Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Terps on life support

I was out of town this weekend and didn't get a chance to write my normal postgame. I'll do my best with this late and abbreviated version.

Any sort of win in this season with this team is a good thing, but until the wins start piling up it only keeps Maryland alive until the next game. The overtime win against Georgia Tech kept the Terps alive for a few more days. Maryland will likely need to finish at 8-8 in the ACC and possibly win an ACC tournament game depending on who they are matched up against. Getting to .500 against Georgia Tech was essential with three remaining road games. The Yellow Jackets had been playing better of late with a win over NC State and nearly upsetting North Carolina in Chapel Hill. They were not a pushover. Still, there is a reason they are 3-10 in the ACC. I'm not sure there is a solid reason to be excited going forward as this team is still filled with glaring holes.

Maryland did their best to give the game away with another 26 turnover day against a Yellow Jackets defense that is physical but not adept at pressuring the basketball. There were a number of stretches where Maryland could have put the game away in the second half but frittered away leads with sloppy ball handling. Georgia Tech amassed 30 points off Maryland turnovers, which explains how Maryland shot 55%, out rebounded their opponent, had 20 assists, and made 25 free throws and still had to win in overtime. Without Mike Jones electrifying block as time expired Maryland could very well have lost.

The defense wasn't great in spite of the low shooting percentage of Georgia Tech, it was more about them just not hitting open shots. Tech's shooters missed at least 3 or 4 wide open looks from 3-point range. There has been no cure of the porous perimeter defense and it likely won't get much better since there isn't a single defender on the team right now who can deny the opponent's 3-point threat. Mike Jones had a great night but probably gave up 13-17 points on the defensive end where he really struggled.

Maryland would have lost the game had Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist failed to snap out of their funks and each post a double-double. To have two frontcourt players do that in a game is pretty rare. If they can build on this game Maryland will be in a much better position. Gist was more aggressive and has the best ability to pass out of the post, as evidenced by his great feed to Mike Jones for a huge 3-pointer with 5 minutes left in the game, of any big man.

Jones had a career night hitting 8/10 shot attempts and scoring 21 points. He also showed some nice ability to work off screens and get some curls on the paint. His big body and quickness help him score in the lane. He isn't just a 3-point sharpshooter. He struggled badly on defense and with turnovers but Jones is still growing into his position and learning with every game. Last night his offense was on but his defense and ball handling was dreadful. As he gains seasoning he'll be able to put all them together in the same game.

Nik Caner-Medley struggled on offense but played 42 minutes and showed some great on the court leadership. While he wasn't able to contribute much to the stat sheet he kept his teammates motivated and rallied them when things were going south. For a senior who has never had that role in the previous three years it is impressive.

Sterling Ledbetter and DJ Strawberry didn't play horribly on offense which is about all you can hope for in Ledbetter's case. His defense is still horrendous and he got burned by a Georgia Tech duo of West and Frederick that wouldn't exactly strike fear into opponents. Strawberry was sloppy with the ball, again, but this time he hit his foul shots. This game and the Clemson fiasco are proof to me that if you live and die by these two, you'll lose more than you'll win.

Travis Garrison was his normal jump shooting, reverse layup when a dunk was available, turnstyle low post defense, marshmallow self. He has stopped even trying to look for an open teammate or a better shot when he comes off the bench. He took a bunch of jumpshots and had only 1 rebound in 15 minutes of play despite with Georgia Tech missing 43 shots and giving him plenty of opportunities.

I think Florida State is actually a team that Maryland matches up with well. They don't have dominating low post game and rely more on a high tempo pressure style to score points in transition. In the half court they are fairly shaky. Al Thorton can score a ton of points but they rest of the Seminoles are really more complementary players. Forward Alexander Johnson is one of the bigger whiners in the ACC and has taken on a thug role in the last few weeks. He'll try to intimidate Ibekwe and Gist with very physical play, which saw him foul out in the Duke game after a hard foul and double technical with Sheldon Williams. It will come down to which team is more disciplined: on defense, rebounding and with turnovers. Florida State can't outrun Maryland like they have some other teams this year, but if Maryland turns the ball over 26 times they won't have to. If I were Gary I'd actually try to slow the tempo down and play in the half court with FSU. Interestingly FSU has already played three overtime games in the ACC and except for a blowout loss to NC State most of their recent losses have been competitive. They have not beaten a top 50 RPI team all year and are only 4-2 at home.

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