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.

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