Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Generalissimo Arrives

Or perhaps the term caudillo is more appropriate for the electric Venezuelan.

Simply a transcendent performance by Greivis Vasquez. With Maryland struggling and suddenly down five points at 48-43 the freshman willed the game to Maryland by scoring 8 straight points to get Maryland back into the game. In the last eight and a half minutes Vasquez scored 12 points and had 15 out of Maryland's 38 2nd half points. He played like a senior, giving the Terps the lift they needed after blowing an early double digit lead. As I wrote many months ago Vasquez will be a special player at Maryland. He clearly shines off the bench and for now that is the role in which he is best suited. Eric Hayes did get slightly rattled in the game but he usually brings a more even and controlled tempo to the team. He is a slightly better distributor and the other players seem to be more comfortable with Hayes on the floor.

Maryland started off like gangbusters and blitzed the Illinois crowd out of the game. Then the atmosphere and defensive pressure combined to get some of the younger players out of rhythm. The last 10 minutes of the half and first 10 minutes of the 2nd half were as awful as the Terps have played all year. Maryland got lazy on defense and started settling for poor shots on offense. Keep in mind that not only are Hayes and Vasquez freshman but Bambale Osby, playing for the injured Ekene Ibekwe, was playing in his first truly big game at Maryland. While Osby and Hayes didn't elevated their game to the stratosphere like Vasquez they both regained their composure and sunk four big freethrows to ice the game. The young players got a little rattled but in giving up a large lead and then fighting back to pull the game out they showed impressive toughness.

Mike Jones started red hot and finished with 19 points though he was very quiet in the 2nd half. Jones only played 11 minutes in the 2nd half while Maryland struggled to generate any offense. His defense is still spotty but that is what you get in return for his ability to score almost anywhere inside the NBA 3-point line. Without Jones' 19 points Maryland would not have been able to overcome the absence of Ibekwe and the struggles of DJ Strawberry to win at Illinois. I felt that some of the substitution patterns were a little strange but given the results it would seem a little churlish to complain.

James Gist had a game that encapsulates his career at Maryland so far. At times he was dominant but then disappeared during critical stretches of the game. In the first half he clearly dominated the Illinois front court with 9 points and 3 blocks but he had more turnovers (3) than points (2) in the second half even though he played 19 minutes. Will Bowers played a season high 16 minutes and while he was largely effective on defense his rebounding was atrocious. I feel bad for Bowers as it seems he has lost all his confidence and has been relegated to the fourth big man in the rotation. Unless he shows more passion and intensity for the limited minutes he is on the floor it won't get any better for him. Bowers and the other front court players allowed 21 offensive rebounds to Illinois which allowed them to shoot 15 more field goal attempts than Maryland. Defensive rebounding has been a major problem for the team so far this season but the perimeter defense and the Terps own shooting has allowed them to overcome this problem.

At 8-0 for the season and a showdown with Boston College over a week away Maryland is in an excellent position and forcing everyone in the nation to recognize Maryland is back!

Notes:
Maryland snapped Illinois 51 game home winning streak, the longest active streak in the nation.

Both Will Bowers and Greivis Vasquez had cuts opened up on their noses by the physical play.

The Straw That Stirs the Drink

Nice article by Patrick Stevens on the blossoming of DJ Strawberry with his new role this season. Strawberry is clearly the leader on the team and the most productive all around player, which is a great combination when you have both in the same guy. DJ is comfortable in his new role and is back making plays like he did in his first two seasons at Maryland.

Ekene Ibekwe's status for the game is still not certain. My guess is that he will show tonight. Ekene loves those ESPN broadcast games.

Illinois is getting back SG Jamar Smith but F Brian Randle is still out with an injury. They will need Smith to produce because Illinois was behind in both wins over Bradley and Miami(OH). Illinois didn't go ahead until five and half minutes left in the game against Bradley and led Miami(OH) for only about the first two minutes and the last 1:23 of the game after being down by double digits.

ACC-Big Ten Challenge

I think it is far from certain just how good the ACC will be this basketball season. There are five ACC teams in the top 25 at the moment but the conference has taken some bad out of conference hits from losses by the football members of the league. Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College all have some embarrassing losses to start the year that won't help the league RPI come March.

This ACC-Big Ten challenge will help to correct some of those early stumbles or give ACC members reason to worry about how many Missouri Valley teams will be selected over the once great Atlantic Coast Conference.

Here is how I see the games breaking down:

Michigan at NC State
I had predicted a Michigan win in this game but given how terrible NC State looked while winning I don't feel as bad. I'm sure this may get some of the Wolfpack faithful optimistic about their chances in a potentially mediocre ACC this season but given how bad Michigan played and the scare they gave NC State I wouldn't be optimistic about this bunch. They had great effort last night but are very short on talent.

Florida State at Wisconsin
The Badgers may have lost Missouri State but won't suffer a let down against the Seminoles. Florida State is a terrible road team playing in the most difficult home floor of this whole challenge.
Winner: Wisconsin

Penn State at Georgia Tech
If this was football UPS would have a chance. The Yellow Jackets are young but should blow them off the floor.
Winner: Georgia Tech

Indiana at Duke
Duke has serious weaknesses this year but always comes to play in these kinds of games. I doubt Indiana has the kinds of players you need to exploit their weaknesses.
Winner: Duke

Miami at Northwestern
Wake Forest gets excluded from the ACC side for this matchup? I'd rather watch the Demon Deacons against Air Force. Miami might win only 3 games this year in the ACC.
Winner: Northwestern

Michigan State at Boston College
My brother said that the Eagles might be this year's version of the 2005 Wake Forest team that imploded. After they got blown out by Vermont and Providence I'm starting to think he's right about BC.
Winner: Michigan State

Ohio State at North Carolina
Without Greg Oden I'm not sure why the Buckeyes are ranked number one in the nation. This isn't football folks. North Carolina should roll but if their over hyped freshman continue to struggle to fit in then things could be different. So far it seems like Roy Williams got a bunch of highly rated players and screwed up the good chemistry his team had last season.
Winner: North Carolina

Iowa at Virginia Tech
This could be a game that sets college basketball back a few decades. In the last week the Hokies found out why it isn't always such a great thing to have five starters back from a 4-12 team. Still I think they should be embarrassed enough by losses to Western Michigan and Southern Illinois to squeak out a close win at home.
Winner: Virginia Tech

Virginia at Purdue
This is the first halfway decent road test for the Cavaliers who just broke into the top 25 in one poll. Being Virginia you'd expect them to lose now. This Virginia team has plenty of holes but I don't think Purdue has the inside game to them.
Winner: Virginia

Clemson at Minnesota
The Gophers are just dreadful. This game is more about that than a weak Clemson squad.
Winner: Clemson

That makes it 7-3 in the ACC's favor by my count which assures another ACC win.

Oh, I almost forgot.

Maryland at Illinois
Jamar Smith comes back for the Illini from a sprained ankle just in time. This Illinois team was down to both Bradley and Miami(OH) before eking out close wins in both games. They are not playing their best basketball. On the other hand Maryland hasn't done too well as the road team in this challenge. Gary Williams has gotten all he could ask for out of the new freshman and Bambale Osby but I think they have their first let down of the season. As the 19th ranked team in the country this group now has a target on them. It will be interesting to see how they respond to the pressure.

Winner: Illinois

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Terps show grit


We've seen the new enthusiasm, intensity, and passion of this group and on Friday night Maryland fans got to see a glimpse of their fortitude. In a gritty, physical and closely contested game against Michigan State these new Terps hung on for a close 62-60 win over the Spartans. It probably wasn't Maryland's best game of the season but the Spartans tested Maryland in the areas that they appear to be weakest at this point in the season. Maryland was able to control the course of the game as the Spartans got ahead 6-4 but never lead again. This was a very nice win against a solid Tom Izzo team that will find its way to the the NCAAs this year. The destruction of St. Johns the night before looked more impressive as the Red Storm gave a young Texas team all the could handle in the early game before losing at the end 77-76.

One of the many differences between the 2006 version of the Terps and the 2005 model is that this team seems to know the value of starting strong. DJ Strawberry scored 8 consecutive points in the first five minutes of the game and has become a go-to player for Maryland. Mike Jones struggled for most of the game but the this team found out that it can win against a quality opponent without all of its starters having a good game. Maryland's pressure defense and full court press got the Spartans out of their rhythm on offense and Drew Neitzel found very few good looks while being blanketed by Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez.

You would expect a great coach like Tom Izzo to make adjustments at halftime to counter Maryland's success. The Spartans started running double screens for Neitzel and with Eric Hayes on the bench with foul trouble Neitzel started scoring. On those double screens Maryland's big men failed time and again to give proper help defense to the guards. Will Bowers is probably the best frontcourt player on those high screens but Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist are often out of position resulting in good looks for the opponent. Teams will start running these high screens at Maryland until the frontcourt starts playing them better.

Michigan State has been a very good rebounding team for a number of years and exposed another weak area for Maryland's frontcourt. The Terps were outrebounded 21-36 and also gave up 17 offensive boards to Michigan State. This is an area that Maryland will need to continue to improve upon. Bambale Osby only logged 5 mintues due to a couple of questionable offensive fouls but may be able to contribute to shoring up this area.

Oddly enough as the Terps were teetering on a slim lead late in the game it was the seniors who made some poor decisions and keep the Spartans hanging around. There were a few poor decisions by Strawberry, Gist and Ibekwe but the freshmen did not wilt under the pressure which was a good sign. Mike Jones had a number of critical plays down the stretch to help Maryland preserve the win. He is a clutch player, perhaps the most clutch player on the team, and seems to relish having the ball in his hands when the game is on the line. He hit a big time 3 pointer, sunk two free throws and grabbed an important rebound.

Don't think I'm dwelling on the negative. If you imagined a best case scenario for Strawberry, Hayes and Vasquez it could not be better than what those three players have produced to this point. Strawberry has blossomed into a scoring wing player and got back to the disruptive and disciplined defense he had as a sophomore. Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez are playing like sophomores, not freshman with only 5 college games under their belt. Bambale Osby and Mike Jones have also done a very nice job in their respective roles. Maryland has showed if a team is going to beat them they will have to earn it with good execution on both ends of the floor. These two wins will go a long way toward getting an NCAA tournament resume for Gary Williams' bunch.

A side note on the shot clock violation controversy. This was really a non factor in the outcome of the game. Even if the ball did not touch the rim Michigan State secured the defensive rebound and usually in those cases the refs let the play continue. It was the offensive foul call on Idong Ibok for throwing his elbows at Ekene Ibekwe that helped seal the game for Maryland.

DJ Strawberry was awarded the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic Tournament MVP.

Efficiency Ratings
Offense: 100.6
Defense: 96.5

Friday, November 17, 2006

Who's your daddy?

That was the ill advised taunt that St. John's fans bellowed at DJ Strawberry in the early moments of last night's game. Strawberry gave them the answer, but it wasn't what they expected. You would think that after the stupid and profane taunts that helped fire up Maryland to defeat then #1 Florida on their home floor that fans would leave Strawberry alone. Strawberry contributed 19 points to an embarrassing rout of the Red Storm on their home floor. He sliced through the Red Storm defense and harassed the St. John's players with a vengeance. You would think that as a senior Strawberry wouldn't endure this crass and crude fan behavior but that is the current climate in the sports landscape.

The game itself was a masterful dissection of another middle-of-the-road power conference team. At times it looked like a replay of the high school shoot around in the movie Pleasantville in which every shot improbably goes in the basket. Gary Williams mentioned that he wanted the team to do a better job of hitting open shots and it seems like for one night he got his wish. The team got a little sloppy with a 30 point lead but there was little to criticize in the effort on offense or defense. Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist played their best game of the year, both racking up a double double on the night. Ibekwe had a career night with 22 points and 14 rebounds but still struggled with his foul shooting only hitting 6 out of 11 shots.

The most encouraging aspects were the rebounding domination with a 52-34 rebound advantage and that freshmen Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes played very well in their first game under the bright lights. Vasquez and Hayes combined for 13 assists and only 3 turnovers and did another impressive job running the offense.

Against a rugged Michigan State team the Terps need to shore up their defensive rebounding but the rest of the team is humming along nicely. After getting to rest most of the regulars in the laugher last night and Michigan State going down to the wire against Texas I think Maryland has an advantage tonight. A win tonight would be a signal to the rest of the ACC that Maryland will be a factor in the league this season.

Ratings
Offense: 125.5
Defense: 83.8

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

If they can make it there...

Gary Williams' merry bunch head to New York to battle St. Johns tomorrow. Maryland has played some decent teams but this is their first real test against an athletic and deep squad in the Red Storm. Maryland has looked good in their first three wins but will have to make improvements to win in Manhattan.

Maryland blew Florida A&M out in the first few minutes in their last game. Mike Jones lead the way with 16 points and 9 boards and four other Terps scored in double figures. Greivis Vasquez also had his best night as a Terp so far with 13 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists. Vasquez has the range of skills to post a triple double and may well do that before his career is over at College Park. At times Maryland got sloppy with the ball as evidenced by 17 turnovers, many of them unforced, but ran the offense well and continued to be unselfish with the basketball. Gary has this group buying into getting the best look before jacking up a jump shot which is a welcome departure from the last few years. The wings are using their slashing ability to set up shots for their teammates and it is getting open looks for the outside shooters. The stats may not show it yet but this team will be far superior to the last few years in perimeter shooting.

A main point of weakness that Maryland must improve is rebounding and post play. Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist must dramatically improve if this group is to meet their potential. Neither has played well in the first three games and at times they have looked downright awful. James Gist has no excuse to walk away with only 3 rebounds in 25 minutes of play. Against larger and more athletic frontcourts, like St. Johns, Ibekwe and Gist would get abused on the offensive glass. Maryland looks to be in good shape in the backcourt but the frontcourt, which was supposed to be a strength, looks like a weak spot. If they are not careful Bambale Osby may see more time at the expense of one of the starters.

Efficeincy ratings
Offense: 117.1
Defense: 72.1

Notes on the 2006 Schedule
The schedule may not look daunting at the moment but Maryland plays some decent mid-major competition this season. Here is a breakdown of the preseason Sporting News predicted finish of the out of conference opponents:

Mid-Eastern
2nd Hampton
3rd Florida A&M

America East
2nd Vermont

Big South
1st Winthrop
3rd High Point

Mid-Continent
3rd University of Missouri -Kansas City

North East
10th Mount St. Mary's

Patriot
4th American

Metro Atlantic
3rd Siena
4th Iona

Atlantic 10
7th Fordham

There are only a few stinkers in that group. Maryland could find itself in a dogfight in a number of those games. Don't be shocked if this young group even loses to one of that group as happened the other night when Vermont upset 14th ranked Boston College. Three of those teams made the NCAA tournament last season. It may not be Oklahoma or Kentucky but this group along with St. Johns, Illinois, Notre Dame and either Texas or Michigan State will expose any weaknesses that Maryland has at this point in the season. Either way Gary Williams will know where his teams stands going into ACC play. Unlike other ACC programs that play West Florida, Alcorn State and Appalachian State and think that winning by 30 points proves something Maryland will be better in January because they've been tested.

Scouting the Eagles

For the second year in a row I'm pleased to have Bill from Eagle in Atlanta as a guest blogger on Turtlewaxing. I was able to ask Bill a few questions so that Maryland fans can get a feel for the Eagles in this huge Atlantic division showdown.

The Eagle's offense seems productive, especially in the passing game, and QB Matt Ryan seems to really like to spread the ball around. How would you rate the play of the junior?
Matt Ryan is having a great season and in my opinion should be first team all ACC. I am actually surprised he is not getting more national attention. He has played hurt all year but has maintained a high level of play. He was clutch in our OT wins against Clemson and BYU. The only game where you could second guess his performance was Wake. He threw two costly picks. Yet I absolve him because against the Deacs he threw for 400+ yards and kept the team in the game single handily. I couldn't be happier with Ryan (as if you couldn't tell).


Mathias Kiwanuka left for the NFL and Brian Toal has struggled with injuries this year. Who is the big play threat on the defensive side of the ball for Boston College?
Toal has been healthy the past few weeks and had really great games against Wake and Duke. There are fewer standouts around him. BJ Raji can be really good when he wants to. Middle LB Jolonn Dunbar has been solid. As has CB Dejaun Tribble. Ironically one of our biggest difference makers isn't even a starter. LB Kevin Akins comes off the bench as a pass rusher. He is a converted CB, so he has speed and has proven very disruptive to opposing QBs.


In studying BC it seems they are a very solid and very impressive team on both sides of the ball. Where are the weaknesses that Maryland can exploit?
BC has plenty of flaws. They've allowed their share of big plays on defense. The running game is widely inconsistent. The special teams have improved this year, but we (the fans) are all waiting for the other shoe to drop and have a huge breakdown. (Under O'Brien we've been the opposite of Beamer Ball.) It should be interesting to watch our pass protection this weekend. We lost our starting Center to injury so the coaches are playing a little bit of musical chairs. Maryland may be able to exploit the confusion and shut down Ryan.



Bill does a great job covering Boston College. I encourage you to check out his blog as the season goes along to keep track of his team.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Magical Ride Continues

I wasn't sure how Miami would respond to the death of senior DT Bryan Pata earlier in the week. They could use it as a point to rally upon and unleash their anger at Maryland or it could have deflated them and resulted in an effort that they clearly didn't have their hearts committed. In the end, oddly enough, both scenarios occurred. I had thought that whatever happened in the first 10 minutes of the game would decide the winner. A big play for either side would be the spark to ignite a blow out. As it turned out Maryland got two big plays, including the longest pass play in Maryland history, to start the game but the blowout failed to materialize as Miami fought hard for the rest of the game. Miami's offense seemed to move the ball at will until they got down into Maryland territory when the Terps shaky defense would suddenly stiffen. Four times Miami got within Maryland territory and came away with no points, including two drives in the first quarter that were 11 and 12 play monsters but were dry holes for the Hurricanes. During this five game win streak this group has been the model of a bend-but-don't-break defense. They are not a particularly talented group with a few exceptions but they seem to make just enough plays to win.

The offense came out with two amazing bombs down the sideline to Darrius Heyward-Bey, who is no longer the best kept secret in the ACC, but could muster almost nothing for the next three quarters. After a 10 play drive to start the second half Maryland went 3 and out four times in a row failing to managed a first down for the final 25 minutes of the game. The running game, which was the backbone of the first half of the season, has disappeared the last three weeks. Maryland hasn't netted over 100 yards on the ground in the last three contests and neither Lance Ball or Keon Lattimore have rushed for over 100 yards since the Virginia game.

Maryland has been carried by the arm of quarterback Sam Hollenbach the last three games. Ralph Friedgen has admitted that his playcalling has been conservative but it has been the clutch play of his quarterback that has allowed the coach to continue collecting victories. In the last three weeks Hollenbach has thrown for 580 yards and 6 touchdowns with only one interception. His 6 touchdown passes are the entire touchdown output for the offense. Maryland doesn't have a rushing touchdown since the North Carolina State game.

Maryland was out gained by their opponent again yet still managed to win the game. All of the victories during the current win streak have been close games decided in the final minutes but it is still absolutely amazing the way Miami dominated in almost all aspects of this game and still lost. This was the seventh win out of eight that Maryland was out gained on offense by their opponent. As I have written the last few weeks that kind of trend defies all logic or probability. As Ralph Friedgen said, "It's miraculous."

Terrapin guard Donnie Woods had a head injury which required him to carted off the field on a stretcher and then flown to Maryland shock trauma. It was a scary scene but Maryland officials indicated that Woods was released from the Hospital early Sunday morning and that all the test were negative for permanent injury. Woods will be evaluated by the team medical staff but is unlikely to play this Saturday.

Grades
Quarterback: A-
Hollenbach's connection on two deep touchdowns to Darrius Heyward-Bey were the difference in the game. He has improved the touch on his long passes dramatically. He forced a few passes in the second half but didn't make a critical mistake and managed the game just well enough to win.

Runningbacks: C
Lance Ball ran with limited effectiveness against a tough run defense. Keon Lattimore was largely ineffective with only 12 yards on the ground. This group couldn't help Maryland close the game out late in the 4th quarter.

Receivers: A-
Darrius Heyward-Bey had the game of his career. Great things are ahead for this exciting talent but it would be hard to imagine a game in the future where he would have a collection of bigger plays. He blew by some decent Hurricane corners like they were standing still. In the last three games Heyward-Bey has 580 yards receiving and 4 touchdowns. Heyward-Bey has rapidly become Sam Hollenbach's number one option and has gained the confidence that Heyward-Bey will go and get the ball. The rest of the receivers didn't have an effective game.

Offensive Line: C+
The line wasn't able to muster much of a running game but did a good job of pass protecting for Sam Hollenbach. With the talented front of Miami that is no small accomplishment.

Defensive Line: C
This group struggled again rushing the passer and showed a real weakness against mobile quarterbacks. Kirby Freeman exploited Maryland with roll outs and bootlegs to the tune of 51 yards rushing. Miami had good success running between the tackles against the front and piled up 180 yards on the ground. Dre Moore showed some flashes that he might be reliable week to week, which he has been unable to do this season. Trey Covington had a critical interception late in the game to help seal a Maryland win.

Linebackers: B-
Wesley Jefferson and Erin Henderson were tackling machines with 27 combined tackles on the day. Jefferson was active on the blitz as well and seemed more aggressive than in the previous few weeks. Henderson is maturing from game to game and is working on a streak of double digit tackle performances. He also does a good job in coverage and was effective in covering Miami's excellent tight end.

Secondary: B-
Josh Wilson had another phenomenal game with 5 pass breakups including a touchdown saving deflection. He also tipped the pass that was intercepted by Trey Covington to help end a Miami drive late in the game. He was playing the short coverage on the touchdown Hurricane wide out Ryan Moore caught and safety Christian Varner failed to cover deep resulting in the score. He is a 1st team All-ACC caliber player this season. The rest of the secondary was average at best. Marcus Wimbush continues to struggle in coverage and Varner has trouble playing his deep safety responsibilities. Isaiah Gardner should have given up a touchdown that was simply dropped by Ryan Hill. There were opportunities for deep plays against the secondary but Miami wasn't able to exploit them.

Special Teams: B+
Maryland didn't need any heroics by Dan Ennis this week. Adam Podlesh was able to gain field position for Maryland several times late in the game when they were pinned deep in their own territory. He was also able to keep Miami back on their side of the field with four punts dropped inside the 20 yard line. Miami deliberately kicked away from Josh Wilson most of the game.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Not Going Anywhere


Coach Gary Williams has agreed to a contract extension that guarantees he will remain at Maryland through 2011. The two year extension also carries over the academic and performance incentives that could lengthen the contract till 2014. This comes after a Baltimore Sun article that suggested that Williams had the least amount of job security (on paper, the writer so disingenuously added) of any coach in the ACC. Well, now you can throw that paper in the waste bin. For all you Gary haters it is just another sign that he'll be the coach at Maryland until he decides that he wants to move on. Get used to that fact. For the rest of us it is a good reason to celebrate. It will one of the saddest days of my time as a Maryland fan when Gary Williams departs as a coach of the Maryland basketball team. But I won't have to worry about that for a long time...


From the "that didn't take long" file
Seems the impressive debut of Gary's current team wasn't lost on some national media. The Sporting News wants to jump on the Maryland bandwagon. It is early but I have to admit I'm having the same feeling about this group. It may not be a straight line to great things this year but this group is going to play much better than people anticipated.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Loner-Gone

The Terps took most of the first half to get in sync against Vermont but ended up asserting their dominance over the Catamounts and cruising to a 81-63 victory. This wasn't an undermanned Hampton squad but a Vermont team with decent talent and a full bench. It didn't make much difference as DJ Strawberry and Mike Jones helped to warm up Maryland's shooting and bury any hope that Vermont would get an upset. Once the team settled down and stopped taking bad shots Vermont had little answer for the Terps.

The defense was solid again. This Terrapin squad is already better at guarding the perimeter two games into the season than last year's Swiss cheese defense. Vermont only managed 33% from the floor and 2-16 from the 3 point line. Among the 22 turnovers Maryland got 12 off steals, including 6 from DJ Strawberry who has blossomed in his new role on this team.

This may be a special season for Strawberry, who has deferred to other less worthy upperclassmen the last few years. His slashing, up tempo style in transition, ability to finish around the basket and experience in running the offense last season has made him a special player. He is doing his best to prove those writers who left him off the preseason All-ACC teams are idiots. His stifling and opportunistic defense has returned along with the complete health of his repaired knee. He admitted his knee was only at 80% last season but it seems he is finally healthy and ready to dominate.

Mike Jones showed that if put in the right situation he can score in bunches. His decisions are better and with a three guard set Gary Williams is able to play him while hiding his defensive weaknesses.

Bambale "Boom" Osby is fast becoming my favorite player on this team. He is the ultimate lunch pale guy. He hustles up and down the floor and gladly does the dirty work on the inside that the other big men on the team shy away from. His outlet passes to start the break were fantastic and he showed a nice repertoire of inside moves with drop steps and a little hook. Another huge advantage is that Osby seems to be the best foul shooter in the post group as well. In my mind he has already passed Will Bowers in the post rotation and can push Gist and Ibekwe if they continue to struggle this season. If Gist and Ibekwe continue to be enamoured with the highlight move instead of the the post work that doesn't gain attention but helps your team win then Osby will look better and better to Williams.

Both Freshmen guards, Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez, showed some nice skills for the second straight game. Hayes isn't putting to rest the comparisons with Steve Blake by dishing out 8 assists. Vasquez added 9 points and a boundless amount of energy on defense.

Think the post game hand shake between Mike Lonergan and Gary Williams was a little icy? It is fairly obvious that Longergan used Maryland as a convenient stepping stone to his first opportunity. Not exactly a way to show gratitude to a coach that gave you a shot out of Division III basketball. Doesn't seem like he'll be on Gary's Christmas card list.

It is a little sad to see Will Bower's season fade away game by game. Perhaps he can get motivated to earn more floor time but the early returns are not encouraging.

All in all this team already seems to have improved on the weaknesses of last year's squad, namely defense and point guard play. This group is hungry and motivated by the fresh blood on the roster. Last season Gary Williams had a Frankenstein monster of mismatched parts and he had little production off his bench. This group is talented and deep with the ability to matchup with almost any kind of opponent. They can go small and run or play a stout frontcourt with 6'5" guards. The new found flexibility of this group gives Williams a myriad of options. You have to think Gary cracked just the slightest smile while watching Osby come off the bench and add 11 superlative minutes like he did tonight.

This young group will have a few hiccups along the way but will be great fun to watch this season. Enjoy Terp fans!

Ratings

Offense: 101.4
Defense: 81.7

Hampton Ratings

Maryland
Offensive Efficiency= 108.8
Defensive Efficiency= 78.1

Both are obviously very good numbers as you would expect. If the team could have cut down on the turnovers just slightly they would have been a perfect offensive machine.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

No Worries

Despite the silly hand wringing Maryland handled Hampton rather easily in the opening game of the season with a 102-75 victory. Gary Williams must have sneaked into Comcast last night and put a lid on the rims because Hampton couldn't get a basket to drop. It was as much to do with the Pirates inability to sink any shots as Maryland's defense but the field goal percentages for Maryland on both ends of the floor is what you'd like to see.

The unjustly maligned DJ Strawberry showed a glimpse of why this could be a special season for the senior wing. He was aggressive on offense and showed that he is perhaps the best player on the team at driving to the basket. He is now at his natural wing position and will thrive this year.

Newcomers Greivis Vasquez (12 points) and Bambale "Boom" Osby (9 points) showed that they will be major contributors this season. The enthusiasm and hustle of these two will be a great asset to the Terps this year.

Ekene Ibekwe got into early foul trouble and played limited minutes in the 2nd half. At least he will be fresh with the short turn around for tomorrow night's game.

Maryland's guards were bothered by the Hampton pressure and turned the ball over too often, though many of those errors were unforced. They will need to work on limiting turnovers.

Tomorrow's game against Vermont will be shown on ESPN2 shortly after 7pm.

Kudos to Self

No, not yours truly, Bill Self coach of the Kansas Jayhawks. He booted problem child C.J. Giles from his team for dragging a girl out of his apartment and then allegedly striking her on the head. The cynics may say the Giles, a former top 100 recruit, was at best a backup center and that Self isn't getting rid of a player he really needed. But Self is facing mounting pressure from the fanatical Jayhawk fan base for two early flame outs in the NCAA tournament the last few years and must now rely on a very young frontcourt. I applaud his courage because if the young frontcourt falters or they have an injury Self will be criticised for this move. College sports needs more of this kind conviction among its coaches or it will continue to slide towards the regular athletes-run-amok headlines of its professional big brothers.

Roundball Tip Off

Maryland starts the season tonight against Hampton in the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic benefiting Coaches versus Cancer. Gary Williams seemed in high spirits during his first radio show of the season last night. I think coach Williams has been reinvigorated in the off season and this season will be more enjoyable for the fans and Williams that the last two awful seasons.

Freshman Jerome Burney will have his foot examined this week and if he is cleared will begin practice immediately.

Freshman Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez will split time at the point guard position tonight but I have a feeling that Vasquez is slightly ahead of Hayes at the moment.


Apparently all you need is a Sweet Sixteen appearance and a high ranking to be an elite program these days. It also seems that you just need to be a sophomoric college paper hack to get hired by a newspaper as a "sports journalist".

Monday, November 06, 2006

Terps Escape Death Valley

This may be Ralph Friedgen's best coaching job since the magical 2001 season. He is winning games with a modestly talented bunch of players in an obviously weak year for ACC football. The four game winning streak has been crafted with a little luck and the use of smoke and mirrors by the head coach. None of that is meant as a critique of Ralph Friedgen's coaching or this team but an honest appraisal of a four game winning steak in which the average margin of victory has been 3 points. In six out of Maryland's seven wins they were out gained by the opponent. A team wouldn't be likely to come away with a .500 record let alone stand at 7-2, Maryland's current position.

Ralph Friedgen opened up the offense mostly out of necessity since the offense wasn't able to eek out a running game against Clemson's top ranked defense. Sam Hollenbach played a masterful game at quarterback. His game winning drive was a splendidly orchestrated example of clock management completing five out of six passes, converting a third down with a 5 yard scamper and a 4th down QB sneak. He proved that if the team needs him to win that they can rely on his arm to get them a victory. The offensive line did a good job against a tough Clemson front but did have a few breakdowns on pass protection. Isaiah Williams had his best game at Maryland with a number of good grabs on difficult passes.

The Maryland defense had a class sic bend-but-don't-break game. Clemson churned out over 400 yards of offense against the Maryland defense but the unit made plays when they had to and came up with some critical stops on third down. The unit was able to keep Clemson in third and long situations. A 71 yard pass by Clemson QB Will Procter in the waining moments nearly killed Maryland's chances. The defense got a little lucky when a James Davis touchdown run was called back due to an illegal formation penalty with just over three minutes left in the game. Perhaps that balanced out the botched overturning of a safety a few moments before. Maryland's defense stiffened up and held Clemson to a field goal.

Kicker Dan Ennis seems to be reborn. The current kicker doesn't resemble the shaky and inaccurate player who began the season. He has been clutch the last few weeks and Maryland will need him to continue to come through in these nip and tuck games that the Terps will likely continue to find themselves in the coming weeks. This team doesn't have the firepower to blow many teams out and will be in closely contested games.

Grades:

Quarterback: A
Clutch when it mattered most. Had only one errant pass all day. His two minute drive to end the game was a thing of beauty. Has learned to help his offensive line in pass protection by getting rid of the ball when pressured.

Running backs: C-
Not really much of a factor in this game. Keon Lattimore gained 38 yards on 10 carries. Lance Ball was ineffective and had an early fumble that wasn't recovered in bounds.

Recievers: B+
Isaiah Williams had his best game at Maryland. He had three catches for 1st downs. Jason Goode had a number of early catches to set the tone for the passing game. Joey Haynos had a number of nice catches as well. Darrius Heyward-Bey is seeing more attention after his two touchdown night against Clemson and that is opening things up for other receivers.

Offensive line: C+
There were several breakdowns in pass protection by the tackles against a very good Clemson front. The line couldn't open any holes for a consistent running game. When the line needed to step up and protect Hollenbach they were able to do that.

Defensive line: C
The line wasn't able to muster much pressure on Will Proctor. Proctor got happy feet and started to scramble before he had to but it wasn't really due to the front four of Maryland.

Linebackers: B+
Erin Henderson is establishing that he is the leader of the defense and the best linebacker on the team. He ranged all over the field for 18 tackles and forced a fumble by Proctor that should have resulted in a safety.

Secondary: B-
Josh Wilson may have cemented his All-ACC status with his play on Saturday. Clemson wouldn't kick to Wilson on kickoffs and he was tenacious in pass coverage and run support. The rest of the secondary had a good afternoon keeping the Clemson receivers from getting behind them too often with a few exceptions

Special Teams: A+
Adam Podlesh and Dan Ennis were both as good as you could ask for in critical moments.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Practice

There are some ominous articles in the paper regarding Maryland's 79-78 win in its exhibition game against California University of Pennsylvania. For the lazy or unimaginative it is easy to assume that this season will go much like the last two seasons. Maryland will continue to struggle defending the outside shot and fail to demonstrate the mental toughness needed to win close games. Then again there are dangers in reading too much into a glorified scrimmage that saw Maryland play shorthanded. Gary Williams is more interested in testing his reserves than in winning a meaningless game in early November. Some positives were that Bambale Osby, Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes preformed well in their first test. Now Gary Williams has an example to reinforce his emphasis on defense. James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe need to demonstrate a firm determination to rebound and defend the paint. Their production in this game wasn't what you would expect given their talent. Both should be pushing for All-ACC honors this season. Before banging the drum about another crisis with this team lets wait and see how they improve over the next few games.

Say What?
Washington Post columnist Mike Wise was on a local sports radio show recently to discuss the turnaround in Maryland's football season. When he got around to the Virginia game he said that he was concerned at halftime he'd have to write another critical article about the football team and get killed on the Maryland message boards. You are a reporter Mr. Wise, you shouldn't be worried about offending some knee jerk Maryland fans who wouldn't be able to handle the truth about their football team. If everyone likes you as a columnist you probably are not doing your job. Ralph Friedgen doesn't need another cheerleader. To be concerned about what anonymous message board fools think of you is ridiculous.

Nice article in the Washington Post about running back Josh Allen and his struggles to come back from a devastating knee injury. Given the nature of the injury and the fact that Allen is now at the end of his eligibility the unfortunate truth is that his career was all but ended on that Saturday almost two years ago. A potential NFL career was dashed and a grueling physical challenge lay ahead for the junior running back. His determination and courage has brought him back as a minor contributor to Maryland's rushing attack this season. Friedgen clearly has a strong personal bond with Allen which is probably why he is getting some spot duty in a very crowded backfield. Hopefully Josh is using his time in school to prepare himself for his life after football.