only 3 games this year in the ACC.
Winner: Northwestern

Michigan State at Boston College
My brother said that the Eagles might be this year's version of the 2005 Wake Forest team that imploded. After they got blown out by Vermont and Providence I'm starting to think he's right about BC.
Winner: Michigan State

Ohio State at North Carolina
Without Greg Oden I'm not sure why the Buckeyes are ranked number one in the nation. This isn't football folks. North Carolina should roll but if their over hyped freshman continue to struggle to fit in then things could be different. So far it seems like Roy Williams got a bunch of highly rated players and screwed up the good chemistry his team had last season.
Winner: North Carolina

Iowa at Virginia Tech
This could be a game that sets college basketball back a few decades. In the last week the Hokies found out why it isn't always such a great thing to have five starters back from a 4-12 team. Still I think they should be embarrassed enough by losses to Western Michigan and Southern Illinois to squeak out a close win at home.
Winner: Virginia Tech

Virginia at Purdue
This is the first halfway decent road test for the Cavaliers who just broke into the top 25 in one poll. Being Virginia you'd expect them to lose now. This Virginia team has plenty of holes but I don't think Purdue has the inside game to them.
Winner: Virginia

Clemson at Minnesota
The Gophers are just dreadful. This game is more about that than a weak Clemson squad.
Winner: Clemson

That makes it 7-3 in the ACC's favor by my count which assures another ACC win.

Oh, I almost forgot.

Maryland at Illinois
Jamar Smith comes back for the Illini from a sprained ankle just in time. This Illinois team was down to both Bradley and Miami(OH) before eking out close wins in both games. They are not playing their best basketball. On the other hand Maryland hasn't done too well as the road team in this challenge. Gary Williams has gotten all he could ask for out of the new freshman and Bambale Osby but I think they have their first let down of the season. As the 19th ranked team in the country this group now has a target on them. It will be interesting to see how they respond to the pressure.

Winner: Illinois

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Terps show grit


We've seen the new enthusiasm, intensity, and passion of this group and on Friday night Maryland fans got to see a glimpse of their fortitude. In a gritty, physical and closely contested game against Michigan State these new Terps hung on for a close 62-60 win over the Spartans. It probably wasn't Maryland's best game of the season but the Spartans tested Maryland in the areas that they appear to be weakest at this point in the season. Maryland was able to control the course of the game as the Spartans got ahead 6-4 but never lead again. This was a very nice win against a solid Tom Izzo team that will find its way to the the NCAAs this year. The destruction of St. Johns the night before looked more impressive as the Red Storm gave a young Texas team all the could handle in the early game before losing at the end 77-76.

One of the many differences between the 2006 version of the Terps and the 2005 model is that this team seems to know the value of starting strong. DJ Strawberry scored 8 consecutive points in the first five minutes of the game and has become a go-to player for Maryland. Mike Jones struggled for most of the game but the this team found out that it can win against a quality opponent without all of its starters having a good game. Maryland's pressure defense and full court press got the Spartans out of their rhythm on offense and Drew Neitzel found very few good looks while being blanketed by Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez.

You would expect a great coach like Tom Izzo to make adjustments at halftime to counter Maryland's success. The Spartans started running double screens for Neitzel and with Eric Hayes on the bench with foul trouble Neitzel started scoring. On those double screens Maryland's big men failed time and again to give proper help defense to the guards. Will Bowers is probably the best frontcourt player on those high screens but Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist are often out of position resulting in good looks for the opponent. Teams will start running these high screens at Maryland until the frontcourt starts playing them better.

Michigan State has been a very good rebounding team for a number of years and exposed another weak area for Maryland's frontcourt. The Terps were outrebounded 21-36 and also gave up 17 offensive boards to Michigan State. This is an area that Maryland will need to continue to improve upon. Bambale Osby only logged 5 mintues due to a couple of questionable offensive fouls but may be able to contribute to shoring up this area.

Oddly enough as the Terps were teetering on a slim lead late in the game it was the seniors who made some poor decisions and keep the Spartans hanging around. There were a few poor decisions by Strawberry, Gist and Ibekwe but the freshmen did not wilt under the pressure which was a good sign. Mike Jones had a number of critical plays down the stretch to help Maryland preserve the win. He is a clutch player, perhaps the most clutch player on the team, and seems to relish having the ball in his hands when the game is on the line. He hit a big time 3 pointer, sunk two free throws and grabbed an important rebound.

Don't think I'm dwelling on the negative. If you imagined a best case scenario for Strawberry, Hayes and Vasquez it could not be better than what those three players have produced to this point. Strawberry has blossomed into a scoring wing player and got back to the disruptive and disciplined defense he had as a sophomore. Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez are playing like sophomores, not freshman with only 5 college games under their belt. Bambale Osby and Mike Jones have also done a very nice job in their respective roles. Maryland has showed if a team is going to beat them they will have to earn it with good execution on both ends of the floor. These two wins will go a long way toward getting an NCAA tournament resume for Gary Williams' bunch.

A side note on the shot clock violation controversy. This was really a non factor in the outcome of the game. Even if the ball did not touch the rim Michigan State secured the defensive rebound and usually in those cases the refs let the play continue. It was the offensive foul call on Idong Ibok for throwing his elbows at Ekene Ibekwe that helped seal the game for Maryland.

DJ Strawberry was awarded the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic Tournament MVP.

Efficiency Ratings
Offense: 100.6
Defense: 96.5

Friday, November 17, 2006

Who's your daddy?

That was the ill advised taunt that St. John's fans bellowed at DJ Strawberry in the early moments of last night's game. Strawberry gave them the answer, but it wasn't what they expected. You would think that after the stupid and profane taunts that helped fire up Maryland to defeat then #1 Florida on their home floor that fans would leave Strawberry alone. Strawberry contributed 19 points to an embarrassing rout of the Red Storm on their home floor. He sliced through the Red Storm defense and harassed the St. John's players with a vengeance. You would think that as a senior Strawberry wouldn't endure this crass and crude fan behavior but that is the current climate in the sports landscape.

The game itself was a masterful dissection of another middle-of-the-road power conference team. At times it looked like a replay of the high school shoot around in the movie Pleasantville in which every shot improbably goes in the basket. Gary Williams mentioned that he wanted the team to do a better job of hitting open shots and it seems like for one night he got his wish. The team got a little sloppy with a 30 point lead but there was little to criticize in the effort on offense or defense. Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist played their best game of the year, both racking up a double double on the night. Ibekwe had a career night with 22 points and 14 rebounds but still struggled with his foul shooting only hitting 6 out of 11 shots.

The most encouraging aspects were the rebounding domination with a 52-34 rebound advantage and that freshmen Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes played very well in their first game under the bright lights. Vasquez and Hayes combined for 13 assists and only 3 turnovers and did another impressive job running the offense.

Against a rugged Michigan State team the Terps need to shore up their defensive rebounding but the rest of the team is humming along nicely. After getting to rest most of the regulars in the laugher last night and Michigan State going down to the wire against Texas I think Maryland has an advantage tonight. A win tonight would be a signal to the rest of the ACC that Maryland will be a factor in the league this season.

Ratings
Offense: 125.5
Defense: 83.8

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

If they can make it there...

Gary Williams' merry bunch head to New York to battle St. Johns tomorrow. Maryland has played some decent teams but this is their first real test against an athletic and deep squad in the Red Storm. Maryland has looked good in their first three wins but will have to make improvements to win in Manhattan.

Maryland blew Florida A&M out in the first few minutes in their last game. Mike Jones lead the way with 16 points and 9 boards and four other Terps scored in double figures. Greivis Vasquez also had his best night as a Terp so far with 13 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists. Vasquez has the range of skills to post a triple double and may well do that before his career is over at College Park. At times Maryland got sloppy with the ball as evidenced by 17 turnovers, many of them unforced, but ran the offense well and continued to be unselfish with the basketball. Gary has this group buying into getting the best look before jacking up a jump shot which is a welcome departure from the last few years. The wings are using their slashing ability to set up shots for their teammates and it is getting open looks for the outside shooters. The stats may not show it yet but this team will be far superior to the last few years in perimeter shooting.

A main point of weakness that Maryland must improve is rebounding and post play. Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist must dramatically improve if this group is to meet their potential. Neither has played well in the first three games and at times they have looked downright awful. James Gist has no excuse to walk away with only 3 rebounds in 25 minutes of play. Against larger and more athletic frontcourts, like St. Johns, Ibekwe and Gist would get abused on the offensive glass. Maryland looks to be in good shape in the backcourt but the frontcourt, which was supposed to be a strength, looks like a weak spot. If they are not careful Bambale Osby may see more time at the expense of one of the starters.

Efficeincy ratings
Offense: 117.1
Defense: 72.1

Notes on the 2006 Schedule
The schedule may not look daunting at the moment but Maryland plays some decent mid-major competition this season. Here is a breakdown of the preseason Sporting News predicted finish of the out of conference opponents:

Mid-Eastern
2nd Hampton
3rd Florida A&M

America East
2nd Vermont

Big South
1st Winthrop
3rd High Point

Mid-Continent
3rd University of Missouri -Kansas City

North East
10th Mount St. Mary's

Patriot
4th American

Metro Atlantic
3rd Siena
4th Iona

Atlantic 10
7th Fordham

There are only a few stinkers in that group. Maryland could find itself in a dogfight in a number of those games. Don't be shocked if this young group even loses to one of that group as happened the other night when Vermont upset 14th ranked Boston College. Three of those teams made the NCAA tournament last season. It may not be Oklahoma or Kentucky but this group along with St. Johns, Illinois, Notre Dame and either Texas or Michigan State will expose any weaknesses that Maryland has at this point in the season. Either way Gary Williams will know where his teams stands going into ACC play. Unlike other ACC programs that play West Florida, Alcorn State and Appalachian State and think that winning by 30 points proves something Maryland will be better in January because they've been tested.

Scouting the Eagles

For the second year in a row I'm pleased to have Bill from Eagle in Atlanta as a guest blogger on Turtlewaxing. I was able to ask Bill a few questions so that Maryland fans can get a feel for the Eagles in this huge Atlantic division showdown.

The Eagle's offense seems productive, especially in the passing game, and QB Matt Ryan seems to really like to spread the ball around. How would you rate the play of the junior?
Matt Ryan is having a great season and in my opinion should be first team all ACC. I am actually surprised he is not getting more national attention. He has played hurt all year but has maintained a high level of play. He was clutch in our OT wins against Clemson and BYU. The only game where you could second guess his performance was Wake. He threw two costly picks. Yet I absolve him because against the Deacs he threw for 400+ yards and kept the team in the game single handily. I couldn't be happier with Ryan (as if you couldn't tell).


Mathias Kiwanuka left for the NFL and Brian Toal has struggled with injuries this year. Who is the big play threat on the defensive side of the ball for Boston College?
Toal has been healthy the past few weeks and had really great games against Wake and Duke. There are fewer standouts around him. BJ Raji can be really good when he wants to. Middle LB Jolonn Dunbar has been solid. As has CB Dejaun Tribble. Ironically one of our biggest difference makers isn't even a starter. LB Kevin Akins comes off the bench as a pass rusher. He is a converted CB, so he has speed and has proven very disruptive to opposing QBs.


In studying BC it seems they are a very solid and very impressive team on both sides of the ball. Where are the weaknesses that Maryland can exploit?
BC has plenty of flaws. They've allowed their share of big plays on defense. The running game is widely inconsistent. The special teams have improved this year, but we (the fans) are all waiting for the other shoe to drop and have a huge breakdown. (Under O'Brien we've been the opposite of Beamer Ball.) It should be interesting to watch our pass protection this weekend. We lost our starting Center to injury so the coaches are playing a little bit of musical chairs. Maryland may be able to exploit the confusion and shut down Ryan.



Bill does a great job covering Boston College. I encourage you to check out his blog as the season goes along to keep track of his team.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Magical Ride Continues

I wasn't sure how Miami would respond to the death of senior DT Bryan Pata earlier in the week. They could use it as a point to rally upon and unleash their anger at Maryland or it could have deflated them and resulted in an effort that they clearly didn't have their hearts committed. In the end, oddly enough, both scenarios occurred. I had thought that whatever happened in the first 10 minutes of the game would decide the winner. A big play for either side would be the spark to ignite a blow out. As it turned out Maryland got two big plays, including the longest pass play in Maryland history, to start the game but the blowout failed to materialize as Miami fought hard for the rest of the game. Miami's offense seemed to move the ball at will until they got down into Maryland territory when the Terps shaky defense would suddenly stiffen. Four times Miami got within Maryland territory and came away with no points, including two drives in the first quarter that were 11 and 12 play monsters but were dry holes for the Hurricanes. During this five game win streak this group has been the model of a bend-but-don't-break defense. They are not a particularly talented group with a few exceptions but they seem to make just enough plays to win.

The offense came out with two amazing bombs down the sideline to Darrius Heyward-Bey, who is no longer the best kept secret in the ACC, but could muster almost nothing for the next three quarters. After a 10 play drive to start the second half Maryland went 3 and out four times in a row failing to managed a first down for the final 25 minutes of the game. The running game, which was the backbone of the first half of the season, has disappeared the last three weeks. Maryland hasn't netted over 100 yards on the ground in the last three contests and neither Lance Ball or Keon Lattimore have rushed for over 100 yards since the Virginia game.

Maryland has been carried by the arm of quarterback Sam Hollenbach the last three games. Ralph Friedgen has admitted that his playcalling has been conservative but it has been the clutch play of his quarterback that has allowed the coach to continue collecting victories. In the last three weeks Hollenbach has thrown for 580 yards and 6 touchdowns with only one interception. His 6 touchdown passes are the entire touchdown output for the offense. Maryland doesn't have a rushing touchdown since the North Carolina State game.

Maryland was out gained by their opponent again yet still managed to win the game. All of the victories during the current win streak have been close games decided in the final minutes but it is still absolutely amazing the way Miami dominated in almost all aspects of this game and still lost. This was the seventh win out of eight that Maryland was out gained on offense by their opponent. As I have written the last few weeks that kind of trend defies all logic or probability. As Ralph Friedgen said, "It's miraculous."

Terrapin guard Donnie Woods had a head injury which required him to carted off the field on a stretcher and then flown to Maryland shock trauma. It was a scary scene but Maryland officials indicated that Woods was released from the Hospital early Sunday morning and that all the test were negative for permanent injury. Woods will be evaluated by the team medical staff but is unlikely to play this Saturday.

Grades
Quarterback: A-
Hollenbach's connection on two deep touchdowns to Darrius Heyward-Bey were the difference in the game. He has improved the touch on his long passes dramatically. He forced a few passes in the second half but didn't make a critical mistake and managed the game just well enough to win.

Runningbacks: C
Lance Ball ran with limited effectiveness against a tough run defense. Keon Lattimore was largely ineffective with only 12 yards on the ground. This group couldn't help Maryland close the game out late in the 4th quarter.

Receivers: A-
Darrius Heyward-Bey had the game of his career. Great things are ahead for this exciting talent but it would be hard to imagine a game in the future where he would have a collection of bigger plays. He blew by some decent Hurricane corners like they were standing still. In the last three games Heyward-Bey has 580 yards receiving and 4 touchdowns. Heyward-Bey has rapidly become Sam Hollenbach's number one option and has gained the confidence that Heyward-Bey will go and get the ball. The rest of the receivers didn't have an effective game.

Offensive Line: C+
The line wasn't able to muster much of a running game but did a good job of pass protecting for Sam Hollenbach. With the talented front of Miami that is no small accomplishment.

Defensive Line: C
This group struggled again rushing the passer and showed a real weakness against mobile quarterbacks. Kirby Freeman exploited Maryland with roll outs and bootlegs to the tune of 51 yards rushing. Miami had good success running between the tackles against the front and piled up 180 yards on the ground. Dre Moore showed some flashes that he might be reliable week to week, which he has been unable to do this season. Trey Covington had a critical interception late in the game to help seal a Maryland win.

Linebackers: B-
Wesley Jefferson and Erin Henderson were tackling machines with 27 combined tackles on the day. Jefferson was active on the blitz as well and seemed more aggressive than in the previous few weeks. Henderson is maturing from game to game and is working on a streak of double digit tackle performances. He also does a good job in coverage and was effective in covering Miami's excellent tight end.

Secondary: B-
Josh Wilson had another phenomenal game with 5 pass breakups including a touchdown saving deflection. He also tipped the pass that was intercepted by Trey Covington to help end a Miami drive late in the game. He was playing the short coverage on the touchdown Hurricane wide out Ryan Moore caught and safety Christian Varner failed to cover deep resulting in the score. He is a 1st team All-ACC caliber player this season. The rest of the secondary was average at best. Marcus Wimbush continues to struggle in coverage and Varner has trouble playing his deep safety responsibilities. Isaiah Gardner should have given up a touchdown that was simply dropped by Ryan Hill. There were opportunities for deep plays against the secondary but Miami wasn't able to exploit them.

Special Teams: B+
Maryland didn't need any heroics by Dan Ennis this week. Adam Podlesh was able to gain field position for Maryland several times late in the game when they were pinned deep in their own territory. He was also able to keep Miami back on their side of the field with four punts dropped inside the 20 yard line. Miami deliberately kicked away from Josh Wilson most of the game.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Not Going Anywhere


Coach Gary Williams has agreed to a contract extension that guarantees he will remain at Maryland through 2011. The two year extension also carries over the academic and performance incentives that could lengthen the contract till 2014. This comes after a Baltimore Sun article that suggested that Williams had the least amount of job security (on paper, the writer so disingenuously added) of any coach in the ACC. Well, now you can throw that paper in the waste bin. For all you Gary haters it is just another sign that he'll be the coach at Maryland until he decides that he wants to move on. Get used to that fact. For the rest of us it is a good reason to celebrate. It will one of the saddest days of my time as a Maryland fan when Gary Williams departs as a coach of the Maryland basketball team. But I won't have to worry about that for a long time...


From the "that didn't take long" file
Seems the impressive debut of Gary's current team wasn't lost on some national media. The Sporting News wants to jump on the Maryland bandwagon. It is early but I have to admit I'm having the same feeling about this group. It may not be a straight line to great things this year but this group is going to play much better than people anticipated.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Loner-Gone

The Terps took most of the first half to get in sync against Vermont but ended up asserting their dominance over the Catamounts and cruising to a 81-63 victory. This wasn't an undermanned Hampton squad but a Vermont team with decent talent and a full bench. It didn't make much difference as DJ Strawberry and Mike Jones helped to warm up Maryland's shooting and bury any hope that Vermont would get an upset. Once the team settled down and stopped taking bad shots Vermont had little answer for the Terps.

The defense was solid again. This Terrapin squad is already better at guarding the perimeter two games into the season than last year's Swiss cheese defense. Vermont only managed 33% from the floor and 2-16 from the 3 point line. Among the 22 turnovers Maryland got 12 off steals, including 6 from DJ Strawberry who has blossomed in his new role on this team.

This may be a special season for Strawberry, who has deferred to other less worthy upperclassmen the last few years. His slashing, up tempo style in transition, ability to finish around the basket and experience in running the offense last season has made him a special player. He is doing his best to prove those writers who left him off the preseason All-ACC teams are idiots. His stifling and opportunistic defense has returned along with the complete health of his repaired knee. He admitted his knee was only at 80% last season but it seems he is finally healthy and ready to dominate.

Mike Jones showed that if put in the right situation he can score in bunches. His decisions are better and with a three guard set Gary Williams is able to play him while hiding his defensive weaknesses.

Bambale "Boom" Osby is fast becoming my favorite player on this team. He is the ultimate lunch pale guy. He hustles up and down the floor and gladly does the dirty work on the inside that the other big men on the team shy away from. His outlet passes to start the break were fantastic and he showed a nice repertoire of inside moves with drop steps and a little hook. Another huge advantage is that Osby seems to be the best foul shooter in the post group as well. In my mind he has already passed Will Bowers in the post rotation and can push Gist and Ibekwe if they continue to struggle this season. If Gist and Ibekwe continue to be enamoured with the highlight move instead of the the post work that doesn't gain attention but helps your team win then Osby will look better and better to Williams.

Both Freshmen guards, Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez, showed some nice skills for the second straight game. Hayes isn't putting to rest the comparisons with Steve Blake by dishing out 8 assists. Vasquez added 9 points and a boundless amount of energy on defense.

Think the post game hand shake between Mike Lonergan and Gary Williams was a little icy? It is fairly obvious that Longergan used Maryland as a convenient stepping stone to his first opportunity. Not exactly a way to show gratitude to a coach that gave you a shot out of Division III basketball. Doesn't seem like he'll be on Gary's Christmas card list.

It is a little sad to see Will Bower's season fade away game by game. Perhaps he can get motivated to earn more floor time but the early returns are not encouraging.

All in all this team already seems to have improved on the weaknesses of last year's squad, namely defense and point guard play. This group is hungry and motivated by the fresh blood on the roster. Last season Gary Williams had a Frankenstein monster of mismatched parts and he had little production off his bench. This group is talented and deep with the ability to matchup with almost any kind of opponent. They can go small and run or play a stout frontcourt with 6'5" guards. The new found flexibility of this group gives Williams a myriad of options. You have to think Gary cracked just the slightest smile while watching Osby come off the bench and add 11 superlative minutes like he did tonight.

This young group will have a few hiccups along the way but will be great fun to watch this season. Enjoy Terp fans!

Ratings

Offense: 101.4
Defense: 81.7

Hampton Ratings

Maryland
Offensive Efficiency= 108.8
Defensive Efficiency= 78.1

Both are obviously very good numbers as you would expect. If the team could have cut down on the turnovers just slightly they would have been a perfect offensive machine.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

No Worries

Despite the silly hand wringing Maryland handled Hampton rather easily in the opening game of the season with a 102-75 victory. Gary Williams must have sneaked into Comcast last night and put a lid on the rims because Hampton couldn't get a basket to drop. It was as much to do with the Pirates inability to sink any shots as Maryland's defense but the field goal percentages for Maryland on both ends of the floor is what you'd like to see.

The unjustly maligned DJ Strawberry showed a glimpse of why this could be a special season for the senior wing. He was aggressive on offense and showed that he is perhaps the best player on the team at driving to the basket. He is now at his natural wing position and will thrive this year.

Newcomers Greivis Vasquez (12 points) and Bambale "Boom" Osby (9 points) showed that they will be major contributors this season. The enthusiasm and hustle of these two will be a great asset to the Terps this year.

Ekene Ibekwe got into early foul trouble and played limited minutes in the 2nd half. At least he will be fresh with the short turn around for tomorrow night's game.

Maryland's guards were bothered by the Hampton pressure and turned the ball over too often, though many of those errors were unforced. They will need to work on limiting turnovers.

Tomorrow's game against Vermont will be shown on ESPN2 shortly after 7pm.

Kudos to Self

No, not yours truly, Bill Self coach of the Kansas Jayhawks. He booted problem child C.J. Giles from his team for dragging a girl out of his apartment and then allegedly striking her on the head. The cynics may say the Giles, a former top 100 recruit, was at best a backup center and that Self isn't getting rid of a player he really needed. But Self is facing mounting pressure from the fanatical Jayhawk fan base for two early flame outs in the NCAA tournament the last few years and must now rely on a very young frontcourt. I applaud his courage because if the young frontcourt falters or they have an injury Self will be criticised for this move. College sports needs more of this kind conviction among its coaches or it will continue to slide towards the regular athletes-run-amok headlines of its professional big brothers.

Roundball Tip Off

Maryland starts the season tonight against Hampton in the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic benefiting Coaches versus Cancer. Gary Williams seemed in high spirits during his first radio show of the season last night. I think coach Williams has been reinvigorated in the off season and this season will be more enjoyable for the fans and Williams that the last two awful seasons.

Freshman Jerome Burney will have his foot examined this week and if he is cleared will begin practice immediately.

Freshman Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez will split time at the point guard position tonight but I have a feeling that Vasquez is slightly ahead of Hayes at the moment.


Apparently all you need is a Sweet Sixteen appearance and a high ranking to be an elite program these days. It also seems that you just need to be a sophomoric college paper hack to get hired by a newspaper as a "sports journalist".

Monday, November 06, 2006

Terps Escape Death Valley

This may be Ralph Friedgen's best coaching job since the magical 2001 season. He is winning games with a modestly talented bunch of players in an obviously weak year for ACC football. The four game winning streak has been crafted with a little luck and the use of smoke and mirrors by the head coach. None of that is meant as a critique of Ralph Friedgen's coaching or this team but an honest appraisal of a four game winning steak in which the average margin of victory has been 3 points. In six out of Maryland's seven wins they were out gained by the opponent. A team wouldn't be likely to come away with a .500 record let alone stand at 7-2, Maryland's current position.

Ralph Friedgen opened up the offense mostly out of necessity since the offense wasn't able to eek out a running game against Clemson's top ranked defense. Sam Hollenbach played a masterful game at quarterback. His game winning drive was a splendidly orchestrated example of clock management completing five out of six passes, converting a third down with a 5 yard scamper and a 4th down QB sneak. He proved that if the team needs him to win that they can rely on his arm to get them a victory. The offensive line did a good job against a tough Clemson front but did have a few breakdowns on pass protection. Isaiah Williams had his best game at Maryland with a number of good grabs on difficult passes.

The Maryland defense had a class sic bend-but-don't-break game. Clemson churned out over 400 yards of offense against the Maryland defense but the unit made plays when they had to and came up with some critical stops on third down. The unit was able to keep Clemson in third and long situations. A 71 yard pass by Clemson QB Will Procter in the waining moments nearly killed Maryland's chances. The defense got a little lucky when a James Davis touchdown run was called back due to an illegal formation penalty with just over three minutes left in the game. Perhaps that balanced out the botched overturning of a safety a few moments before. Maryland's defense stiffened up and held Clemson to a field goal.

Kicker Dan Ennis seems to be reborn. The current kicker doesn't resemble the shaky and inaccurate player who began the season. He has been clutch the last few weeks and Maryland will need him to continue to come through in these nip and tuck games that the Terps will likely continue to find themselves in the coming weeks. This team doesn't have the firepower to blow many teams out and will be in closely contested games.

Grades:

Quarterback: A
Clutch when it mattered most. Had only one errant pass all day. His two minute drive to end the game was a thing of beauty. Has learned to help his offensive line in pass protection by getting rid of the ball when pressured.

Running backs: C-
Not really much of a factor in this game. Keon Lattimore gained 38 yards on 10 carries. Lance Ball was ineffective and had an early fumble that wasn't recovered in bounds.

Recievers: B+
Isaiah Williams had his best game at Maryland. He had three catches for 1st downs. Jason Goode had a number of early catches to set the tone for the passing game. Joey Haynos had a number of nice catches as well. Darrius Heyward-Bey is seeing more attention after his two touchdown night against Clemson and that is opening things up for other receivers.

Offensive line: C+
There were several breakdowns in pass protection by the tackles against a very good Clemson front. The line couldn't open any holes for a consistent running game. When the line needed to step up and protect Hollenbach they were able to do that.

Defensive line: C
The line wasn't able to muster much pressure on Will Proctor. Proctor got happy feet and started to scramble before he had to but it wasn't really due to the front four of Maryland.

Linebackers: B+
Erin Henderson is establishing that he is the leader of the defense and the best linebacker on the team. He ranged all over the field for 18 tackles and forced a fumble by Proctor that should have resulted in a safety.

Secondary: B-
Josh Wilson may have cemented his All-ACC status with his play on Saturday. Clemson wouldn't kick to Wilson on kickoffs and he was tenacious in pass coverage and run support. The rest of the secondary had a good afternoon keeping the Clemson receivers from getting behind them too often with a few exceptions

Special Teams: A+
Adam Podlesh and Dan Ennis were both as good as you could ask for in critical moments.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Practice

There are some ominous articles in the paper regarding Maryland's 79-78 win in its exhibition game against California University of Pennsylvania. For the lazy or unimaginative it is easy to assume that this season will go much like the last two seasons. Maryland will continue to struggle defending the outside shot and fail to demonstrate the mental toughness needed to win close games. Then again there are dangers in reading too much into a glorified scrimmage that saw Maryland play shorthanded. Gary Williams is more interested in testing his reserves than in winning a meaningless game in early November. Some positives were that Bambale Osby, Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes preformed well in their first test. Now Gary Williams has an example to reinforce his emphasis on defense. James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe need to demonstrate a firm determination to rebound and defend the paint. Their production in this game wasn't what you would expect given their talent. Both should be pushing for All-ACC honors this season. Before banging the drum about another crisis with this team lets wait and see how they improve over the next few games.

Say What?
Washington Post columnist Mike Wise was on a local sports radio show recently to discuss the turnaround in Maryland's football season. When he got around to the Virginia game he said that he was concerned at halftime he'd have to write another critical article about the football team and get killed on the Maryland message boards. You are a reporter Mr. Wise, you shouldn't be worried about offending some knee jerk Maryland fans who wouldn't be able to handle the truth about their football team. If everyone likes you as a columnist you probably are not doing your job. Ralph Friedgen doesn't need another cheerleader. To be concerned about what anonymous message board fools think of you is ridiculous.

Nice article in the Washington Post about running back Josh Allen and his struggles to come back from a devastating knee injury. Given the nature of the injury and the fact that Allen is now at the end of his eligibility the unfortunate truth is that his career was all but ended on that Saturday almost two years ago. A potential NFL career was dashed and a grueling physical challenge lay ahead for the junior running back. His determination and courage has brought him back as a minor contributor to Maryland's rushing attack this season. Friedgen clearly has a strong personal bond with Allen which is probably why he is getting some spot duty in a very crowded backfield. Hopefully Josh is using his time in school to prepare himself for his life after football.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Terps block 'Noles

Maryland built a 20-14 lead at halftime and spent the next 30 minutes desperately trying to hang on against the once powerful Seminoles. This isn't your father's Florida State. Not to diminish the win but this isn't like beating Bobby Bowden circa 1999. These Seminoles are like a punch drunk former heavyweight fighter who has lost the ability to defend himself anymore and rely on connecting with a few good shots while getting pummeled by their opponent. The two deep that Bobby Bowden had coming out of the spring game was in the wastebasket a month ago due to injury after injury and last night he was forced to go with a new starter at quarterback with Drew Weatherford sidelined with tendinitis. Add in the swirling winds to disrupt the Florida State passing game and it was a perfect setup for Maryland.

It appeared that the Terps would cruise to any easy victory early on as a FSU turnover set the tone for a half that was dominated by Maryland. They had success running the ball and excellent special teams play helped them keep good field position on FSU. But the porous defense couldn't hold FSU giving up a 10 and 14 play drives in the second half. Jeremy Navarre blocked the Seminoles' last second field goal to try to send the game into overtime and escaped with a 27-24 win.

With a game this close there were several plays that made the difference in the game. Stopping Florida State on a critical 4th down at midfield resulted in a Maryland touchdown the other way. A Greg Carr fumble in the 1st quarter that also resulted in a Maryland touchdown to give the Terps some early momentum. Several great Danny Oquendo punt returns to keep Maryland from getting pinned in its own territory and win the field position battle. Dan Ennis getting a field goal to bounce off the upright and later hitting a 39 yard field goal in difficult conditions. All these little things add up to a tight three point victory.

The offense got very conservative in the 2nd half as FSU made halftime adjustments. After the opening touchdown in the second half Maryland had two three-and-out possessions. The playcalling the 4th quarter was fairly shaky and contributed to FSU getting back into the game. Maryland was out gained again 458-223, a staggering 2:1 ratio against the winning team. The formerly moribund FSU running game ground out 172 yards, their second highest total of the season behind the Rice game. Maryland has been out gained in five out of their six wins this season. That simply doesn't happen. How Maryland keeps winning while being out gained on offense with such a mediocre defense is hard to understand, but perhaps it is equal parts Big Ralph and pure luck.

Quarterback: B+
Ralph Friedgen gave Sam Hollenbach a little more slack and was rewarded with Hollenbach's best quarterbacking effort of the season. He threw three touchdowns and did not make a critical mistake the hurt his team. He had some splendid playfakes that helped trick FSU's aggressive defense.

Runningbacks: B
Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore both had moments of success against FSU in the first half but they combined for 2 yards rushing the entire 2nd half. Lattimore had some success with little swing passes out of the backfield but still takes too many losses on runs as shown by the 13 yards lost on his runs. True Frosh Cory Jackson showed some impressive flashes as a blocking fullback.

Wideout: A-
This may be the breakout game for Darrius Heyward-Bey that many have expected. He showed his exceptional speed but also his improving hands. He scored two touchdowns and had catches of 30 and 22 yards. This is the kind of big play ability the coaching staff was hoping for from the young wideout. Danny Oquendo had 18 yards on a reverse in addition to his great punt returns. Isaiah Williams struggled with a number of dropped passes.

Offensive Line: B
In the first half the line dominated the undermanned FSU front. In the second half it was the reverse. The line couldn't open any holes in the latter half of the game and Sam Hollenbach was under more pressure. Overall the line had a good but not great game.

Defensive line: B-
The inspired play of Jeremy Navarre and also Conrad Bolston are what earned this grade with the yardage the defense surrendered. Xavier Lee said he could have eaten a banana in the pocket in the 2nd half with how little pressure Maryland was able to muster. I've been critical of Navarre in the past but it is hard to think he could have played much better on Saturday. His five tackles, 2.5 for a loss, a forced fumble and block of the potential game tying field goal make him my game MVP.

Linebackers: C-
Erin Henderson had a nice game with 12 tackles but the rest of the unit struggled, particularly in pass coverage. Florida State was able to expose Maryland's vulnerability to a good short passing game. The safeties and linebackers struggle to close the gaps in zone coverage. FSU ball carriers were able to break tackles with alarming regularity.

Secondary: C-
I'm not sure the secondary deserves even this grade. They safeties gave up a number of big plays and the unit gave up 166 yards passing in the 2nd half. The anemic pass rush contributed but this is not a great coverage group. Opposing quarterbacks continue to pick on Isaiah Gardner. Still, they held when they needed to.

Special Teams: A
Dan Ennis hit two field goals in difficult conditions going 6 for his last 6. Danny Oquendo was great in the return game amassing 85 yards on only three returns. Navarre blocked FSU's final field goal attempt to preserve the win. Adam Podlesh had a number of kicks for touchbacks that could have pinned FSU back but that is the only critique of a excellent effort by this group.