Thursday, February 23, 2006

Terps drop to NIT territory

I had some computer issues the other day so please forgive my sparse postings these last few days. Not that it has been very pleasant to write about this Maryland basketball team lately either. Maryland lost for the sixth time in it's last eight games. Their record since Chris "Scholar" McCray flunked off the team stands at 3-6 and they go into the game in Chapel Hill on Sunday having lost three of the last four. I think that Maryland will not make it to the NCAA tournament at this point but the odd thing is that of all the remaining "bubble" teams in the ACC Maryland has by far the best chance to get in. Their RPI is better than any of the other three contenders and they could probably get in to the tournament with an 8-8 record and a win in the ACC tournament. The others probably have to go 9-7 and win one game to have a shot. To give those of you who still have a sliver of hope an idea of where Maryland stands they only need win one of the next two games, either North Carolina or Miami, and then you have a elimination game at Virginia. As bad as Maryland has looked that is all it would take. If Maryland was able to pull off an unlikely upset of UNC then I think Maryland would be in the tournament if they only won one of their following three games.

In last night's game Maryland looked like a solid NIT squad. Their offensive execution was horrendous. In the first half Maryland shot just over 30% from the floor and couldn't do much of anything to get good looks at the basket. After the 10 minute mark in the first half Maryland didn't really threaten until closing to within six points at 37-31 with 17 minutes left in the game. They then promptly got blow out and were down by 20 points just 7 minutes later. The defense wasn't particularly good, giving up a mixture of fast break, second chance and 3-point scoring by FSU, but it may have been enough to win had the offense not been so putrid.

Much has been made all season of the lack of a "true" point guard for Gary Williams and it has certainly been a constant source of difficulty but last night, as bad as the guards played, it was two key players who let Maryland down totally: James Gist and Mike Jones. Both were coming off excellent games versus Georgia Tech. Jones scored 21 points and Gist notched a tough double-double in the win over the Yellow Jackets. Last night they combined for 4 points in 33 minutes. With the Terps' paper thin depth they simply can't afford those kinds of nights from key players. Gist got into early foul trouble and was never really a factor while Jones had an embarrassing night where he attempted to play something that never resembled defense. He looked like he was trying out for the ballet with all of the ridiculous leaping for ball fakes that wouldn't fool a grade schooler. Jones was completely shut out in the second half. In his post game comments Williams called their disappearance "amazing". When you're trying to rely on what really are two sophomores in terms of playing time you'll have to expect some stinkers but you hope they don't happen on the same night or in a critical game.

It wasn't as if anyone else had a notable game either. Nik Caner-Medley scored 19 points but by the time he got his first basket of the second half the game was already over. His 11 2nd half points all came with Maryland down by almost 20 points and the team's fate sealed.

Ekene Ibekwe score 15 points and had some flashes of decent play but also had 6 turnovers and collected five points in the last few minutes of garbage time. The entire frontcourt struggled badly against a deep but mediocre FSU frontline. There isn't anyone on FSU who has the low post skills of Ra'Sean Dickey or Jeremis Smith but neither Ibekwe or especially Gist could exploit that. Note that Al Thorton plays more of a small forward position and doesn't post up very often. Most of his points were either in transition or outside the paint.

Sterling Ledbetter, as usual, was painful to watch. His turnover in the last few moments of the game, when he wasn't even pressured by a defender, was embarrassing. All told in the last 6 minutes Parrish Brown, Ledbetter and Strawberry had 4 turnovers combined. But it wasn't just the turnovers that killed Maryland, it was also the incredibly poor decisions by that trio. There were numerous times with Maryland trailing in the 2nd half that one of the three dribbled up the court and took an immediate shot with only a few seconds coming off the shot clock. No attempt to run the offense and get a good look for a teammate, no ability to drive and kick to an open shooter, little court vision and game situation awareness. It is painful to watch this group.

Will Bowers came off the bench and provided some lift for the offense, but the 5 man combination of Bowers, Garrison, Caner-Medley, Strawberry and Ledbetter was badly outplayed in the first half. He had only a single rebound in 14 minutes of play and along with Garrison gave up a number of offensive rebounds to the Seminoles.

It is a broken record, but the perimeter defense was terrible once again. The guards gave up six 3-point baskets in the first half alone. That, along with Maryland's aversion to using the 3-point basket in its own offense, doomed the Terps.

They will need a few days of fantastic practice and hard work to have a chance of beating North Carolina, who, after thumping NC State in Raleigh last night, is playing excellent basketball.

McCray on senior night
I have a few thoughts on Gary Williams comments in the Washington Post that he would allow McCray to participate in the ceremonies honoring the seniors before the Miami game. I feel that he should not be honored before the game for a couple of reasons. First, this isn't punishment for McCray. Senior night is a privilege and an honor given to those who have earned it, McCray has does not deserve this perk. Let's all be clear, denying someone a perk isn't tantamount to punishment. Second, while McCray has had a decent career at Maryland the team that won the 2004 ACC title has already been honored. I don't imagine anyone has much interest in flying John Gilchrist back from Israel to get an ovation either. Third, I'm not sure what kind of reception McCray would get from the crowd. There will be a mix of boos and cheers from the fans. Why risk a potentially embarrassing and unpleasant scene?

I know Gary Williams is showing his loyalty to Chris McCray and his players by saying this to the press. At the same time all great coaches who demand perfection from themselves need to hold their players and assistants to the same level. That has been the downfall of more than a few great coaches over the years, they stopped holding those around them accountable for their failures. McCray's selfishness has cost his coach and teammates dearly this year and he doesn't deserve the privilege of senior night.


dolphinfan said...

NIT isn't all that bad. At least it's the post season.

Have you seen the new guidelines for the NIT?

Here they are,

Esquire said...

I know there are benefits to playing in the NIT and Gary Williams has often expressed his admiration for the tournament and its history. I doubt Williams would ever turn down an invitation. Having said all that it is a sad imitation of what it once was and there wasn't really a marquee matchup in the entire NIT last season. For most of the major programs it has all the atmosphere of a funeral.

Soupy said...

Inviting McCray to Senior Night would be an embarrassment and would give more ammunition to those who recruit against Maryland who already say that Gary doesn't give a damn about academics. Add that to the team's 30 percent graduation rate and it makes you wonder what Debbie Yow is thinking when she gives Gary a lifetime contract.