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."
"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.
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.