Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Brotherly love?

It's become the punchline to so many jokes over the years that few people will mention anymore that Philadelphia calls itself "The City of Brotherly Love". If Baltimore calls itself "Charm City" or Fort Lauderdale can refer to itself as "Venice of America" without intending to be ironic I guess this is not worthy of much note. There wasn't much brotherhood among Nik Caner-Medley and Temple's football player, turned goon-enforcer, Nehemiah Ingram during or after Saturday's game. Ingram fouled Caner-Medley 3 times in just 10 minutes of the first half and several sent Medley sprawling on the floor. The 6'8" 250lbs Ingram and the 6'11" 285lbs Wayne Marshall combined for 9 fouls in only 36 minutes of play. Clearly it was the strategy of Temple to be extremely physical with the smaller and quicker Maryland frontcourt. It worked to an extent.

Ekene Ibekwe had a decent but unspectacular game with 14 points and 5 rebounds. He was hampered by foul trouble in the second half and only played 21 minutes. James Gist was shutout and had 16 minutes of totally ineffective play. He had more fouls than points or rebounds. Travis Garrison finished with 8 points and 6 rebounds before fouling out. He took some horrible shots that gave Temple great transition opportunities and during the crucial stretch of the game could not guard Marshall who has the mobility of a pachyderm. Marshall abused Garrison for 4 straight points that ignited a 14-0 run by the Owls. That turned out to be the decisive stretch of what had been a nip and tuck contest.

With the exception of Mike Jones and his school record seven 3-pointers the backcourt played about as bad as you could imagine. DJ Strawberry got into some early foul trouble and Sterling Ledbetter proved to be no match for Mardy Collins. Maryland doesn't have any guard that can match up to Collins on its roster. Collins scored 25 points but perhaps the most telling stat about this mismatch was that he had 12 assists and only one turnover! Collins pretty much did whatever he wanted to against the smaller Maryland guards. Strawberry, Ledbetter and Parrish Brown were totally ineffective. Both Strawberry and Ledbetter made some really terrible decisions with the ball and neither was able to play under control when Maryland needed some stability from the point position. Jones had a great first half but then cooled off slightly in the 2nd half. He still finished with 23 points and his long range shooting kept Maryland in the game. Jones' six turnovers lead the team, however, and he needs to improve his ballhandling and decision making. He and Ledbetter have a tendency to dribble themselves into trouble.

Nik Caner-Medley had another excellent offensive game with 30 points and 10 rebounds. I have no doubt that Caner-Medley and Jones can more than carry the scoring load to make up for the absence of Chris McCray. In fact the Jones/Caner-Medley combo has produced more points in the last two games than the McCray/Caner-Medley combo had in any previous game. Nik had a few too many turnovers but didn't force more than a couple shots. Caner-Medley's defense has even been improving slightly the last few games. McCray's suspension seems to have refocused him which is good since he'll need to carry the team for the rest of the season.

There were positives to be had. Maryland didn't struggle with Temple's zone defense nearly at all as they shot 53% from the floor and 50% from 3-point range, which makes it odd that some of the local beat reporters wrote that it gave Maryland problems. They must have written some of their columns before the game even started. Many of the 20 turnovers by Maryland were of the unforced variety. It was the halfcourt trap, not the zone defense that gave the Terps some trouble. Maryland also had 21 assists on 26 baskets which is excellent. The pieces are all there and if Maryland could just cut down on the turnovers they would be an extremely potent offense.

It would have been very tough to win two road games after the turmoil of Chris McCray's suspension earlier in the week. The good thing is that Maryland won it's league road game, which is far more important to its post season hopes. The Terps will likely be favored against the young Tarheels and a win would put them at 5-2 in the ACC and with an inside track to the NCAAs.

Alaeze "not sure" about Maryland

In an interview with the Diamondback DE Melvin Alaeze seemed to waffle on his commitment to Maryland saying he was not sure if he would sign a letter of intent tomorrow on the national signing day for recruits. Alaeze signed a LOI last season as Maryland held off Virginia Tech for the commitment of the Parade All-American. Alaeze is no longer at the prep school he was forced to enroll at when he failed to qualify out of high school. It was also reported that Alaeze had the forms for a LOI to either Maryland or Penn State. There are also rumors that Virginia Tech might still be in the running. Alaeze is a fantastic talent but his work ethic and ability to stay eligible at whatever college he attends will be an issue. Alaeze is waiting for a decision from the NCAA Clearinghouse about a grade that wasn't factored into his original eligibility determination. The longer this drags on the less likely Alaeze will ever suit up for Maryland.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Temple recap

I suggested that the only way that Temple would win this game is if Maryland gave them a slew of turnovers and they had one of their best shooting nights of the season. Well, Maryland turned the ball over 20 times and Temple had one of their best shooting nights of the season. As a result the Owls took 12 more field goal attempts and 18 more free throws than Maryland did in the game. Despite outshooting Temple from the floor in addition to the 3-point and free throw lines, holding a +6 rebound margin and dishing out 5 more assists than their opponent the Terps still lost. The culprit was mostly the turnovers: Maryland's inability to stop them or create them. When was the last time Maryland only had 1 steal in a game? Almost two years ago against NC State, February 1, 2004. Temple is the only opponent to have fewer than 12 turnovers this season against Maryland. There were other smaller reasons like poor defensive rebounding, some terrible shot selection, the entire frontcourt going MIA for long stretches.

Since this was not an ACC game it has little real importance right now. You could argue that it may knock Maryland down a seed or two if they get a bid but with this squad I don't think we should be worried about how high a seed they get. Worry about them qualifying for the NCAAs first. With a 4-2 record in the league with a home game against North Carolina coming up they are in good shape.

I was out of town this weekend and have not had a chance to review the full game tape yet. I'll write more on the game tomorrow.

Around the ACC

Look who is back from the dead. Boston College started out ACC play by going 0-3 and looking fairly bad in the process. They have since gone 4-1, even if they only eked out wins in three of those games, and now sit in a great position to make a run at 2nd place in the league. They have a big game with Duke in Chestnut Hill on Wednesday and then face the cellar dwellers of the ACC in Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, a combined 2-12.

Speaking of Wake Forest their season from hell continued over the weekend as they gave the formerly winless Hokies their first victory in ACC play this season. That gives the Deacons their fourth home loss already this season and third loss at home in ACC play. It would take a big turnaround to get eligible for the NIT with 5 road games left in ACC play including at Duke, Miami and Boston College and home dates with NC State, BC and North Carolina still remaining.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Into the owls nest

The basketball team was able to enjoy the victory against Georgia Tech for a night and now it's back to work preparing for the Temple Owls and their zone defense. Last season you may recall it was the Mike Jones(21 pts) and Nik Caner-Medley(35 pts) show as Maryland won at Comcast center, 80-69. It was a close affair that was tied with just over 5 minutes to play before Maryland pulled away in the closing moments. The two teams are largely the same squads that met last year as recently suspended guard Chris McCray did not play in the previous meeting due to an injury.

Temple always plays a hard nosed defensive style that reflects their coach's personality. John Chaney is a legendary coach with a fiery personality, much like Gary Williams. In recent years he's let his temper get the best of him as demonstrated by the "Goongate" incident last season that earned him a suspension. In the past he also threatened to beat up then UMass coach John Calipari at a wild post game news conference. I can't really blame Chaney for wanting to beat up a little weasel like Calipari, but you hate to see a coach with his stature sully his reputation in the twilight of his career.

Temple lacks a true offensive superstar but has a collection of very solid players like Mardy Collins, Mark Tyndale, Antywane Robinson and Dustin Salisbery. That quartet all play over 30 minutes per game so the bench for Temple isn't likely to contribute much. Collins, their massive 6'6" point guard, is probably their most skilled player. On offense the Owls are, well, offensive. In the 81-79 win over Xavier the other night they almost equaled the total points scored in their previous two losses. In most major offensive categories Temple is either at or near the bottom of the A-10: field goal %, free throw %, points per weighted shot, offensive rating. The one thing they do well is protect the ball with a miserly 12.1% turnover rate.

Defense and rebounding have normally been trademarks of John Chaney teams but this year the Owls have not done either particularly well. They come in last in the A-10 in both categories with a 98.6 defensive rating and 26.2 rebounds per game. The rebounds can partly be explained by their slow tempo which limits the number of total possessions in the game but they are still not a great rebounding club. Expect Maryland to try to feast on second chance points like they did against Georgia Tech.

The zone defense that Temple plays will require some decent outside shooting and slashes to the basket from the perimeter. When you talk about outside shooting the conversation begins and ends with Mike Jones. He's really the only reliable outside threat. Nik Caner-Medley had a career day against Temple last year by doing what he did well in his last explosion against the Yellow Jackets, slashing to the basket and scoring in the paint. I expect him to do the same thing, though maybe not as well, against Temple. Hopefully he won't try to force things coming off his transcendent performance on Wednesday night.

It's impossible to say if the great effort in the last game was a transient wave of emotion coming off the McCray suspension or an early sign of cohesion for the new look Terrapins. This game will certainly help us see which is the better explanation right now. My guess is that this group still wants to prove that they can win without McCray and that kids like Mike Jones want to show they are up to the challenge. Temple has the advantage of being at home but unless Maryland continues to be sloppy with the ball and the Owls get out of their shooting funk for one game I think Maryland will pull away with its fourth win in a row.

More Logan-El fallout
The media is now taking notice of the mockery that was Logan-El's commitment announcement at Baltimore's ESPN Zone. The Baltimore Sun has now weighed in on the shabby display by both Logan-El and Penn State. For his part Logan-El seems like he just doesn't get what all the fuss was about. In the Washington Post he tried to explain away the series of events which led many Maryland fans and the staff to feel they were lied to when he chose Penn State.

"Since my suit was black, the red and black combination was a nice combination," he said. "It wasn't like I thought I'd let them see me in red and black so they can think I'm going there."
"People said I shouldn't have worn my Maryland jersey, but I'm going to a Maryland game, what am I going to wear, my Wake Forest jersey? Or I'm going to wear a Penn State jersey? That's disrespectful."

I'm not sure if that makes Logan-El a very disingenuous kid or the biggest fool on the earth. You make your own decision.

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen for one wasn't very happy about the turn of events or what recruiting has become. The coach told the Baltimore Sun, "The kids, their egos and their perceptions of themselves just goes beyond anything you've ever seen before. In those five years I was away, the Internet became an integral part of recruiting. It's just amazing to me. There's a lot of people making a lot of money off of these kids. And look at what's happening to the kids' egos. They eat this stuff up. The people who are around the kid - relatives, parents and street agents - all help to inflate the balloon."

Big Ralph probably has never spoken truer words.

Logan-El said he regretted how the annoucement turned into a controversy and even tried to call and smooth things over with the staff. It was predictable how his efforts were received. "It didn't go well," Logan-El said. "He was pretty upset that I'm not going to the University of Maryland. Same with Coach Sollazzo. I appreciated how they handled everything with so much class and they kind of went over the deep end, but it's okay now."

Perhaps it would be better if you actually had a clue how your actions looked to the outside world, Antonio. The Maryland staff has been doing this since before you were born and they couldn't possibly be happy about the way you handled your recruitment. I can't imagine they like reading in the paper that they "went over the deep end", whatever that means. The sad part is that Logan-El, and the adults around him, were the one who went off the deep end but like many of these little Terrel Owens he just doesn't get it. This event will send shockwaves through the high school football scene that will reverberate for a long time. Expect the Maryland staff to start looking more outside the state for future recruits.

Update: Now some in the national media are also commenting on the Logan-El announcement. This stunt has really started to boomeranged on those who were hoping to embarrass the Maryland staff. Now he's being cast as a symbol of all that is wrong with college recruiting.

The Stomp part II
I couldn't believe I was seeing it when Virginia Tech's Deron Washington kicked Duke's Lee Melchionni in the face last night on national television. In a heated game that also saw the Hokies' Jamon Gordon get a technical foul for shoving Greg Paulus in the back and a spectator throwing objects on the court Virginia Tech got another public relations black eye. Following up the Marcus Vick stomp and subsequent expulsion from the football team would be hard to do but it appears the basketball team has picked up the torch. With five technical fouls since the first Duke game to their credit I have to assume that the Hokies have the most in the ACC. Clearly the Tech players became frustrated when it became obvious that Duke would blow them out after such a heartbreaking loss at Cameron. Deron Washington was suspended by Virginia Tech for their next game against Wake Forest.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Terps rally

Last night was the kind of moment to savor if you really love Maryland basketball. With all that has transpired in regards to the program since the spring of 2004 you could truly characterize it as a siege that has lasted over 18 months. The truth of that was evident in Gary Williams' emotional post game interview. His voice breaking with emotion and forced stop and compose himself several times Williams said, "It's hard...(clears throat)...that's probably as good a win as we've had since I've been here. Nobody gave us a chance to win this game. It's funny, people talk about wins but this is what its about when you coach. It's not about wins it's about this. Getting ready to play.". It also happened that the victory tied him with Charles "Lefty" Driesell for all time wins at Maryland with 348, but that wasn't where all the emotion came from.

It has been a turbulent few weeks that saw Travis Garrison charged for an altercation in a bar and Chris McCray ruled ineligible due to academics. All of it has weighed heavily on Williams I'm sure and he and the players got a chance to focus on something else for one evening. For a team that many of us have legitimate questions about in regards to character and focus this was a special night. It was perhaps the best 40 minutes of basketball this group has played in a long time. Sure the wins against Duke were nice but given all the circumstances and the loss of a starter this for me was a special performance.

There is no other player more appropriate to start with than Nik Caner-Medley, who was simply phenomenal on a night when he was most needed. He went 8-12 from the floor and 15-16 from the free throw line, scored 33 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. It simply doesn't get much better than that. He also played some solid defense and was even asked to guard Georgia Tech's leading scorer from time to time. As I've said before this is the best season Caner-Medley has ever had at Maryland. As a senior he's beginning to understand how he can most help his team win and Maryland knows they have a "go to" guy. He didn't miss a single shot in the second half on his way to piling up 22 points, now that is amazing.

Maryland got solid production from Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist, who both finished with 10 points in a very physical game. Ibekwe had some trouble guarding Ra'Sean Dickey who is far more muscular but Will Bowers got into the game and helped limit Dickey. Both Gist and Ibekwe had their minutes limited by foul trouble.

DJ Strawberry and Sterling Ledbetter combined to play a decent game at point guard. The team as a whole turned the ball over too often but they were very efficient on the offensive end and in spite of the fast pace had a rating of 108.3 for the game. Especially when the Yellow Jackets made a little run and were pressing there were several possessions where the guards on the team didn't force things and controlled the tempo. They showed more game situation awareness than they have in a long time. It was gratifying to watch the last 5 minutes.

Mike Jones made the most of his first start and scored 10 points by halftime. Foul trouble limited him in the second half but he played a solid overall game and even had a nifty assist to Gist under the hoop. He again showed he is deadly from outside and far more of a threat in that regard than Chris McCray. Jones also showed the ability to get to the foul line which will be a huge factor in him becoming a reliable and multi-dimensional scorer. Maryland fans may need to be patient with Jones since he's now learning on the job but he will steadily improve.

Will Bowers showed he is becoming a defensive stopper on the low blocks and has gotten good at preventing opposing players from setting up in the low post. With Cedric Simmons, Sheldon Williams, Tyler Hansbrough on the horizon the Terps will need him to continue his solid play. He even scored off a sweet pivot move and an offensive rebound.

It was a rather chippy game. The young players on Tech got frustrated and started taking a few cheap shots at some of the Maryland players, including Caner-Medley who was lighting them up at the time. I like Paul Hewitt but I felt the way they played was a little out of hand at times. It was clearly a physical contest with 79 foul shots and the officials probably could have called a half dozen more. The Yellow Jackets came into the game leading the ACC in rebounding but Maryland dominated them on the boards 43-32 and I don't think they were expecting that aggression from the Terps. The rematch in College Park will be an equally physical affair but let's hope it doesn't turn ugly.

Around the ACC

It wasn't a good night for the home teams. Besides Georgia Tech's loss both North Carolina and NC State dropped games last night. The most shocking loss was NC State getting blown out at home to a Seton Hall team that had lost 3 of its previous 4 games. The way Herb Sendeck's teams play they are vulnerable to these kinds of stinkers. They shot 8-30 from 3-point range and got killed on the glass by the Pirates. Trying to come back from a 40-27 halftime deficit is not the strong suit of this group. It shows that the Wolfpack are not as good as everyone thought and that the ACC is fairly mediocre this year. Still, it wasn't a league game and except for seeding probably won't effect State's chances at the NCAAs.

North Carolina lost its second home game of the year to a suddenly surging Boston College. UNC has now lost 2 out of 3 home games but has balanced that with two road victories. With road games remaining against Duke, Maryland, NC State and Miami the Tarheels will have to do a better job of protecting their home court if that want to gain an NCAA bid.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Texas blueprint

Losing the best player on the team is never a good thing, but it isn't always fatal either. Last season Texas lost all star player PJ Tucker to academics just around the same time that Maryland lost Chris McCray this year. Although Tucker is a small forward he was much better all around player for Texas than McCray was for Maryland. The Longhorns also lost LeMarcus Aldridge around the same time due to an injury. Lacking two of their best players Texas sat at 14-4 with 12 games remaining in the Big 12, which was loaded with good teams. Things didn't start off too well for Texas as they struggled to adjust to life without Tucker and Aldridge and promptly lost 4 out of 5 games.

The team rallied, however, and under the leadership of seniors like Sydmill Harris, Kenny Taylor and Jason Klotz they righted the ship to finish out 6-6 without Tucker. Junior Brad Buckman and freshman Daniel Gibson also became reliable goto players for coach Rick Barnes. Texas was on the bubble late in the season but squeezed in with room to spare as a number 8 seed.

Maryland now sits at 13-4 (3-2) and in a very nice position. If they can win tonight they will be 4-2 in the ACC and with a 5-5 record the rest of the way be safely in the NCAAs with a 9-7 ACC record. Maryland also possess a good upperclass core of players, with sophomore James Gist the only underclassman who gets regular minutes. You would expect a group of juniors and seniors to be able to absorb the blow of losing a player like McCray and still be competitive.

Georgia Tech has never been an easy place for Maryland to play but this Yellow Jackets squad isn't a bad opponent. They are coming into the game with a three game losing streak and a potentially crippling loss to Clemson at home. With a young team you never know how that will effect their psyche. Tech doesn't protect the ball well and will give up their share of turnovers probably a function of youth, their up tempo style and inconsistent point guard play. They are not terribly efficient on either offense or defense and are not the greatest free throw shooting team. The one thing they do well is rebound. Jeremis Smith is probably one of the better offensive rebounders in the ACC and Ra'Sean Dickey isn't a slouch either. Maryland's frontcourt will have to be active to prevent those second chance points.

Anthony Morrow is a classic sharp shooter and can change a game if he gets hot from outside. His defense is average and he doesn't share the ball much. It will be interesting to see if Gary Williams puts DJ Strawberry on Morrow and forces one of Tech's other backcourt players to beat the Terps. I would guess either Strawberry or Sterling Ledbetter would get that assignment. Neither Lewis Clinch or Zam Frederick are likely to require lockdown defense as both are shooting under 40% from the floor.

I don't think this is a bad matchup for Maryland. It could be a little ugly in the first 10 minutes as both teams are going to be a little tight, Tech feeling pressure from its losing streak and Maryland from the McCray incident. Maryland is the more experienced and deeper group and so I would expect them to pull off a hard fought victory.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Time to regroup

The fallout from the Chris McCray fiasco continues as his mother, Shirleeta, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying:

"They make sure he goes to practice; they should have made sure his grades and things were straight for him to be eligible," she said. "I'm not only going to fault Chris; I'm going to fault everyone up there. I knew when [former assistant] Dave Dickerson was there, if anything like this would have happened, they would have called me and let me know."
Certainly self serving comments from a mother who is trying to protect her child. Sources inside the basketball program claimed that McCray's mother was aware of his academic situation. Clearly McCray had been teetering on the brink of ineligibility for a number of semesters and his GPA must have been just at 2.0 for a few bad grades in the fall to drag him below the eligible level.

When asked about her son's current status with the team she said, "No, he is not going to practice. He doesn't need them. They did all they could do for him. I hate to sound like this.". Maryland stated that they will honor his scholarship for the spring semester regardless of his suspension.

I'm not going to get into this too much but I would like to point out that instead of her son breaking the news to her that he was ineligible a reporter had to deliver the final decision. I'm not sure that is characteristic of a someone who is involved in the college career of their child. If you put the education of your child completely in the hands of a stranger you shouldn't be surprised if things don't go the way you hoped they would.

We all know the graduation rates under Gary Williams are not stellar and I think we all wish that the program put a greater emphasis on the scholastic aspects of the program. Having said that this is the first player in 28 years that Gary Williams has ever had become ineligible during the season. Consider that when apportioning blame in this disaster. Maryland spends well over a million dollars a year on academic support for the basketball and football teams. These kids have a better safety net than the average corporate executive, who should take the blame if they don't take advantage of it.

Gary Williams took the blame for McCray's suspension today in a press conference but also had this to say, "You don't expect it from a senior. Having been here for 3 1/2 years, you know how the system works. But at the same time, it can happen, I look at this as a one-time situation. We have a lot of things in place that help our student-athletes ... but we also have to have people that are willing to do their part, too. This is a two-way street.". Williams also lamented that it is a fine line between lending a helping hand to a player and becoming their enabler. A player who has been coddled and indulged at every turn is in for an unpleasant shock when their eligibility runs out and all the perks and privileges vanish. Suddenly they're forced to act like everyone else in the real world. If no one has the courage to treat a 21 year old as an adult then he'll never become a man. There will always be kids who make bad decisions, that is usually part of the learning process, but setting your expectations to the lowest denominator is akin to setting yourself up to fail.

Dispatches from the bizarre world of recruiting

It makes you wonder, perhaps with fear and dread, where things can go from here. High school kids go on national tv at the Army all star football game and play some ridiculous game of three card Monty with the hats of their chosen few. They pick up a hat and then drop it, then again another, before finally putting the hat (program) of their choice proudly atop their heads. Family and entourage jump and yelp for joy in the background as everyone watching feels slightly nauseous at the spectacle. Another example in sports of the confusion of showmanship with the degrading of oneself. What is a little dignity when you can get on television for three minutes? It all has the sickening quality of a modern day minstrel show where self mortification doubles as entertainment and cultural undercurrent.

Maryland fans got their own taste of this circus yesterday as football recruit Antonio Logan-El went down to the ESPN Zone in Baltimore to announce on the network of the same name where he was going to play football. Wearing a suit and bright red tie Logan-El went through the same tactless procedure of picking out various hats and dropping them. After going through the process with Florida and Tennessee hats he picked out a Maryland hat. Much to the joy of the assembled Maryland fans he complimented the program. He then took out a Penn State hat and talked in glowing terms about his feelings for the Nittany Lions. After this he took out a photo and said it expressed his choice. The photo was of Logan-El towering over a frail and small old man. It was Joe Paterno, the misogynistic and boorish coach of Penn State.

This shocked a fair number of Maryland fans in attendance and one was unable to maintain his composure. He shouted out "Traitor!" to which the mother of Logan-El responded "Hater!". It was an unpleasant scene. There were a mixture of boos and cheers from the partisan crowd. Gloria Friedgen, the wife of head coach Ralph Friedgen, was in attendance and quickly left the restaurant after the announcement. It appeared that she had no idea that Logan-El would pull this kind of stunt and why would Fridge let his wife go there if he knew this kid would commit to Penn State? It was a scene that won't be soon forgotten by those around the Maryland program or among fans. In fact I think this episode has produced some rifts that won't be mended for a long time to come. The way this announcement was done smacks of maliciousness and cruelty coming from a petty vendetta that is still being played out using high school kids as pawns.

Let's examine the details. Logan-El showed up with a bright red tie on, invited the Maryland staff to attend the announcement (even though they are prevented from going due to NCAA rules), praised the Maryland program and then with a satisfied smirk on his face announced he would be going to the "University of Penn State". The correct name of the school is Penn State University, but the significance is that uber dunce Derrick Williams made the same embarrassing gaff on his made-for-tv announcement last year. Think that is just a coincidence? It was widely reported by players who had taken visits to Penn State that Williams was engaging in negative recruiting against Maryland's football program, not just trying to sell them on Penn State. To be blunt this stunt has the fingerprints of the petty feud fueled by Williams and his father all over it. You may recall his father was laid off of his job at the University of Maryland after being given a number of chances at multiple positions.

Logan-El talked about his "values" and that Penn State was the best fit for him. I wonder what kind of "values" a person has when they humiliate the wife of a college football coach. I suppose chivalry isn't among them. Don't be fooled my friends, this was an "up yours" to the Maryland football program and its supporters. It wasn't enough that Logan-El gave his word to Maryland last year and said he would play for the Terrapins, apparently keeping his word isn't among those "values" he was talking about, he had to change his mind in a way that would embarrass and anger Maryland. To act in such an ill-mannered and unbecoming way certainly reflects badly on this kid. He's burned a number of bridges with his shenanigans yesterday.

Logan-El wasn't the only Maryland high school player to commit to Penn State yesterday as DT Philip Taylor also gave a verbal commitment. As my brother said Paterno feels the icy hands of death on his neck and is desperate to go out in glory. Paterno has become a living anachronism. In recent years he has become less of a pleasant "throwback" and more of a bitter and nasty old man who is stuck in a more narrow minded and intolerant era. Some of his recent comments should make even most conservative listeners cringe. College football, especially recruiting, is declining on a steady path of oblivion and one of the former legends of the game is going along for the ride.

Monday, January 23, 2006

McCray ineligible

Senior captain Chris McCray has been ruled academically ineligible for the spring semester which starts Wednesday. McCray will miss the rest of the season including the Georgia Tech game on Wednesday night. McCray apologized for letting down his teammates and coaches. This effectively ends Chris McCray's career at Maryland. Junior Mike Jones will have to take over the bulk of the duties at the shooting guard position. Expect Gary Williams to spread the load over the entire backcourt with Parrish Brown, Sterling Ledbetter and DJ Strawberry also shifting between the point guard and shooting guard positions. Over the next two games Williams will be experimenting with lineups to see what works. I don't think Maryland will miss McCray as much as some fear they will. Nik Caner-Medley is actually the team's leading scorer in ACC games. The depth of the team will be effected certainly but in ACC games McCray was shooting 38% from the floor and only 36% from 3-point range. From a scoring perspective Mike Jones is an upgrade shooting a crisp 47% from the field and from 3-point range. McCray's biggest contributions were on the defensive end and in passing on the half court. These will both be missed and the replacements won't be able to make up the difference. Gary will have to get even more creative in using his personnel.

This group has seemed to be in a malaise the last two years and in some strange way I could see this galvanizing them to play at a higher level the rest of the year. It could force the players to rally around each other. On the other hand they could use this as an excuse to go through the motions the rest of the year as the season spirals down the drain. I doubt Gary Williams would allow that to happen but either way I feel like we may know the answer on Wednesday night.

I find it hard to believe that a senior captain could let his teammates and coaches down in this manner. I used to believe that McCray was one of the better kids on the team, but you can't ignore something like this that speaks to a man's character. He's made a mistake he will regret for the rest of his life. I hope he learns this painful lesson well and finishes his degree. This has to reflect on both the program and on the University. You have to think that the sleazy coaches that Maryland battles in recruiting will be trying to use this against Gary. Some of the '06 & '07 recruits seem to indicate that the coaching staff realizes they need to get a different kind of player in at Maryland. Kids like Landon Milbourne, Jerome Burney, Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez are purported to be good students. Let's hope that Gary Williams will commit to reorganizing the way the program runs its off the court affairs.

Terps feast on Gobblers

I'll talk about the game in a moment but first I have some potentially bad news to pass along. Rumors are circulating that a prominent member of the team is in danger of being ruled academically ineligible and that a meeting will take place this week to determine if he will be suspended and his season ended. This could be a harsh blow to Maryland's chances at getting back to the NCAAs. If you're wondering who it might be look at the bench and see who is suddenly getting 20 minutes a game. That should tell you who is being prepared to take over if needed. Hopefully this will resolve itself and I won't need to discuss it anymore.

So, onto the game...

Maryland was able to build on the victory over Wake Forest last week and finish off a pesky Virginia Tech squad on Saturday. The problems that Virginia Tech faces are fairly plain to see for any longtime ACC basketball fan. They have no quality depth at almost any position. Once Coleman Collins was shut down by Will Bowers it became a one man show with Zabian Dowdell trying to carry the scoring load. Maryland tried switching several defenders on Dowdell including Strawberry, McCray and Sterling Ledbetter. Ledbetter probably did the best job of the three but none of them we able to totally deny Dowdell some scoring chances. It didn't really matter though because Dowdell may get 21 points but it took him 19 shots to accomplish that. For a Virginia Tech team that struggles offensively they need a player who is more efficient than that. Usually that would be Jamon Gordon but he got into early foul trouble then tweaked his ankle and was never a factor in the game. Without his backcourt partner Dowdell was forced to create for himself and took the rest of his teammates out of the game. Not that any of his teammates would have been able to change the outcome, but once the Hokies' offense became one dimensional the game was all but decided. I do have to give the Virginia Tech players credit as they never stopped fighting and give maybe the best effort of any team in the league.

As expected Maryland crushed Virginia Tech on the boards and grabbed 12 offensive rebounds, including a bunch of put back dunks. The Terps protected the ball against the active Hokie defense only giving up 14 turnovers. Maryland sunk 20 freethrows while Virginia Tech only attempted 16. That is pretty much all you need to know. You do all those things and the better talent will almost always win out.

Nik Caner-Medley was especially impressive. He exploited favorable matchups with Deron Washington and scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half with the outcome of the game far from certain. Nik went a scorching 9-14 from the field, mostly due to some excellent shot selection. He did most of his damage in the paint and added 8 rebounds to the cause. He played smart on both ends of the court and only gave up one turnover in a team high 32 minutes. His give and go with Will Bowers was a thing of beauty.

Bowers for his part may have resurrected his season. After barely getting on the floor against Miami and Duke he has posted 18 and 20 minutes in his last two games. His bulk and height really bothered Coleman Collins who had been abusing Maryland's low post defense until then. He forced Collins to post up well outside the lane and some well timed held defense prevented Collins from making moves to the basket. He may have only scored 4 points on some nice hook shots but his defense was worth close to 10 points.

DJ Strawberry again showed that he is the consummate team player. After coming off a career high 18 points against Wake Forest he only shot the ball 6 times for 4 points but dished out 8 assists. He made a few mistakes, among them 4 turnovers , but his decision making was steady and he was patient in finding the open man.

Chris McCray is still in a shooting slump but he was able to salt away the game with 6 freethrows at the end.

James Gist further tightened his grip on a starting spot with several breath taking dunks. I believe Gary Williams when he says that Gist has no idea how good he can be yet. Gist isn't just a dunk machine. He has a nice touch around the basket as well. His rebound and dunk off of a missed 3-pointer by McCray was simply amazing. Few players have that sense of timing or athletic ability.

Virginia Tech shot 2-13 from 3-point range. That is 15%.

Maryland is still streaky from 3-point range as the team only hit 3-10 shots. Maryland will need to pick that up against the better teams, as they did against Wake Forest, to compete. Look for Mike Jones to make a large contribution to improving that number.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Program cycles

It should be axiomatic that basketball programs will go through down periods, but most fans refuse to see things that way. The last four national champions all played in the NIT within three years of winning a their titles North Carolina (2005, NIT 2003), Connecticut (2004, NIT 2001), Syracuse (2003, NIT 2002), and Maryland (2002, NIT 2005). Now some of you might point out that Maryland is the only one of that group to play in the NIT after the winning a championship. This isn't true because Connecticut won its first championship in 1999 and was in the NIT two years later. It is also fair to point out that the last time that Maryland was stuck in the NIT prior to last year was 1990 and in the mean time all those schools had made a trip there while the Terps extended a string of 11 straight appearances.

All programs are eventually stuck with young teams that will struggle and it isn't just Maryland that will deal with large senior classes that will leave the team with little experience the following season. North Carolina is a perfect example of that this season. Ignore their current ranking, which is based mostly on reputation, because Carolina isn't one of the top 25 teams in the nation. It is uncertain if they will be among the top 34 at large teams come March after back to back losses to Miami and Virginia and flirting with disaster in a number of recent wins. If the Tarheels fade down the stretch they will have missed the NCAAs twice in the last four years.

Need other examples? Look at the struggles of Kansas and Kentucky. Kansas has already lost six games and was defeated at home by Kansas State. Kentucky has also lost six games already and has been embarrassed in Rupp Arena by Indiana. The Wildcats have already lost two home games in SEC play. Ashley Judd is not amused. If either team makes the NCAA tournament it won't be because they are one of the best 34 at large teams in the nation, it'll be because the SEC and Big 12 are so embarrassingly weak.

Arizona isn't quite as young as the previous trio but they do rely heavily on underclassmen. They also have six losses after being swept in a trip through Oregon. The Pac 10 is also so bad that they may make the tournament with a unworthy squad.

Georgia Tech went to the national semifinals two years ago if you recall. Now Paul Hewitt is forced to play a bunch of young kids who stand at 9-6 with only a faint hope of getting an NCAA bid.

Louisville lost a ton of experience and talent from their excellent 2005 squad and now are on an express elevator to the bottom of the Big East.

The NIT should start printing letters to some of those programs right now.

Next year Wake Forest and Duke will be in similar situations. Wake Forest will lose Justin Gray, Eric Williams and Trent Strickland. Skip Prosser, if he's not off in Cinncinati, will have the unenviable task of throwing his team in the hands of freshmen and sophomores. Duke will lose Sean Dockery, Sheldon Williams, JJ Redick and Lee Melchionni. I don't expect Duke to show up in the NIT but they won't be a team that will seriously challenge for a national title. It will resemble the 2003 team that got knocked out in the Sweet 16 more than likely.

Elite college football teams are expected to win every year. Commentators fret when Oklahoma's football factory goes 8-4 and "only" makes a 2nd tier bowl game against 10-1 Oregon. That is the nature of college football. It is much harder to accomplish that sustained excellence in college basketball. Without the depth that a college football coach can rely on, if the ratio was the same their would be almost 20 basketball scholarships instead of 13, it isn't possible to stock pile kids who can just step in as seniors without any disruption. Players like Drew Nicholas are the exception in college ball today.

How good would the average college football team be if you only had 57 scholarships and lost a quarter of the team in turnover every season? There would be no USC, no dynasties and there wouldn't be any point to a preseason top 25 poll, not that there is a point currently.

Consider all this and take some time to appreciate the accomplishment of getting back to the tournament year after year.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Wounded Turkey

The Virginia Tech Hokies come to College Park this weekend staggering in the midst of a three game losing streak. Interestingly the Hokies have lost four league games by no more than 6 points in any one game. This is the opposite of last season when Virginia Tech got some favorable bounces and started the season with a bunch of close wins. You could say that this indicates they are a better team than their record but bad teams find ways to lose close games and Tech has lost a bunch this year.

The Hokies have followed their same formula of last year that relied on tough defense, slow tempo and some clutch shooting. They still have the first two but not the last critical part. Their outside shooting is simply atrocious and among the worst in the league. Zabian Dowdell's shot selection has been dreadful this year and he gobbles up possessions with his low percentage attempts. That is not something the deliberate style of the Hokies can afford, they simply can't give up the possessions since they don't have many to fritter away. They will get out in transition if given the chance but they don't want to run up and down the court with teams. They badly miss the clutch shooting and steals of Carlos Dixon. The Hokies currently do not have a player ranked in the top 250 in offensive efficeincy.

While the defense has been piling up the steals it hasn't translated into victories. In both the North Carolina and Virginia games the Hokies had a double digit advantage in turnovers at home and still lost. That is fairly hard to explain unless you believe that they simply are not a good team. If you're opponent turns the ball over 20 times in a game you should at least win, if not blow them out. You could argue that the sloppy play of UNC and UVA is the only thing that kept the games close when they should have been routs. The frontline of the Hokies has been getting crushed on the glass by some rather pedestrian groups lately in spite of the excellent play of Coleman Collins. With Maryland having one of the better rebounding teams in the ACC I expect the Terps will exploit this.

Virginia Tech hasn't been a good road team in the last few years and with Comcast being one of the more difficult venues in the ACC, if not the nation, it would require a perfect game by the Hokies to win tomorrow. If they play at the level and intensity they did at Cameron they have a shot of winning, if not it will be a blowout. Maryland will have to give them a hand by turning the ball over about 20 times and Dowdell or Witherspoon will have to get hot from outside. I don't see all those things happening. If Maryland gets out to an early lead the lack of outside shooting or low post alternative to Collins will doom the Hokies.

Also keep in mind that James Gist had 18 points in only 24 minutes against the Hokies last season. If the guards are patient in the half court the Hokies will be unable to stop both Ekene Ibekwe and Gist. Look for one of them to have a monster game. This is a simple matchup really, if Maryland doesn't turn the ball over and controls the glass then they win big. If they don't then they'll let the Hokies stay in the game and perhaps pull out a close victory. Hopefully this group will come out focused and ready to play.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

TV notes

You could argue that the two best teams in the ACC play tonight as NC State travels to Cameron Indoor to play the Dukies. It will be their only meeting this season. As I said yesterday I don't think State matches up well with Duke, but could win with a great shooting night. It will be fun to see the two best defensive big men in the ACC go at each other, Duke's Sheldon Williams and State's Cedric Simmons.

On ESPN2 you can see future ACC players Gerald Henderson and Wayne Ellington play for Episcopal high school at 7pm. Henderson is a Duke commit and considered a top 20 player in the nation. Ellington is the consensus number one shooting guard, top 5 player in the nation, and is headed to North Carolina.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Football recruiting shaping up

In spite of another disappointing season and recruiting competitors like Virginia Tech and Penn State making inroads in the local talent pipelines the 2006 class for Ralph Friedgen is shaping up to be fairly decent. Maryland recently got a verbal commitment from Connecticut prep star Bruce Campbell who is one of the top 20 offensive tackles in the nation. The 4-star rated Campbell(6-7 272 lbs) is a prospect that I'm fairly excited about. He may not contribute in the near term but he helps with depth on the offensive line which is something this team desperately needs. The last few seasons have been disappointments partly because the lack of quality reserves on the offensive line. A few injuries and the coaching staff has been unable to fill spots with capable backups. Don't forget that tight end Derek Miller was pushed into emergency duty at the left tackle spot after senior Stephon Heyer tore a knee ligament in August. Backups Scott Burley, who was recovering from a back injury, and Dane Randolph were not able to fill the vacancy. Massive true freshman Jared Gaither eventually took over the position and played very well.

The drop off in the play of the offensive line was a primary cause of the last two 5-6 seasons and the contributed to the decline of Sam Hollenbach's play in the last 5 games of the season. Even if Antonio Logan-El decides to go with Penn State, which seems more likely at this point, securing Campbell was a great addition to what is shaping up as a surprisingly solid class. It is currently ranked the 17th best class in the nation by Rivals.com and has five 4-star players recruited this season. I excluded the recruits that went to prep school last year and Logan-El, but it will still be one of the better classes for Maryland in recent times.

Shawne Merriman returned to Maryland on Sunday for his annual winter coat drive. The NFL defensive rookie of the year and Pro Bowler received a warm ovation from the Maryland crowd at halftime of the Wake Forest game.

Around the ACC
Georgia Tech senior forward Theodis Tarver has regained his eligibility and played for the Yellow Jackets this past weekend against NC State. The committee that ruled him ineligible met again on Friday and reversed its decision. Tech declined to explain the reversal citing privacy issues. No word on whether Tech got Tubby Smith to look through some old faxes for them.

Two big games on Wednesday as NC State travels to Duke and Wake Forest hosts Georgia Tech. I don't think State has the matchups to give Duke much trouble. Duke tends to struggle with athletic teams that can pressure them on both ends of the court. State doesn't really fit that bill. Their best chance of victory is to continue their stout defense and hope that they have a phenomenal shooting night. Given that the Wolfpack went into Chapel Hill and got handled by Roy Williams' freshmen I doubt they pull an upset in Cameron.

Wake Forest has a must win game at home against Georgia Tech. Going 0-4 would likely eliminate Wake from NCAA consideration and they can't afford a second home loss. I expect Eric Williams will not have 3 fouls in 8 minutes as he did on Sunday. Wake needs more help from either Trent Strickland or one of its freshman.

Virginia stands at 2-2 in the ACC with its surprising win at Virginia Tech over the weekend. I doubt Virginia will be able to stay in the race for a NCAA bid deep into the season but it is a nice start for new coach Dave Leitao. With a brutal stretch coming up versus all the Triangle teams Wahoo fans might want to savor this now. It must have been nice to perhaps put the final nail in the postseason hopes of Hokie fans.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Top 25 Poll Jan. 16

1. Duke
2. Memphis
3. Florida
4. Texas
5. Connecticut
6. Illinois
7. Villanova
8. Gonzaga
9. Pittsburgh
10. Michigan State
11. Washington
12. Indiana
13. George Washington
14. UCLA
15. Ohio State
16. Iowa
17. NC State
18. West Virginia
19. Wisconsin
20. Louisville
21. Air Force
22. North Carolina
23. Boston College
24. Maryland
25. Tennessee

Wake up call

It was a critical night for the fortunes of this season and, for now, Maryland looks headed in the right direction. For both on and off the court reasons Maryland was reeling coming into this game against an equally desperate Wake Forest squad. They were coming off two games where they were soundly defeated and had the distractions of the Garrison arrest and suspension two days prior. Gary Williams himself said it was one of the more difficult weeks that he's had in recent memory. In spite of all that this group, minus Garrison, was able to hold off a veteran and talented Deacons squad that came to College Park ready to fight to the end.

Wake Forest wasn't going to roll over in this game even though they could have after Eric Williams got three quick fouls in only 8 minutes to start the game. The Deacons were down 17 points with less than 10 minutes to go but outscored Maryland from that point 38-25, and had a 10-3 run in one minute at the end of the game. You would expect a veteran club like Wake to close the gap a little but it seemed Maryland's defense got lazy with a large double digit lead and they suddenly found themselves in a street fight with under a minute remaining. Nik Caner-Medley took an ill advised 3-pointer with more than 20 seconds left on the shot clock and Chris McCray threw the ball away on a fast break when taking 30 seconds off the clock was more important. A few plays like that and Wake Forest was back into the game. That is how thin the margin of error is for this group and they need to always keep that in mind. Against a better team those mistakes could have cost them a game that should have been salted away in the last 5 minutes.

There were a number of heroes in the game and with five players in double figures plus 27 points off the bench it was a total effort. Mike Jones scored a season high 22 points and probably had the best game of his career against high level competition. Jones was on fire from the 3-point line and even added a couple nice assists on drives to the basket. In this game Jones was used in a way that was tailored to his strengths and for his part he took good shots when he had them. Jones isn't a great defender or ball handler but Gary Williams showed some increased confidence in giving Jones 26 minutes and getting the inbounds pass when Wake was pressing in the final minutes. Based on his postgame comments Williams has given Jones the "green light" to shoot whenever he is open. I'm not sure how much I'd make out of those comments since Jones real problem has been shot selection and not refusing to shoot. Perhaps it is just more an indication that Jones has a longer leash now.

DJ Strawberry bounced back from a wretched game against Duke and was sensational. He had a career high 18 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. He shot 5-7 from the floor, including 2-2 from long range, and 6-7 from the free throw line. His critical 4 free throws in the final 30 seconds clinched the game for Maryland.

Nik Caner-Medley had a nice night with 17 points and 8 rebounds while limiting himself to one turnover. He filled in at power forward when Gist and Ibekwe got into early foul trouble. He had a good night on defense as well and led the team with 6 defensive rebounds.

James Gist made the most of his first start since early last year. Although limited to 26 minutes due to foul trouble he still posted 13 points and 6 rebounds. He rarely takes a bad shot or give away silly fouls and has the athletic ability to score baskets that no other frontcourt player can. I love his potential and the more he plays the better off Maryland will be going forward. His only slight weaknesses are on defense and rebounding.

Chris McCray's recent funk continued in the first half as he was shut out and struggled to cover Justin Gray. He rebounded with a decent 2nd half but you have to wonder if McCray isn't more suited to being a nice roll player on a great team as opposed to the "go to" guy on a mediocre team. He doesn't seem to possess the skills needed to be the focal point of the offense. His outside shot is only mediocre and he is unable to create off the dribble. He is good at finding the open man and doing the dirty work but Maryland fans will have to expect he will disappear in big games this year.

Ekene Ibekwe struggle with early fouls and was never a factor. Will Bowers stepped in and contributed a solid 18 minutes as Gary Williams went small and played a box-and-one and 1-3-1 zone for short stretches. His defense on Wake's frontcourt was more than adequate. Sterling Ledbetter was resurrected last night and played 13 minutes, including crucial stretches, while amassing 4 assists.

As a team Maryland was outrebounded by 45-31 for an amazing -14 margin. Long rebounds from Wake's 19 misses from 3-point range accounted for some of that. Maryland held Wake to 39.7% shooting but kept them in the game by giving up 23 free throws of which Wake made 20.

The film study of the Duke loss must have been productive because Maryland protected the ball and only turned it over 11 times for a stingy 13% turnover rate. Couple that with 22 assists for a 71% assist per basket rate and it was a great night for the ball handlers. Some of that is due to a Wake defense that is unable to pressure the ball but it was still a good performance for Maryland's guards.

Maryland now gets a practice week while feeling good about themselves before the Virginia Tech game on Saturday. The Hokies are staggering after losing at home to rival Virginia for an 0-4 ACC start. Maryland needs to get out early in the game and stomp out any hope that Tech has to stay in the game. With a three game stretch of Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Temple it is time for Maryland to harvest its nuts before consecutive games versus North Carolina and NC State.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Garrison suspended for Wake game

It was reported that Travis Garrison will be suspended for the Wake Forest game tomorrow. Head coach Gary Williams said that the suspension was for breaking team rules by being in a bar during the season. No word on why Chris McCray wasn't also suspended since he is listed as a witness in the court documents and was also presumably at the bar. It seems that Williams and the University are content to let this situation play out in the court system and implied that Garrison's suspension will only last one game. I'm troubled by this decision for a number of reasons.

Williams' stated that "You're innocent until proven guilty in this country..." as a partial justification for the single game suspension. That is true, but Garrison's status on the basketball team has nothing whatsoever to do with Constitutional due process of a criminal defendant. We're not talking about Garrison's freedom, we're talking about the privilege of putting on a jersey and representing the University of Maryland. Fairness does not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt of his guilt to suspend Garrison from the team. I may not agree with only suspending Garrison for one game but I could see the point of view that you should let the legal process play out. I don't want to hear anything about "innocent until proven guilty" since that has no relevance to the discussion.

The one game suspension is problematic because it puts the University in a difficult position. The pretext that Garrison was suspended because he was out at a bar is ridiculous and everyone knows it. McCray was there too and he's not suspended. Suppose you reinstate Garrison and he pleads guilty or his case goes to trial and he is found guilty after the season is over. Then you've played a kid who was guilty of these charges all season, while it appears you should have had reason to suspect he was guilty, and played him anyway. That looks bad any way you slice it, friends. If you are going with the wishy washy stance that the courts should decide it and in the mean time Garrison should play then why was he suspended at all? It looks like you're trying to play both ends against the middle in some public relations slight of hand. From an outside perspective this refelcts badly on the program and the University.

I can't help but notice that this is the third senior in the 2002 recruiting class that has been arrested for his actions at or outside a bar. Caner-Medley, McCray and now Garrison have all been in the news for pulling the bonehead move of getting arrested for their partying ways. I can't help but remember that Juan Dixon's girlfriend said that their dates often consisted of late nights at Cole Field House with Dixon shooting hundreds of jump shots. I don't expect these kids to be monks but if you're out at the bars every week bad things are going to happen. One kid getting into minor trouble isn't much to get worried about but three is very concerning. You have to wonder if Gary Williams is beginning to lose control of the program. His actions in this matter will be telling. I pray that Gary doesn't go down the road of Lefty Driesell's final years at Maryland

Let's not make the common mistake of assuming that since these kids put the Maryland jersey on that they are all nice guys. Some are and some are not. We don't know what they are really like. Would you grab an undergrad walking around campus and start talking about what a nice guy he was just because he went to Maryland? No, and people would think you were a bit nutty if you did. We see them on tv, hear them interviewed, think they look like nice kids and assign all kinds of good qualities to them. It just isn't reality, as much as we wish it were. The fact that a player is pleasant to your kids when they ask for an autograph tells you far less about their character than we would like to believe it does. This is just as true for college athletes as it is for professional ones.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Garrison arrested

Travis Garrison turned himself into the Prince George's County Police and will be charged with 2nd degree assault and a 4th degree sex offense. The charges stem from an incident at a local bar that occurred on October 27, 2005. He is accused of grabbing a woman numerous times and, after she protested, slapping her across the face which resulted in a split lip. The woman didn't know Garrison or that he was a member of the basketball team before filing charges with police. The police said the delay in charging Garrison was due to their attempt to conduct a thorough investigation.

My reaction is utter disgust and disbelief. If this turns out to be true Garrison's time with the team should be ended. Yes, he should be kicked off the team. There should be no tolerance of this kind of behavior by Gary Williams or the University. If Gary won't pull the trigger then Dan Mote needs to step in and do it for him. You can't have a person who has done this on your team, regardless of the consequences to the team's season.

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Terps don't lack confidence

There is a fine line between staying optimistic and wallowing in a state of denial about your problems. From the recent quotes by some of the seniors on Maryland I'm not sure which side of that divide the players are on at the moment.

"We don't play like that, we don't play like that at all. We weren't playing our game at all."

-Travis Garrison

"It's no major concern. It's still early. It's only January. We still have a long way to go. We still have a lot of practice time and a lot more games coming. If we win out, we have a great chance to win the league." -Chris McCray

While all of the players acknowledged that they would have to play better in the remaining games there was still that vein of nonchalance that has been a trademark of this group. Besides DJ Strawberry this collection lacks any killer instinct or an unwillingness to accept mediocrity. They're more likely to just shrug their shoulders and move on after a clunker like the last two games. The 2001 team that went to the Final Four endured a devastating loss to Duke in the infamous "Gone in 60 seconds" game and lost four of the next five games before righting the ship. I really don't see the kind of leadership or talent on the 2005 squad that would be required for that kind of turnaround.

The error in Garrison's comments above is that this team does play like "that" and not just against Duke. In the four losses this season Maryland's turnover percentage has been 29.9, 30.8, 36.6 and 25.7, all well above their lofty average of 21.6%. They simply will not win in the ACC unless they can keep that number below 20 most of the time. Looking at the efficiency ratings the last two games the offense has cratered and the defense has been getting shredded.

I don't think McCray meant his comments to imply that the team doesn't care, but I wish a senior team captain would show more urgency than that after getting humiliated in two road games, including one on national tv. Last year's version also believed that they just had to "turn it on" at the end of the season and they'd be in the tournament, with all the sins of the regular season absolved. Clearly things didn't work out that way and the wins at the end never came when the team needed them. There is a real danger of that happening again this year. A half hearted or sloppy effort in the next two home games could spell doom for this group. They shouldn't look ahead to games against Virginia, FSU, Georgia Tech and, above all, Clemson and assume they can count on those wins. The old cliche about protecting your home court could not be more appropriate on Sunday.

Game Notes
Wake Forest will likely be without senior G Michael Drum for the Maryland game after suffering a hard fall against Clemson. Drum averaged 5 points and over 21 minutes per game so far this year. His absence will make Skip Prosser even more dependent on his shaky freshmen guards. He was probably the most steady and dependable ball handler on the team.

Wake is the worst team in the ACC with a 24.6 turnover rate. Expect Maryland to throw full court presses and traps at the mistake prone Wake backcourt. After the putrid offensive display against Duke it will be nice for Maryland to regroup against one of the most porous defenses in the ACC. Not only does Wake play bad half court defense but they have little ability to pressure the ball or force turnovers.

The senior trio of Justin Gray, Eric Williams and Trent Strickland are still dangerous and able to explode for a bunch of points in any given game. Gray is a sharpshooter who can change a game if he gets on a hot streak, but is vulnerable to the physical and long defenders like Maryland possesses. Gray will also give up more than his share of turnovers and force shots when he becomes frustrated. Williams is coming off a 20/20 performance against Clemson with 20 points and an amazing 20 rebounds. His dreadful free throw shooting has improved slightly the last two games but still stands at 43% for the year. Trent Strickland was one of the early surprises of the season with three double-doubles in his first four games, but he has since cooled off and has only scored in double digits once in the last five games. With the Wake Forest bench producing almost nothing the Deacons will need all three members of this trio to play well at Maryland to win the game.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Terps bumble thru blowout

Maryland radio analyst Chris Knoche called the game against Duke a fiasco and that is about as concise as you could get in describing the ugly effort the Terps put forth last night. They seemed incapable of hitting any open shots or even accomplishing the basics of throwing and catching a pass. The result was a contest that was all but decided after the first ten minutes.

You don't need the box score to figure out that Maryland couldn't do three things: play defense, hit a field goal and protect the ball.

Maryland had 29 turnovers for the game and had 12 in the first 11 minutes of the game. Chris McCray lead the team with six turnovers. Before everyone decides to pile on DJ Strawberry, who had 5 of his own turnovers, keep in mind that without him the rest of the team piled up 24. The entire squad is guilty of sloppy ball handling. The low post players, especially Travis Garrison, seemed unable to handle any entry passes. Gary Williams tried desperately to find some combination of guards that would be able to hold onto the ball but there wasn't an solution to be found in Sterling Ledbetter or Parrish Brown who combined for 6 turnovers. Ekene Ibekwe was the only regular who had fewer turnovers than field goals. The helter skelter style of Maryland's play exacerbates their poor ball handling and you have to wonder if they would be better off abandoning the up tempo style Williams' teams are known for.

It took Maryland nearly four minutes before they made their first field goal and they started the game by going 3 for 16 from the floor. They simply couldn't hit anything. This group has never been a good jump shooting team and that was very apparent last night. The only reliable threat from 3-point range on the squad is Mike Jones, who's inability to play basic defensive sets keeps him on the bench. McCray and Caner-Medley are unable to make more than the occasional outside shot and both have career averages from 3-point range near 33%. In an age of college ball where 40% has become the standard for good outside shooting that isn't even mediocre. Neither DJ Strawberry nor Ledbetter were expected to provide much in the way of perimeter scoring. It is a real deficiency in an era where you have to be able to hit the outside shot to keep defenses from collapsing on your post players.

The much hyped ability of Chris McCray to hamper and shut down JJ Reddick was nowhere to be seen last night. Reddick got free on screens and drives to the basket and McCray often lost him when Duke was in transition. He even fouled Reddick on a three point shot right before halftime to get the bonehead play of the night. In spite of Reddick's modest shooting percentage McCray played a terrible defensive game. Strawberry struggled with Greg Paulus, although the freshman had 5 turnovers, and Paulus used his forearm to illegally shield Maryland defenders all night. The post players did a decent job as Sheldon Williams got most of his points off transition and put backs. Williams was blocked a number of times by the post players and frosh Josh McRoberts was a total non-factor. Duke was outrebounded 45-37, of those 21 were offensive rebounds.

The goats of the night have to be Chris McCray and Travis Garrison. These two looked more like spooked freshman in their first road game than seniors with over a hundred college games to their credit. McCray was dreadful in the first 10 minutes when Maryland needed him to step up and make some plays. He even stepped out of bounds after catching a pass on the wing. It was very disappointing to see a senior captain make those kinds of mistakes, even worse coming off the Miami game where he was held to 5 points. He gathered 9 of his 12 points after Maryland was already trailing by 20 points or more including four meaningless points with less than 4 minutes remaining in the blowout. Travis was, well, Travis. He missed every shot he attempted, going 0-8, and in spite getting 4 offensive rebounds he failed to score even a single point in 20 minutes. That takes a certain kind of skill. In one sequence he was blocked twice in consecutive shots, once by the basket and once by Duke's Sheldon Williams. It was emblematic of Garrison's tentative and ineffective career at Maryland.

The only Maryland player who deserved kudos was Ekene Ibekwe. He scored 8 points and grabbed 9 rebounds all without turning the ball over. He played decent defense on Sheldon Williams in spite of giving up 30-40 pounds. The bogus technical foul called on Ekene was the result of a ridiculous flop by Sean Dockery as Ibekwe pushed him away from a jump ball scrum between Paulus and McCray. It was a typical cowardly play by a Duke player. I'm not sure how those kinds of smarmy feigning deceptions of the officials that Coach K's players engage in constitutes "heady" play or demonstrate "hustle" but no one else seems interested in pointing that out.

Perhaps it is time to recalibrate our expectations for this group. I'm starting to think that just returning to the NCAAs is about as much as we can hope for out of this disjointed and flawed mess of players. So much for Williams' hints about lineup changes as it was the usual suspects at tipoff last night. I hope for the sake of the team that Gary does shake some things up in practice and the lineups. The loss makes the game Sunday against Wake Forest a critical matchup. Going 1-3 in the conference might not be insurmountable but it would make Maryland's postseason hopes much slimmer. Wake Forest, coming off an overtime loss to Clemson last night, will be just as desperate to avoid starting ACC play with 3 losses. Maryland fans will need to all come out and be vocal to buoy the sagging morale of this squad.

The Business of College Sports
An interesting article from ESPN on how things are done in SEC land. The sad thing is the ACC is on its way there.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Too much is being made out of Maryland's recent success against Mike Krzyzewski's teams. The three game winning streak is all well and good but I'd gladly trade each of those wins for two wins against Clemson and Miami the last few seasons. I dislike Duke as much as the next guy but I never understood the attitude that it is the most important game of the season. When you have a team of potential All-Americans and go 15-1 in the ACC I guess it is the most important game of the year. When you have a bunch of kids who have struggled to play .500 ball in the ACC it has far less importance than defeating the teams you should beat.

The players on the current squad have internalized the attitude of the fan base that seems to imply that the Duke games are the only ones that matter. The disparity in effort and focus between the Duke games and Clemson games last year was embarrassing. This current group is unafraid going into Cameron Indoor in a way that is unlike any other ACC team. They probably learned this from Steve Blake and Drew Nicholas as freshmen, but Blake and Nicholas understood that while you may need to pick up your focus for a team like Duke you can't overlook the opponents before and after they come to town. In their careers at Maryland Blake and Nicholas only lost to Clemson and FSU once in 18 combined games, the one loss coming on the "Valentines Day Massacre" game to FSU at Cole Field House. After that loss Maryland surged to its first Final Four ever. Even if Maryland pulls out an unlikely win tonight it will all be for naught if this group cannot carry that intensity through the rest of the season.

Around the ACC

Two team's NCAA hopes may have been dealt fatal blows last night. Virginia Tech and Boston College now both sit at 0-3 in the ACC after home losses last night. Virginia Tech is now shooting for an NIT bid, which may not even be a strong possibility. North Carolina looked like a bunch of freshman with heaps of turnovers and inexplicable mental lapses. Their mistakes nearly lost the game as it was close for most of the second half. Hokie guard Zabian Dowdell decided to turn into Stephon Marbury and refused to feed the ball to Coleman Collins on the inside. He jacked up a slew of ill advised shots with the momentum favoring Tech. Tyler Hansbourgh has all but locked up the freshman of the year voting at this point. He dominated Collins and the other players Seth Greenberg tried to throw at him. The conventional wisdom is that younger teams get better as the year goes on but with the baby Tarheels I think the greater likelihood is that they'll wear out in the second half of ACC play. North Carolina has yet to play at Wake Forest, Duke, Maryland and NC State. They passed their first league road test however.

NC State thoroughly dominated Boston College in Chestnut Hill. I think it is safe to end any talk about the Eagles finishing second behind Duke. At this point they are fighting to try to keep their NCAA hopes alive. I was amazed at how poorly Boston College played on defense. They were never a great defensive team but with the way they are playing now a double digit deficit is almost insurmountable. They just gave up in the second half, it was a pitiful display. Al Skinner is getting almost no production from their guard spots, although Rice has some potential. The return of Sean Williams was supposed to bolster their inside defense but he was routinely abused by a good, but not great, Cedric Simmons. Williams looked totally lost and out of shape. It didn't help that their arena was like a mausoleum for most of the night. If BC is going to have a competitive team in the future their fans will have to do a much better job.

The Wolfpack are better than I expected but the loss at UNC on Saturday also showed that they have vulnerabilities. They do have a fairly easy schedule in the 2nd half of the ACC season with all of their difficult opponents, save a end of year trip to Wake Forest, at home. NC State only gets top ranked Duke once this season. Right now they have the easiest path to finish behind Duke among the contenders.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Feel the love

Yup, it's time for another Duke versus Maryland game on ESPN. A breathless and hyperventilating Dick Vitale, fawning camera shots of the most overrated fans in all of sports, endless montages of JJ Redick scoring at will against UNC Greensboro, the only team in the country that sends its assistant coaches out for halftime interviews with the ESPN courtside eye candy, you'll get all that and more tomorrow with the Terp's annual trip to Durham.

What you'll get once the game starts is anyone's guess. I certainly have no idea. I know that Maryland's players will be more intense for this game than they were for a six loss Miami squad. Maryland is in the midst of a three game winning streak against the Blue Devils, which is something no one has done in the ACC in almost 10 years. The odds don't seem to be good for that to continue. Freshmen Greg Paulus and Josh McRoberts are getting more comfortable with their roles on this team. Paulus dislocated his finger the other night against Wake Forest but it appears he will play against Maryland. Look for DJ Strawberry to be even more tenacious while guarding the frosh point. DeMarcus Nelson was expected to be out for another few weeks while recovering from his broken ankle but he played against Wake on Sunday and would appear likely to see action tomorrow.

It must be somewhat comforting to Duke that Sheldon Williams spent much of the Wake game on the bench with foul trouble and they still blew Wake out of their own gym. In spite of an influx of young players Duke still isn't much deeper than they were last year, especially in the frontcourt. Patrick Johnson, he of the Gladiator shoulder brace, even made an appearance for a few minutes in the Wake game. Gary Williams will send his quartet of low post players at McRoberts and Williams trying to wear them down by attrition. I doubt it will work like it did in last seasons second victory at Comcast Center.

This is the difficult stretch of Maryland's season and things are likely to get worse before they get better.

Around the ACC

Two good games on tap tonight. NC State has to travel to Chestnut Hill where Boston College is staring at the possibility of going 0-3 in league play. This is one of those "sense of urgency" cliche games. The Eagles should be able to exploit NC State's low post players, but if BC's perimeter defense doesn't improve the Wolfpack could bury them with a barrage of 3's. This could be a competitive but very ugly game. I'll go with the Eagles to win in their first ACC home game.

North Carolina's scrappy youngsters face their first road game in ACC play. Coming off a big win over a hot NC State team you would think that they should handle a vulnerable Hokie team that has been riddled with inconsistency and injuries. With young teams you never know how they'll handle success and it will be interesting to see if they can match the emotion of a desperate Virginia Tech squad. With two ACC losses already and road games at Maryland and Wake Forest between a home game at Duke, this could be an early elimination game for Seth Greenburg's bunch. UNC is playing solid defense and getting nice production from Noel and Hansbrough, that should be enough in a close contest.

Hokie forward Wynton Witherspoon has decided to play through his foot injury instead of sitting out the year. He scored 19 points against Florida State over the weekend but with his injury you never know how he'll play on any given night. It's unlikely Witherspoon make it through the season but Greenberg knows he'll need some luck to survive the next five games and keep a chance at an NCAA bid alive.

Coming off a big win over Boston College on Sunday Georgia Tech found out that senior Theodis Tarver has become academically ineligible and will not return to the team. It's a tough blow for a young team without much inside help for Ra'Sean Dickey.

Farewell New Mexico

Marcus Vick certainly went out in a blaze of glory this week. It was discovered that he was ticketed on December 17th of last year for speeding on a suspended license. Vick told head coach Frank Beamer and director of football operations John Ballein of the ticket for driving on a suspended license two days later. Neither Beamer nor Ballein thought it was worth informing the athletic director or university president that Vick had been charged, even though it was clear that Vick was on a "zero tolerance" policy in regards to infractions. Vick played in the Gator Bowl anyway, where he proceeded to embarrass the Virginia Tech program again by stomping on the leg of a Louisville player. Clearly the coaches at Virginia Tech knew about this latest infraction before the bowl game and let Marcus Vick play anyway.

Beamer claims that he was on his way to tell Vick he was suspended for two games in the 2006 season for "the stomp" when they found out Vick was also cited for speeding and it was only then that Virginia Tech decided to kick Marcus off the team. I don't understand the distinction between going 15 mph over the speed limit being unacceptable while driving on a suspended license is honkey dory. Well, that is their story anyway.

A few days later Vick was arrested in Suffolk for brandishing a firearm at some teenagers who were taunting him in the parking lot of a McDonalds. It was the end to one of the most ignominious careers for an ACC football player in recent memory.

Before Hokie fans start patting themselves on the back that the president of the university stepped in to end Marcus Vick's career at their school let's review some of the facts. The governor-elect of Virginia Tim Kaine had said publicly that he expected Virginia Tech to discipline Vick for his egregious behavior at the Gator Bowl. When the soon-to-be governor of your state says something like that you'd better listen if you are a university president. The head coach knew of Vick's driving violation weeks before the team's bowl game and never informed the athletic director or university president. Only after the citation became public did the university take disciplinary action against Vick. Let's not pretend that this episode makes Frank Beamer or Virginia Tech out to be paragons of virtue. Vick's actions and the fact that his recent driving citations were made public were the only things that forced Virginia Tech to take live up to their promise that Vick would only get one more chance.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Top 25 Poll Jan 9

1. Duke
2. Memphis
3. Florida
4. Villanova
5. Connecticut
6. Louisville
7. Illinois
8. Gonzaga
9. Texas
10. UCLA
11. Washington
12. Michigan State
12. Indiana
14. George Washington
15. Ohio State
16. Iowa
17. Boston College
18. NC State
19. Pittsburgh
20. North Carolina
21. Oklahoma
22. Wisconsin
23. West Virginia
24. Air Force
25. Maryland

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Miami vices

The rest of us turned our calendars to 2006 last week but the Maryland Terrapins seem like they are stuck in 2005. In a game that was eerily familiar to the struggles of last years team Maryland was soundly defeated by Miami yesterday, 84-70. As with losses to Clemson and NC State last year, Maryland was sleepwalking for the first 5 minutes of the game and found themselves down 13-0. Also like last season Maryland could not steady itself on defense, nor find anyone on offense to carry the scoring load. It was a thoroughly disappointing game for a group of upperclassmen who were saying all the right things going into league play. Going in against a Miami team that was in the midst of a death spiral, having lost by an average of 12 points to ranked opponent all season, Maryland played like the team that had no confidence.

Maryland was stymied again by Miami playing a zone defense and could not exploit the common weaknesses of zone defenses, offensive rebounding and outside shooting. You would have thought Maryland had played a zone defense the way Miami shredded Maryland's defense with a barrage of 3's and crashed the boards for 13 offensive rebounds. Those rebounds resulted in 17 second chance points. Carelessness with the ball again bedeviled Maryland as they posted a 25% turnover rate for the game. DJ Strawberry and Nik Caner-Medley led the team with 6 and 5 turnovers respectively.

Except for perhaps Nik Caner-Medley(19 pts) and DJ Strawberry(14 pts) every other member of the team came up very small but none worse than the post players. They let a mediocre Miami frontcourt outrebound them 37-30 and Miami guard Robert Hite almost outrebounded Travis Garrison and Ekene Ibekwe combined (in fairness to Ibekwe we don't know how his twisted ankle effected him during the game). Shooting guards Chris McCray and Mike Jones combined to go 2-10 and only 1-8 from the three point line. McCray came into the game averaging almost 17 points but ended up scoring just 5. In a game when his shot was not falling he also failed to get to the foul line more than 3 times the whole game, a reliable scorer would have been able to do that. The bench only produced 11 points in 52 combined minutes between 5 different players.

It wasn't limited to just the players as the coaching staff had a rough day as well. Gary Williams seemed utterly mystified towards the end of the game and couldn't even muster his usual explosions during stoppages. Perhaps he was coming to the conclusion that there was no substitution or magic alignment that would bring Maryland back and had just accepted it. His substitution pattern was strange to say the least and he insisted on playing the slow footed Caner-Medley on one of the guards in Miami's three guard lineup. It isn't Caner-Medley's fault that he simply didn't possess the quickness to prevent drives to the basket or quick screens for outside shots. On offense where was Maryland's perimeter screens to open up some good looks from the outside? The frontcourt is terrible at setting screens but they could have tried. The only backcourt player who could consistently slash through the zone was Strawberry.

In post game comments Gary Williams alluded to a lack of toughness on this team. They still go through periods where they seem to lose focus or don't have the expected level of intensity to match their opponent. The majority of this team is now in its third year together and you have to wonder if their maddening inconsistency will become their epitaph. I also wonder if the Gilchrist drama of the last two seasons has taken away any passion this group had for playing basketball. The results sure seem to indicate a group that doesn't have the passion to be great, except when they play Duke. Williams hinted of lineup changes but beyond the replacing of Travis Garrison with James Gist I'm not sure what would constitute an upgrade. Mike Jones and Will Bowers have looked totally lost in recent weeks and are unlikely to contribute much. We may see an unusual lineup against Duke, as Bowers started last season's matchups, but only effort and passion will make a difference.

Around the ACC

Perhaps the only thing that made the Miami debacle less disastrous is that virtually every other ACC contender lost over the weekend. NC State, Boston College and Wake Forest all lost badly over the weekend. NC State lost the good vibrations from some solid early season play by getting spanked by their nemesis, North Carolina. Boston College inexplicably lost to Georgia Tech in a game that had no business being close. The Jackets are a young and talented group but there is no way a tough and experienced Eagles team should have lost that game. Perhaps it shows that Boston College (0-2) is nowhere near as good as the media thought they were, and perhaps that goes for the entire ACC. Wake Forest got their doors blown off by the Duke juggernaut. The losses by State, BC and Maryland were all on the road so they are not crippling blows, but Wake had Duke at home and got the situation they were hoping for, Sheldon Williams on the bench with 3 early fouls, yet still couldn't keep the game competitive. I'd say Maryland's loss was the worst of the bunch because they never even led in the game. All this shows that besides Duke every team in the league has serious flaws and that in two weeks one or more of them will probably play their way out of the post season.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Rose by any other name

Okay, so the game did live up to the hype. Three plays stood out to me in the game. Reggie Bush's ill conceived lateral that resulted in a fumble recovered by Texas and the two fourth downs that Pete Carroll went for instead of sending in the special teams. This first time he did that was in the 1st quarter at the Texas 17 when Matt Leinhart tried a quarterback sneak. A questionable decision with USC already up by 7 points and the momentum squarely in their favor. Carroll's kicker was 11-12 on the season and was perfect from inside 40 yards. The decision to go for it on fourth down from midfield with 2 minutes left in the game will be debated for a long time but it was the wrong call. By punting USC could have pinned Texas back inside their own 20. Instead Vince Young got the ball at midfield and, with two timeouts, could scramble or throw the ball. Carroll admitted he wasn't confident his defense could stop Young if they punted and he wanted to end the game right there. It wasn't fourth down and two feet, however, and LenDale White was stopped just a few feet short. I understand the logic but if you feel shaky about your defense why take the chance of putting them on their heels and giving Texas a short field? Now a fake punt would have been a stroke of genius and I doubt that Texas would have been expecting it.

All this confirms what I've believed for a while now. You don't need to be a great strategist to be a highly successful college coach, heck you don't even need to be anything other than a highly mediocre coach to win in college. You just need to get great players. In the NFL Carroll was never successful anywhere he coached, but in college, where you can get any players you want depending on what you're willing to do, good X and O preparation isn't a prerequisite for winning. Steve Spurrier is another example of this phenomenon as are Dennis Erickson and Rich Brooks.

Now back to Maryland

The kids had a nice tune up for ACC play. The game wasn't on the tube and I didn't have tickets so there isn't much point in analyzing the game. Nik Caner-Medley had his best game of the season and I expect him to kick it into gear as ACC play starts tomorrow. Ekene Ibekwe didn't have the kind of game that will get your attention but for a kid who is the star of the frontcourt he is playing very unselfishly. He only took 5 shots, only Will Bowers took fewer among the big men, against a team he would have been jacking shots every time he touched the ball last season. DJ Strawberry and Chris McCray continued their solid play with 14 and 16 points respectively.

I like where Maryland is as a team right now. They should roll over Miami and then get Duke next week. It'll be a tough stretch with Wake Forest and Virginia Tech coming to Comcast Center after that. We'll have a good sense of what to expect out of this squad after that point.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I'd still rather watch Maryland

That's right. Instead of the USC versus Texas game that decides who gets to claim they are the national champion for 2006, I'd rather see Maryland play Texas A&M -Corpus Christi. The football game will more than likely not live up to the hype, it has two teams I could care less about, and in about a half dozen years no one will care who won the game anyway. The Maryland game isn't on TV so I won't have to make that choice. Frankly I'm more excited about the start of basketball conference play on ESPN tomorrow night. We'll get to see top 10 matchups between Illinois and Michigan State in addition to Louisville and Villanova. UCLA and Arizona are the nightcap. Can't wait for College Gamenight to start again.

Mountain Momma
It appears that the future of the annual West Virginia game is in doubt at the moment. The series has been played annually since 1980 with the tied at 21-21-2 all time. There are rumors that games against California will replace WVU in 2008 and 2009, but the series could end as soon as 2007 if a replacement can be found. It seems there isn't strong feeling at either school to continue this "rivalry". It isn't really much of a rivalry and I wouldn't be sad to see it go the way of John Denver.

Around the ACC

The Carolina state schools both beat up on some cupcakes last night, but Wake Forest barely squeaked by East Carolina at home. The game was tied in the final minutes before the refs gave Wake Forest possession on an out of bounds situation that Trent Strickland admitted was the wrong call. Like all season Wake struggled to hold onto the ball with 21 turnovers on 13 steals by the Pirates. The bench again did next to nothing in this game and Justin Gray had a hard time getting his shots to fall. The Deacons better clear those problems up or the ACC season will be very difficult for them. It starts with Duke on Sunday. They will have to play much better to even have a chance in that game. Their home crowd needs to be raucous. Unfortunately, I see Duke rolling in this game.

Nice Old Fella
When did Joe Paterno turn into a grouchy old wacko? For those who missed his griping, whining and senile rantings at the Orange Bowl this week check this out. His comments at the media events before the Orange Bowl had a certain Bobby Knight quality about them. An unpleasant mixture of ridiculous self importance and obnoxious bully. Paterno used to be one of the few good guys in college football, remember? Perhaps this all started back in 2002 when Paterno went out of his gourd when UPS lost a number of close games in the Big Ten. He had a full blown "vast right wing conspiracy" moment and even hung a referee in effigy on his door for Halloween. His bizarre comments about the legal situation and suspension of FSU linebacker AJ Nicholson were especially creepy given that he decided to play Anwar Phillips in a bowl game three years ago when the starting cornerback was expelled for an alleged rape. I hardly felt Paterno was vindicated when Phillips was found not guilty, please do not call it "innocent", of the charges. I have the feeling if a young coach like Urban Meyer or Pete Carroll acted this way the media wouldn't be dismissing it as quaint quirkiness. For his part Paterno seems to dismiss any criticism of his actions as a ludicrous waste of his time. His fans and apologists, if there is a distinction at this point, are not doing him any favors by letting him get away with it, as the Orange Bowl did earlier this week by removing his quotes regarding Nicholson from the website and replacing them with fabrications. One would hope Paterno has the sense to leave the game before he turns into Woody Hayes or forever sullies his already faltering reputation.