Saturday, December 30, 2006

Terps top Purdue

Maryland rolled to a convincing 24-7 victory in the Champs Sports bowl over the Boilermakers in the first ever meeting between the two programs. The Terps game plan was to control the time of possession and keep Purdue's high powered passing game off the field. They were able to execute that plan to perfection. Purdue never seemed in sync on offense or defense from the start of the game with two three and out drives in their first three possessions while allowing Maryland an eight and ten play drive in its first three possessions.

While Maryland never had a dominating lead it seemed that the Terps were always in firm control of the game. Sam Hollenbach had an excellent first half tacking what the Purdue defense was offering and playing off the success of the Terps rushing attack. He connected with tight end Joey Haynos for a touchdown in the first quarter and spread the ball to all of his receivers early in the game which helped keep the Boilermaker defense guessing.

The Maryland defense played perhaps the best game of the season, though it seemed the ineffectiveness of Purdue's offense had as much to do with their lack of execution as anything Maryland was doing. The high powered passing game of Purdue under quarterback Curtis Painter failed to make the big plays that they needed. Purdue's running game was a non factor in the game and failed to gain a single first down out of the 12 Purdue had on offense. Purdue managed only a paltry 21 yards on 13 carries and was unable to exploit an area that has been problematic for Maryland's defense all season.

With the Purdue ground game eliminated the Terps' pass rush reappeared for one of the few times all season. The defensive line notched 3 sacks and allowed defensive coordinator Chris Cosh to rush with only the the front four which helped the secondary to cover the talented Purdue receivers.

While the first year, and perhaps last year, of Ralph Friedgen as offensive coordinator has produced decidedly mixed results the gameplan that he crafted for this bowl game was masterful. It was a near perfect balance of run and pass in the first half. The Boilermaker defense was on its heels the entire game as Friedgen switch to a punishing ground game in the second half. You will rarely see the kind of domination in time of possession that Maryland enjoyed in the second half. Purdue's time of possession for the second half was an unbelievable six and a half minutes compared to Maryland's 23 and a half minutes. It was obvious that the preparation by the coaching staff won the game for Maryland.

It was an especially good night for a number of Maryland's seniors. Sam Hollenbach was awarded the Champs Sports bowl MVP, Josh Wilson got an interception late in the game and DT Conrad Bolston got his first full sack of the year in his last game. It was a nice finish for three of the cornerstone seniors that suffered through the last two lean seasons.

Grades

Quarterback

Sam Hollenbach had an excellent night with two touchdowns and 253 yards passing. He did not make any mistakes of significance and did a great job running the offense. It was a fitting end for a quarterback that has received too little credit for his play and far to much blame for Maryland's struggles the last few seasons, even from his own coach.
Grade: A+

Runningbacks
Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore combined for 188 yards on 28 carries. Their physical runs wore down the Purdue defense in the second half and helped salt away the win for Maryland. Fullback Cory Jackson also showed some ability as a ball carrier in addition to his punishing blocks. He scored the first touchdown of his career.
Grade: A

Receivers
Darrius Heyward-Bey made another big play in the passing game connecting with Hollenbach for a 46 yard touchdown. Danny Oquendo made some big catches and finished with 60 yards receiving. Joey Haynos is a great target in the red zone and caught a touchdown pass to start off the game.
Grade: B

Offensive Line
The line dominated an undersized Boilermaker front. Sam Hollenbach had little pressure on him the entire game and was never sacked. On the ground Maryland plowed out 212 yards and controlled the game in the second half. The final game for Stephon Heyer and Donnie Woods was memorable for both. Jared Gaither and Dane Randolph rotated at tackle as Gaither lost his starting job for now.
Grade: A+

Defensive Line
Collectively the Terps line played as well as they have all season. Bolston, Carlos Feliciano, and rising star Berrod Heggs all came up with a sack. Defensive end Jeremy Navarre also got a tackle for loss and Dre Moore helped control the line of scrimmage.
Grade: B+

Linebackers
Erin Henderson continues to establish his leadership of the group and the defense in general. His forced fumble in the 3rd quarter helped keep Purdue from gaining momentum. He also showed his ability in coverage. Wesley Jefferson had a nice game and is a good compliment to Henderson.
Grade: B

Secondary
Josh Wilson finished a distinguished career at Maryland with an interception late in the game. He helped shut down the potent Purdue receivers all game. Anthony Wiseman perhaps gave fans a glimpse of what they can look forward to next year with two pass breakups and some nice nickle and dime coverage. Safety Marcus Wimbush and junior corner Isaiah Gardner combined for 10 tackles.
Grade: B

Special Teams
Maryland didn't really need much from kicker Dan Ennis or punter Adam Podlesh for the win. Ennis missed a 47 yard attempt but made a 22 yard field goal. Podlesh dropped 2 punts inside the 20. Hopefully he can catch on in the NFL. Kickoffs were short and continue to be a deficiency.
Grade: C+

Friday, December 29, 2006

What we've learned: UNC

Now that most of the teams in the ACC have played a league game and are getting ready to start their conference schedules it is a good time to access each team and see what we've learned so far. I'll have a series of short reviews for each team over the next week. We'll start with North Carolina.

North Carolina
What we've learned so far:
This is a powerful, deep and multifaceted team. Like most Roy Williams' squads they are athletic and have speed to burn but are also prone to defensive lapses. The new backcourt players have yet to jell with the hold overs from last years' squad and Williams hasn't found a rotation that seems to work. The reduced roles of Reyshawn Terry and Bobby Frasor have resulted in a decline in the perimeter defense for Carolina. Freshman Ty Lawson is too short to be a very effective perimeter defender. Scary as it may be freshman forward Brandan Wright may be even better than Tyler Hansbrough by the end of the season. He can score and rebound but is also a far superior defensive presence than Hansbrough. Wright already leads Carolina with 21 blocks compared to Hansbrough's 4. Even with all the talent this Carolina team has significant weaknesses and is at least another season away from being a national champion caliber team. They should be favored to win the ACC with relative ease but their loss to Gonzaga showed that the Tarheels can be an inconsistent bunch. Unless Roy Williams can find a better recipe for rotations Carolina will not play up to their talent level.

Key Wins:
Tennessee, Ohio State, Kentucky

Bad Losses:
None

Prediction: 1st place (13-3)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Holiday Cheer

Overall it has been a good fall season for Maryland fans. The field hockey team won their second NCAA championship in a row, the football team is back in a bowl game for the first time in two years, the women's basketball team continues to roll at the top of the polls and Gary Williams' merry bunch are surpassing expectations.

There shouldn't be much to complain about, but then again that is one of the favorite pastimes of Maryland fans young and old. Perhaps reducing your complaints about Maryland sports should be among your New Years resolutions. It will make watching the Terps much more enjoyable, I guarantee you.

Thanks to all of you out there who find your way to my humble writings. I've enjoyed another year of writing about Maryland sports, though the following the Terps wasn't always enjoyable in 2006. Let's all look forward to a prosperous and healthy 2007 for the Terps and our fellow fans. I'll be back next week with a few thoughts on the Champs Sports bowl and the early returns for ACC basketball.

It is somewhat appropriate during this season that guard Donnie Woods announced that he will be leaving the football team after the bowl game against Purdue to pursue a career in the United States military. Woods is on track to graduate but has another year of eligibility that he will forgo to achieve his goal of a military or law enforcement career. Instead of protecting Maryland's quarterback next year Woods may be helping to protect the rest of us in some dangerous and far away place. The physical toughness that was his trademark as a guard on Maryland's offensive line and the camaraderie he shared with his teammates may serve him well in desperate places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Woods won't enjoy any of the "preferred lifestyle", as his father called the life of a college football player, while in the military. It will be spartan and certainly lacking in the trappings of celebrity that come with being a big man on campus, but Woods seems to recognize how shallow and fleeting that kind of adoration is in the cold business of college football. Donnie Woods wants to do something more meaningful with his life. That kind of courage doesn't exist in many people, even less often in a 22 year old college student bestowed with the comfortable and privileged position that Woods enjoys. Let's be thankful that there are men like Donnie Woods and hope that we're worthy of his courage and convictions.

Read more about Woods in the Washington Post and Washington Times.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

All-ACC Football Selections

Four Maryland players made the All-ACC 2nd team. Unlike the Maryland website I don't count honorable mention as "making the All-ACC team". To me honorable mention implies the opposite, that you didn't make the team.

The players that did receive honors are:

2nd Team All-ACC
OG Andrew Crummey
LB Erin Henderson
P Adam Podlesh
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey

A number of other players received votes but did not make the 1st or 2nd team. Quarterback Sam Hollenbach, CB Josh Wilson, OT Stephon Heyer, K Dan Ennis and TE Joey Haynos all made honorable mention.

I think Crummey was solid on an offensive line that underachieved all year but I'm not sure he was 2nd team All-ACC level. Josh Wilson probably deserved to be 2nd team All-ACC but didn't make enough interceptions to impress the voters. The lack of a pass rush hurt him as well. Wilson did receive the Jim Tatum Award given to the top senior football student athlete. Josh is a great representative of the University and football program.

Maryland was tied for 7th in the ACC for number of players on the 1st or 2nd teams ahead of only Florida State, Virginia, North Carolina (who had none) and Duke. That certainly speaks to the perception of the talent on Maryland's roster among the writers.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Terps blow away shooting records

It wasn't much of a contest between Missouri Kansas City and Maryland last week. UMKC stayed in their zone defense and Maryland began a long range attack like the Eight Air Force. Mike Jones hit 9 of his 13 attempts from 3-point range setting a new individual single game record in the process. He started off missing his first few attempts but then got white hot and scored 27 points in just 21 minutes, all on 3-point attempts. Jones also added 5 rebounds and 3 assists to his record setting performance. The team set another record with 17 three point baskets for the game.

There isn't much point in breaking down the game. It was a bad blowout against an over matched foe. A few of the interesting tidbits that came from the game. Greivis Vasquez and Bambale Osby replaced the struggling Eric Hayes and Ekene Ibekwe in the starting lineup. Hayes played well off the bench but Ibekwe didn't look all that great with only 4 points and 7 rebounds in his 19 minutes. If he doesn't get motivated by this demotion it may become a permanent move by Gary Williams. I'd be surprised if Ibekwe wasn't back in the starting lineup against American but he needs to show something in the next few weeks to firm up his hold on his starting job.

James Gist had another nice night with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Hopefully we are witnessing the light come on for Gist who has yet to tap into his enormous potential. It was his second double double in a row and third for the season. His free throw shooting has improved dramatically as he's hitting 78% of his freebies, by far the best rate among any of the big men. By contrast Ibekwe is only hitting 55% of his free throws and has become a real liability against a team with a deep bench that can hack away at Ekene.

I thought it was a embarrassing that Jason McAlpin jacked up a 3-pointer with only a few seconds left in the game. Gary Williams could only smirk when the ball went in and carried Maryland over the 100 point mark. The defense backed off for UMKC and McAlpin had already scored in the game. It was just the latest example of the lack of respect that athletes have for their opponents these days.


Football Notes
Guard Donnie Woods, who had a spinal injury scare during the Miami game, has left the team and will pursue his goal of joining the military or a law enforcement agency. I don't blame Woods at all. It was apparent that he was very scared by the nature of his injury, as any rational person would be, and unless you've lain motionless on a football field not knowing if you'll be paralysed you couldn't say what you would do in his shoes.

Another guard Garrick Clig, who was a reserve, will also leave the team.

This will leave Maryland thin on the offensive line again next season. Jamie Thomas replaced Woods and did a fair job in his absence. Maryland will likely playing with two new tackles next season as Stephon Heyer is a senior and Jared Gaither will likely enter the NFL draft. Gaither had a very mediocre season despite several preseason All-ACC teams but has his sights set on professional football. Dane Randolph and Scott Burley will both have to dramatically elevate their play at tackle or Maryland will struggle to pass protect next year.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Beantown Blunder

I've become convinced that this season will ultimately be a referendum on the senior class. If this team will achieve something notable or will falter after a promising start it will likely turn on the play from the current seniors. Given that Will Bowers is a minor bench player and his career at Maryland is "all over but the shoutin'", as the saying goes, the trio of DJ Strawberry, Mike Jones and Ekene Ibekwe are the foundation that will either be the rock, or sand, that Gary Williams will upon build this season. The play of freshmen Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez has been impressive but neither is at the point where they could carry a team.

If the 2005 season was the epitaph of the disastrous 2002 recruiting class then this season is the last chance for the current seniors to distinguish themselves from the infamy of their predecessors. The bad attitudes that plagued the '04 and '05 versions of the Terrapins are not present in the current bunch but whether they are winners or not has yet to be seen. In his post game interview Gary Williams alluded to the fact that the seniors didn't come through in critical moments during the loss to Boston College the other night. I am fond of DJ Strawberry and admire his determination and the way he sacrificed for the better of the team last season, but he hasn't been able to supply the on court leadership that I think Gary would like him to exhibit. As the closest thing to a leader this group has he can't go 2-10 shooting in an ACC road game and give the Terps a hope of winning.

It is about time that Maryland fans stop judging Mike Jones through the prism of his lofty high school ranking and McDonalds All-American pedigree. After 3 seasons at Maryland Jones is an undeniably talented player with a beautiful shooting form but is also a flawed and incomplete shooting guard. When he shoots in rhythm he can score from anywhere on the floor and can get white hot if he gets into a grove early but if he struggles early his entire game suffers. Usually when a great shooting guard is struggling from the outside he can drive to the basket and score from the foul line. Jones is a very good free throw shooter but doesn't have the type of game to draw those shooting fouls. Despite a rugged frame he doesn't fare well in traffic and usually prefers to take jump shots which tends to make him one dimensional. Boston College extended the perimeter defense on Jones and made him a non-factor. It shouldn't be that easy to shut down a player that can score 20 points on any given night, but with Jones it is either feast or famine. His defense against Boston College probably cost the Terps 7-10 points. Jones seems to be a nice kid and I'm glad he chose to play at Maryland but he isn't the answer to Maryland's offensive woes. Gary Williams gave Jones 32 minutes of playing time because he had a bunch of friends and family in the stands from his nearby home town in Massachusetts, not because he was performing at a high level to justify those minutes.

Of all the seniors Ekene Ibekwe is the most baffling player. He has the skills to dominate games against elite competition, like the 21 point 9 rebound game against BC last season, but then disappears the next night. Ibekwe's lack of focus and motivation are his biggest flaws. Since missing the Illinois game he has, not to mince words, been playing godawful. He has 12 turnovers in the last three games, a feat for a power forward, and his free throw shooting has taken a nose dive at 3-11 in that same span. I don't know if his ankle is still bothering him but his play hasn't been anywhere near the level you would hope from a player that leads the team in career starts. His technical foul for taunting helped to seal Maryland's fate in the loss to Notre Dame.

Given this I think it may be a good time for Gary Williams to give Bambale Osby a reward for his hard work and improving play with a starting spot. With Missouri Kansas City and American coming up it would be a great time to let Ibekwe come off the bench and learn that he needs to raise his level of play. I'm not advocating that Ibekwe lose his starting spot at this point but he needs to learn that he can't give those kinds of halfhearted efforts and keep his starting spot. He hasn't been challenged for his position in almost two seasons but with Osby playing so well that isn't the case anymore. I think Ibekwe is the kind of player who will perform better if he has a little more urgency. Perhaps beginning the next two games on the bench can help instill that in the senior.

As for Osby it is impossible not to love what he is bringing off the bench. He nearly got a double double in just 23 minutes and scored a number of baskets on BC's shot blocking center Sean Williams. His effort is never in doubt and he scraps relentlessly for rebounds and loose balls. He played very good defense with 3 blocks and a number of disruptions on the Eagles high screens, if only Gist and Ibekwe could learn that from Osby's example. Add in 10 points from a tidy 5-10 from the floor and you can't really ask any more from the junior college transfer. His only weak spot now is his sub 60% free throw shooting.

After a sizzling start Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez are starting to look more like, well, freshmen. Hayes seems to have lost a little confidence and is playing a very hesitant game at point guard now which is hurting his best ability. Like a relief pitcher in baseball or a quarterback in football a point guard has to have a confidence or even swagger to play at his best. Right now Hayes has lost a little of that and needs to find his way back to the free wheeling distributor he was for the first eight games. As the season goes on Maryland will also need Hayes to find his scoring touch. Vasquez and Strawberry are more scorers than shooters and Hayes' ability to shoot from the perimeter will help the half court offense. Vasquez plays out of control from time to time but Gary Williams wants that aggressive play from the frosh. He has a dreadful shooting night and really limits himself when he tries to make too many one-on-one plays. In spite of his early season heroics everyone needs to remember he is still a freshman with only a handful of games in college.

James Gist had his best game of perhaps the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds. He played well enough in the second half for Maryland to win but got no help from his teammates. Gist needs to assert himself more on the offensive end and defer to his teammates less often.

Outside of Osby the bench didn't contribute much in this game. The Eagles only played seven men and were normally outmatched athletically by Maryland but controlled the tempo masterfully to limit the Terps advantage. Maryland struggled to get any baskets in transition and if they cannot get a few easy baskets off defense they can't score very well. Boston College just plods along running their version of the flex down your throat. They make you defend for a good 20 seconds into the shot clock and will continually probe for a weakness until the find one. For Maryland that often took the form of terrible defensive rebounding as BC got far too many second chance points. Teams will study this game and the Michigan State game earlier in the year to get a blue print on how to attack Maryland. Slow the tempo down, prevent transition baskets by Maryland, spread your offense out and make Maryland's backcourt defend you one-on-one then attack the offensive glass. This is the formula that teams like NC State and Virginia Tech will try to employ later in the year. Few teams will outlast the Terps in an uptempo game but they have shown a vulnerability to patient teams with good rebounding frontlines.

In the second half with BC faltering and Maryland close to taking the lead the Terps seemed to bumble away every critical possession. With the deficit down to four points early in the half Maryland committed two turnovers and missed a layup with the next three possessions. With the Eagles only ahead by five with 13 minutes left the Terps went 0-5 and turned the ball over twice more. Finally with just over four minutes left in the game and only down four points Maryland turned the ball over 3 times and again missed all 5 field goal attempts with their next eight possessions before hitting a free throw with 45 seconds left. If they had grabbed any of those opportunities the game likely would have gone Maryland's way. Instead they degenerated into an ugly sequence of one-on-one battles that resulted in only 2 assists and 9 turnovers in the 2nd half.

This game wasn't a total disaster. Last years team would have been blown out by 20 on a poor shooting night like this team had on Sunday. They played tenacious and sometimes individually heroic defense to help stay in the game and remain in striking distance until the final minutes. That is something to build on. The offense will improve as the season progresses and the next month will provide the Terps with an opportunity to improve in a number of areas. Let's hope they take advantage of these games starting tomorrow night.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Fordham Efficiency

For those who are not sure what these ratings mean they are a method of evaluating a team's efficiency on offense or defense by taking into account the tempo with which a team normally plays. For instance a run and gun team may actually play better defense than a slow it down Princeton style team that gives up on average 20 points less per game. These techniques were pioneered by baseball stat heads but those principles have been imported to basketball by people like Dean Oliver.

In essence these ratings give a estimation of how many points a team would score or allow in 100 possessions. You can therefore compare teams that play very different styles.

For the Fordham game:

Offense 102.7
Defense 76.4

The numbers seem to indicate that Maryland played a better game than they appeared to at the time. It wasn't pretty but it ended up being effective.

The annual Mike Jones debate has started again. There were some grumblings after the Notre Dame loss which saw Jones play 20 minutes despite not sinking a single field goal all game. Jones is a streaky shooter, we all know this, but I don't really know how you can keep him out there with that scant production. The current bench is too deep to keep other players like Vasquez or the equally streaky Parrish Brown out of the game in the hopes that after seven missed shots Jones will get back on track. You'll end up losing more games while waiting for Jones to get hot, instead of using your bench.

More to the point if you look at Ken Pomery's fantastic website you can see that Mike Jones has a higher percentage of minutes played than any players except DJ Strawberry and James Gist. He is getting loads of minutes and takes a higher percentage of shots for the team while he is in the game than any player on the roster. If Jones isn't producing it is because he isn't hitting shots and failing to get to the free throw line, not because Gary Williams yanks him too quickly. There is an issue with the opposing defense dramatically changing depending on whether Jones is in or out of the game, but that's for another time.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Winning Ugly

Maryland's game against Fordham last night was one of the worst 20 point victories I've seen in a long time. For long stretches the Terps' offense looked disjointed and sloppy while the defense was solid but not spectacular. It seemed that there was still a hangover from the loss to Notre Dame on Sunday as the players were lethargic and unfocused for long stretches. Fordham held a lead until 9 minutes left in the first half but stayed within striking distance until late in the 2nd half. The Rams are a pesky guard oriented team with multi-skilled big men, just the kind of team that gave Maryland fits the last few years. Fordham also has shown an ability to create turnovers which they did with effectiveness against Maryland's young players. The real weakness of Fordham is their mediocre shooting, which prevented them from exploiting more of Maryland's defensive breakdowns. In the end Maryland's deep bench just ground down the Rams and made the final margin of victory deceptive.

Mike Jones had an excellent offensive game scoring 18 points and adding 6 rebounds. He is a streaky shooter and his first few shots of the night will usual tell the tail of how Jones will do in a particular game. There were also moments that showed why he finds the bench from time to time as his defense and ball handling deficiencies were also evident. He must have given up about 6 points due to defensive breakdowns, but that is what Jones will give you.

Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist both got into early foul trouble and only played a combined 14 minutes in the 1st half. At times Gary Williams played DJ Strawberry at the power forward spot. Bambale Osby, perhaps one of the better bench players in college basketball, came in and gave Maryland 6 points and 3 rebounds in 11 minutes of valuable production. He is one of the most effecient players on the team and has the unique ability to come off the bench and make plays immediately. Next season Osby will be able to be a regular double-double producer while playing starters minutes. Ibekwe made some impressive blocks and Gist scored 8 points in the 2nd half but neither had a good game. The were both careless with the ball and made some bad decisions when the got passes in the low post. Neither is a tough and nasty low post player, they both like floating around the lane and getting the ball with seperation from the defender.

Eric Hayes struggled again and he seems to be suffering from a lack of confidence that he displayed earlier in the season. He dribbled himself into some traps, as he did in the Notre Dame game, and made some very tentative passes that resulted in turnovers. Hayes isn't a scorer and Maryland relies on his steady hand to get the other players involved in the offense. When he struggles with his decision making he doesn't contribute much else to the team. Hopefully Hayes can get his game back on track before the game against Boston College. He has 10 turnovers and only 5 assists in his last two games. While Vasquez has received some well deserved hype recently, including in Sports Illustrated, the other players seem to be more comfortable in their roles with Hayes on the floor.

Greivis Vasquez helped to extend Maryland's lead late in the 2nd half with a number of drives to the basket that resulted in fouls. He was perfect from the floor and the foul line in the 2nd period. At times he was out of control and had his share of turnovers. He did contribute 16 points and tends to force the action a little better than Hayes with his current struggles.

DJ Strawberry didn't shoot particularly well but gave the Terps some steady ball handling while the freshmen struggled. He ended with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists which is an impressive stat line. I do wish that Strawberry would become more of a vocal on the court leader. DJ says all the right things after games but it is more important to show that kind of leadership in the court when the freshmen are struggling and the marsh mellow big men need someone to stiffen their spines. Perhaps that isn't in Strawberry's constitution and I don't mean that as a criticisms of the heroic senior. Maryland would be much better if that was part of his game. This team really needs a court leader to reach its potential.

For me the story of the game was the 25 turnovers that Maryland compiled. Fordham may be a pesky bunch but far too many of the turnovers were of the unforced kind by Maryland. Sloppy passes and ball handling resulted in way too many possession being given away to the opponent. The Terps are efficient enough on offense that they have been able to overcome the turnovers for now and the defense has helped keep opponents from going on big runs. Maryland cannot continue to be so careless with the ball once league play starts and expect to win.

On the positive side the defense, helped by Fordham's poor shooting, was able to keep the Rams to 32% from the field and 33% from the 3-point line. It is a good sign that the defense, with a few breakdowns, continues to be solid. Maryland also rebounded better and held a 14 board advantage by the end of the game.

Maryland struggled but was able to right itself during the game and fight off a Fordham team that put a scare in Tennessee earlier in the year and may make some noise in the Atlantic 10. There will be some good things for Gary Williams to work on over the next few days to get ready for Boston College. The Eagles are a tough defensive team that requires an opponent to remain patient and move the ball for a good look at the basket. If the Terps are careless with the ball or settle for quick shots it will be a very difficult game to win. In some ways Boston College is similar to the Michigan State team that gave Maryland a tough and physical game earlier in the season. They don't have much offensive firepower beyond Jared Dudley but have a pair of streaky shooters in Sean Marshal and Tyrese Rice. Two keys will be who Gary Williams defends Dudley with, my guess is Strawberry, and if Boston College can exploit Maryland's problems with offensive rebounds.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Henderson Has Surgery

Linebacker Erin Henderson had fluid drained from a growth on his arm last week. After the Wake Forest game Henderson noticed his arm was swollen and when the area became the size of a baseball he decided to get it examined. Further tests are being conducted on the growth but Henderson is expected to play in the bowl game against Purdue. From the Washington Post.

The first loss by the basketball team resulted in some spirited practices on Monday. You can imagine Gary Williams wasn't too pleased with the effort of his team. There were more than a few culprits in the loss to Notre Dame. The players that Notre Dame has are similar to the kind you'd get at a high mid-major. Not very athletic, but skilled and good outside shooters. Just another example that you can't just show up in college basketball and beat 80% of the teams you play. From the Washington Times.

According to John Feinstein Gary Williams did mention the horrible job that the officials did during the Notre Dame game at the BB&T, but that isn't likely to change Maryland's commitment to playing in this event.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Ratings for BB&T

Maryland
Defense: 100.9
Offense: 92.1

Fairly obvious why this game turned out the way it did for the Terps. That is the highest, and therefore worst, defensive rating Maryland has given up all year. The offensive rating was the also the worst of the season for the Terps and only the second game it dipped below 100, the 95.9 against Winthrop was the only other sub-100 performance.

In spite of the poor defense that allowed 11 consecutive field goals Notre Dame still only shot 43% from the floor and a mediocre 37% from 3-point range. Not many teams would win consistently with those offensive numbers. If Maryland had been able to execute just a little better on offense they could have won with the poor defense.

Football News
I have not forgotten about the football team, even though it may seem that way. They'll get to play Purdue in an intreguing matchup with a decent Big Ten school at the Champs Sports Bowl. Purdue Coach Joe Tiller is one of the better stratigists in college football and seeing him match wits with Ralph Friedgen should be a treat. Interestingly the Boilermakers avoided having to play Michigan or Ohio State in their league schedule and failed to win a game against any conference foe with a winning record.

I'll have a season roundup with my thoughts on the Boston College and Wake Forest losses in the next few weeks.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Young Terps Stumble

Surely no one thought that Maryland was going to go undefeated this season. With young players at key positions the progression of a team is never linear and there will be inevitable setbacks. After three wins over major conference opponents to start the season the Terps got into a game with a scrappy opponent that wanted to prove something by beating the first ranked opponent in seven tries. Notre Dame was fired up for this game and Maryland seemed to still be basking in the glow of their win at Illinois. It will be different for this group now that they have attracted so much attention and some rather lofty rankings by sports writers. Maryland found itself on every "power" poll that is published on the internet and for middle of the road squads like Notre Dame it can make their season to beat the Terrapins. Being able to handle that pressure will be another step in the maturation of this group.

It is true that Maryland has a collection of seniors but the majority of them are only second year starters. The 2002 class acted as a logjam that stagnated the entire program but especially the 2003 class that followed them. In a perfect world this group would have matured as bench players and have been fully formed coming into this season but it is clear after the Notre Dame game that they still have to hone certain aspects of their game. From Mike Jones being a total non-factor, Ekene Ibekwe's stupid technical foul for taunting, to DJ Strawberry waiting till it was too late to take over the game it wasn't a great game for the seniors. The freshman didn't look as mature as they had the first eight games with both Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez both struggling and looking like kids with two months experience on a college campus.

Sometimes when a team is on a hot streak layoff like the one Maryland had after the Tuesday game in Champaign can result in the kind of lackadaisical and uninspired performance that we saw the other night. Nortre Dame clearly wanted to play a very physical game and from the tip they hand checked and bodied all the Maryland players. As it became clear the officials were not in the mood to whistle much of anything the Fighting Irish turned more towards the goon style of defense. I became very concerned that a Terps player would leave the game with a bad injury as the officials let the game spiral out of control. DJ Strawberry and James Gist both were sent crashing to the floor at different points but were thankfully not badly injured. It reminded me of the play in last season's BB&T that saw blood on the floor when George Washington beat Maryland. It was clear that the middling coach of the Irish, Mike Brey, who seems to think that the 1990's jacket and mock turtle neck look is still fashionable, studied the Michigan State game tape and decided to try to be very physical with Maryland. Given that his team has the collective athleticism of Gene Hackman's team in Hoosiers it was his best choice. At one point in the first half his big men were scared to even go into the lane against the jack rabbits wearing Maryland jerseys. After two Notre Dame goons nearly decapitated James Gist as he went up for a dunk in the 2nd half they seemed to gain a little courage.

As ridiculous as the officiating was it wasn't what lost the game for Maryland. A string of 11 field goals in a row for Notre Dame was what turned the tide against the Terps. With a comfortable eight point lead with 14 minutes left in the second half Maryland seemed ready to blow Notre Dame out of the gym then Ekene Ibekwe showed some of his immaturity and taunted a Nortre Dame player after a block. He was quickly called for a technical foul that helped to spark the run by the Irish. Notre Dame spread the floor out after that and beat Maryland with cuts to the basket but it wasn't until after they had started to make a run and Maryland's defense unravled.

James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe had their softness and lack of interior play laid bare for all to see. Neither has the kind of nasty streak you need in a great interior player. They are most effective when Maryland's wing players can drive to the basket and draw defenders giving Gist and Ibekwe the space they need to be effective. In this game Maryland's guards were unable to do that with any effectiveness. It is worth noting that Bambale Osby grabbed 8 rebounds in sixteen minutes which is three more than Ibekwe got in 25 minutes. Gist matched Osby's total but took 32 minutes to do it.

Eric Hayes had the worst night of his young career. The initial pressure by Notre Dame got him out of sorts and he didn't seem the same the rest of the night. For the first time this season he had more turnovers (4) than assists (2). He also struggled badly to defend the dribble penetrations by Kyle McAlarney, who had only scored in double digits once all season.

His fellow freshman teammate Greivis Vasquez didn't have a great night either and shot a terrible 4-15 from the floor. At times Vasquez took some bad shots and rushed possessions giving the opponent more opportunity to increase their lead. This should throw some cold water on fools like Greg Doyle who think Gary Williams is crazy to start Eric Hayes at point.

It is a shame that DJ Strawberry waited until Maryland was down 8 points with just over a minute to start asserting himself. Strawberry scored 9 points in about 40 seconds and clearly showed that Notre Dame didn't have a single player who could match him one-on-one. Makes you wonder what would have happened had Strawberry snapped out of his funk sooner. I'm not blaming DJ since he showed some real heart at the end of the game and nearly had his season ended with another knee injury later in the game. He is as tough and gutsy a player as Maryland has had since Juan Dixon but he needs to realize that he has to bear the burden of being "The Man" for this group. Once he embraces that Maryland will be better off. His post game comments seem to indicate he realizes that he must take leadership of this group.

So far this season there have been a number of surprising losses for ranked teams: Arizona losing to Virginia, Kansas losing to Oral Roberts, Georgetown losing to ODU, this is the state of college basketball. There is a dilution of talent and parity reigns so you'd better be ready to play every night. Maryland learned this lesson against a Notre Dame team they should have handled easily. The same day Georgia Tech learned that lesson when they lost to a terrible Miami squad. That may well come back to haunt the Yellow Jackets. For Maryland this game may be just a learning experience.