Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Lonely Road Ahead for Terps

With another road game at Wake Forest this Saturday, the fourth in five games, Maryland faces a game that could be the final nail in their postseason coffin. The Terps still face odds so remote that even a degenerate gambler wouldn't touch a postseason wager. With five conference losses already and games against Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia remaining on the schedule the maximum number of losses Maryland can sustain for the rest of the season is three.

The efficiency ratings for last night are hard to look at:

Offense: 115.8
Defense: 139.0

You wouldn't need to see the rating to know it was the worst defense performance of the season. This team can't seem to get in rhythm with its offense and defense. When they play stout defense they can't shot a lick and when they are scoring the defense is totally absent.

Interesting quote in the Washington Post article about the game:

"There's no pressure," senior guard Mike Jones said. "We have several games left. We just try to get one on the road, if possible. We have our confidence where we can win at home. We just got to pick it up on the road. But there's no pressure. We know the type of team that we have."

Huh? Earth to Mike Jones, your season is in a shambles and you're in another NIT nose dive. These kinds of comments just drive me crazy. It is the same sort of after loss shoulder shrugging that this group has done the last two seasons. The lack of urgency or desire to be a great team is evident in that quote. If you're content to just be a mediocre group then there isn't any pressure I guess. It goes beyond Jones but if you are mystified as to why Jones hasn't developed into a complete player I suggest you just read that quote over again. This group of players doesn't have the desire to be great, in spite of the lip service to the contrary. They seem like a collection of nice kids, or at least not regularly on the police blotter like the collection of morons from last season, but they are not great basketball players.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Terps defenseless

Maryland will not make it back to the NCAA tournament for what will be three straight seasons. True the ACC season hasn't reached the midway point yet as Maryland just finished its seventh game to drop to 2-5 in the ACC and they could make a unlikely run at the end of the season, but this team isn't capable of that kind of consistently. Just getting to .500 play in the conference would be a great achievement.

You may be thinking I'm being a chicken little by writing that. The truth is I'm not one of those fatalistic Maryland fans that waits for catastrophe, nor am I the type that seems to get perverse pleasure out of Gary Williams struggling in the twilight of his career. I've only come to the conclusion that this Maryland team is nothing better than mediocre.

To be a good team you need to be able to win on the road. To win on the road you need experienced and mentally tough leaders on your team. Maryland doesn't have any of those. The three senior starters on Maryland are about as tough as a brigade of French mimes.

In a very important road game against what could be another "bubble" team Maryland mustered a pathetic effort on the defensive end. Florida State shot well over 60% for the whole game and got too many open jump shots and layups with little defensive pressure by the Terps. They nearly scored 100 points but without the excuse of almost 50 free throws like Virginia enjoyed. Outworked on defense and pummeled on the boards again (33-19), partly because there were not as many defensive rebounds as FSU rarely missed a shot Maryland gave themselves little chance to win this game. Commentator Billy Packer said that he'd never seen a Gary Williams team play such poor defense and I'd have to agree this stinker was right up there to some horrible efforts of the recent NIT era in College Park.

Ekene Ibekwe was torched by the kind of legitimate multi-tool big man that he was supposed to be for Maryland in Al Thorton who scored at will on the senior for 27 points and 8 rebounds. In a pathetic sequence Thorton grabbed an offensive rebound and dunked on Ibekwe then taunted him after. Thorton is a great player and would give even the best defender problems but he barely had to work to get his 27 against Ekene. Ibekwe needs to be phased out of the starting spot. He had 3 turnovers in the first half and was a non-factor on either end of the floor. Please, no more talk about what he did against Dirk Nowitzki or his potential. With the most starts of any player on the team he is what you see every game: too weak to be effective on the inside and too poor a shooter and ball handler to be effective outside the lane.

Mike Jones seems to be shrinking every game and at this rate he'll be smaller than Parrish Brown by the ACC tournament. He ended up with 9 points but you would barely know he even played 24 minutes. As usual he was a liability on defense and even fouled Isaiah Swann on a 3-point attempt for the first of two four point plays for the Washington native. I'm sure there are still some Maryland fans who just think if he only shot the ball 15 times a game Maryland would win but they are probably also the kind of guys who are convinced they'll win the lottery some day.

DJ Strawberry is a great kid and I'm glad he's a Terrapin but he hasn't been giving the team the production they came to rely on in the early season. It is only fair to recognize that Strawberry wasn't recruited to be one of the top players in this class. Ekene Ibekwe and Mike Jones were supposed to be the players who would score and impact the game with their athletic ability. Strawberry was never supposed to be that kind of player, unfortunately. He's shooting a terrible percentage from the floor in ACC play as the easy steals and transition baskets have dried up. He doesn't have the skill set to be a focal point of the offense. Earlier in the season Williams was upset that Strawberry wasn't voted a preseason All-ACC selection, but it is painfully obvious that he isn't that kind of player.

Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez looked like freshmen again after their best game of the season against Georgia Tech. They were thoroughly outplayed by an unremarkable backcourt in Florida State. Defensively it was a dreadful night for both players. Vasquez did have some nice drives to the basket and was second on the team with 13 points.

If Maryland has a "go to" player it has become James Gist. About the only bright spot in the recent skid is the emergence of Gist as the dominating player that many hoped he would become. He was excellent again with a 23 point performance though his rebounding was a problem with only 4 on the night. He can score anywhere out to and including 3-point range and opposing teams will start to add his shooting range to their scouting reports. He can be a 20 point per game kind of player if only Gary Williams realizes that Gist, not Ibekwe, should be the focus of the offense.

I don't think this was Gary Williams better coaching nights. He made no adjustments on the defensive end to counter FSU's torrid shooting pace. Going to a zone only for a few moments before going back to the standard man-to-man. It seemed that some of the trapping on the press was giving FSU some trouble, as they don't have any pure point guard, yet Maryland never even attempted any half court trapping even when trailing by double digits. I'm not sure what you have to lose at that point. The half court defense was getting carved up all game long. The substitution patterns continue to mystify me as Osby seems to have the shortest leash on the team. It is time for Williams to shake things up if the Terrapins have a hope of getting the the NCAAs.

It is sad that in the fairly mediocre ACC of the last few years that Maryland has now become a squad that perennial NIT programs like Florida State whoop and show up as they blow out. Players like Swann and Jason Rich, who won't be worth remembering by the time they finish their college careers, strut and taunt during a humiliating blow out. Maryland is 5-11 against basketball lightweights Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech and Florida State the last few seasons.

I couldn't have said it better myself
I would think if you're Gary Williams coming off this game and the direction his team could be heading. You basically say "I have no starters." You're going to have to fight for your job in the next game based on what you do in practice over the next couple of days. -Billy Packer

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Post game notes

Efficiency ratings:

Virginia 103 Maryland 91
Offense: 98.3
Defense: 117.6

Virginia Tech 67 Maryland 64 OT
Offense: 86.2
Defense: 91.1

Maryland 80 Georgia Tech 65
Offense: 110.7
Defense: 87.8

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Terps take care of business

I'll give a quick summary of the win over Georgia Tech since I've had some readers complain about the turn around time after games.

Tonight was James Gist's night. As he said afterwards he wanted to be a "beast" on the inside and he was without a doubt. He had a career high 26 points on 10-11 shooting while only playing 23 minutes due to foul trouble. He attacked the basket with a ferocity that I've never seen him show. This was the James Gist that many Maryland fans were hoping they would see this season. He has developed a perimeter game that Gary Williams has given him the green light to take advantage of in the right circumstance. He gave away some cheap fouls but showed some of the tantalizing ability in his limited minutes to possibly be the low post scorer that Maryland needs. Let's hope James realizes that the only thing preventing him from making the step to the next level is himself.

Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez both had excellent games against the best freshman point guard in the ACC for my money. The defensive effort against Crittenton was stellar as he scored only 5 points on 2-10 shooting with 4 turnovers. They also did a very nice job on the offensive end orchestrating the flow of the game. Combined they had 12 assists and just 4 turnovers as their mistakes continue to shrink the last few weeks. Eric Hayes had a career high with 12 points while Vasquez focused more on making opportunities for teammates. These two are getting better by the game and if Maryland is to turn things aroung the young guards will be a huge part of that.

Babale Osby also chipped in 10 points and 4 rebounds when he was pressed into service by early foul trouble by Gist and Ekene Ibekwe. He struggle a little early but righted himself in the 2nd half and made some big plays. He also supplied one of the more hilarious moments of the season with a full on gorilla dance after a dunk late in the game. Williams has been tough on Osby but stuck with him and was rewarded.

DJ Strawberry also had a solid game with 13 points and some excellent defense on a great player in Georgia Tech frosh Thaddeus Young who still scored 21 points. Strawberry needs some help from his teammates and got that tonight.

It was a badly needed win for Maryland and hopefully they can use it as the fuel for a winning steak. For his part Gary Williams was defiant in his post game interview saying that he always liked "throwing it in people's faces" when they doubt him and his team. I think Maryland fans would be glad if you kept doing that, Coach.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Slip sliding away

In late January of 2006 Maryland played a two game set against the technical schools of Virginia and Georgia during a critical early season stretch. After winning rather easily against the Hokies the Terps were staggered by the academic disqulification of starter Chris McCray before the Georgia Tech contest. Maryland rallied in that game and rolled the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta to raise their record to 4-2 in the ACC. It turned out that was more a last gasp than a spring board to greater things. Demoralized by McCray flunking off the team and unable to pull together, the team splintered and collapsed to lose seven of their next nine games.

In 2007 Maryland had to go down to Virginia Tech to take on an expereinced squad with some confidence after wins against Duke and North Carolina. The result was an ugly 67-64 overtime loss in a game Maryland badly needed to win. Virginia Tech isn't a particularly dangerous or formidable squad and was unable to pull away from Maryland dispite the atrocious 35% shooting by the visitors. The Terrapins shot a putrid 28.6% in the 2nd half yet were able to tie the Gobblers at the end of regulation at 59 each. Maryland even had a 13 second possession at the end of the half to win the game with a score but failed to execute, even with a de facto timeout as the officials tried to reset the game clock after it failed to start. The possession resulted in a weak baseline jump shot by James Gist that bounced harmlessly off the side of the rim.

As I've said before the seniors are not providing the level of play that Gary Williams needs to get this program back to the NCAAs again. In ACC play DJ Strawberry is shooting 14-50 from the floor for a 28% clip. He's not getting those easy transition baskets from steals he got against the early season opponents. The only reason he isn't the worst of Maryland's worries is that he has been able to get to the foul line and score there when he shot isn't falling. His four free throws at the end of the game helped send it to overtime and give Maryland a chance to tie at the end of overtime. He finished with 16 points on 5-13 shooting but also added 6 turnovers. Strawberry needs to play better if Maryland is going to get on a roll and get itself back in the NCAA tournament. I don't think DJ deserves the lion share of the critisism because he was never recruited to fill the roll of leading scorer for this Terps squad. Think back three years ago to the very raw freshman who wasn't a threat to score more than about eight feet from the basket. Now he is expected to carry the scoring load because other players have failed to develop.

As I indicated in after the last game the two seniors who were supposed to carry the load on this 2006 squad, Mike Jones and Ekene Ibekwe, are simply failing to come through when Maryland needs them most. Ibekwe had one of his worst performaces of the season on a critical night. He got into foul trouble early and finished with a measly three points and nine rebounds. As he did in the Notre Dame loss Ibekwe also added to his craptastic performance by garnering a technical foul for swiping at the face of Deron Washington after a defensive rebound. The techincal in the Nortre Dame loss helped spur the Irish to a lead they never relinquished. Ibekwe's iodiotic sequel to that loss of composure awarded Virginia Tech a single point, which at the end of regulation was enough for them to tie the game and send it to overtime. Seniors cannot make those kinds of selfish mistakes.

As for Mike Jones he wasn't much of a factor going 4-12 from the floor with 12 points. His 3-point shooting continues to decline after his 2-7 stinker against Virginia Tech and now sits at 36% in ACC games. In the closing seconds of overtime Jones made an athletic move to the basket and had a finger roll layup to get Maryland within one but it rolled out and time expired in the scramble for the rebound. Jones took all four of Maryland's shots in overtime and hit only his first, a layup. The other points Maryland scored were on free throws by Strawberry and Ibekwe. Jones isn't a reliable scorer and his 2-8 shooting in the 2nd half and overtime should cure any Maryland fans of any delusion to the contrary.

Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez had decent if unspectacular games. Each struggled to limit the dribble penetrations of Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon. Both also continue to provide little or no defensive rebounding on a team that desperately needs it. Overall you have to be pleased with how the freshmen have performed so far this year. In the second half Vasquez lead the team with 10 points and not a single turnover. He will be the cornerstone perimeter player on next years team and could even be that before this season ends. Vasquez has a better sense of critical moments in a game than any of the other players, including the seniors. Against Illinois, Virginia and Virginia Tech he came up big when other players on the team were shrinking from the spotlight.

The bench added little for the second game in a row. Bambale Osby seems to be in Gary Williams' doghouse for some reason. His disappearence from the rotation has hurt the inside game for Maryland and it is no conincidence that in the last three losses Maryland has been pummeled on rebounding margin. He needs to play better and play more often in the coming weeks. Will Bowers and Parrish Brown had a nice game against Clemson but have done little since. Both seem to have problems in game preperation when it isn't a marquee opponent, along with the rest of the team. Such is the challenge of being a bench player but neither has provided the spark off the bench that Maryland needs.

It isn't over for Maryland and several commentators from Andy Katz to Doug Gottlieb feel that the Terps can still turn things around as they have six home games left. Still there isn't much reason to be optomistic about the ability of this group to pull things together. Gary Williams had some odd post game comments but I think he is concerned about the psyche of his team that has some freshmen and seniors with fragile egos. Too many players tainted by the losing of the last few years are waiting for things to turn bad this season and Williams is trying to keep their confidence high. I think he'll have them ready to play tonight but Georgia Tech has enough talent that it may not matter unless some players on Maryland shrug off their malaise.

Interesting note: Georgia Tech is 0-4 in away games this season.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Terps can't handle success

According to coach Gary Williams the Terrapins collection of upperclassmen still doesn't know how to handle success. After winning an emotional and critical game against a very good Clemson squad on Saturday the players failed to show the same intensity and focus against a wounded and desperate Virginia squad last night. The focus on defensive rebounding and running efficient half court offense was gone from Saturday. That, coupled with a hot Virginia back court, resulted in a 103-91 loss that was actually worse than the final score would indicate.

After getting down by as many as 20 points in the first half Maryland clawed its way back into the game and escaped at the halftime buzzer with only a seven point deficit. That was mostly due to the scrappy play of freshman Greivis Vasquez who scored 8 points in about 30 seconds as the half drew to a close. The Terps would close to within 3 points two different times in the 2nd half but squandered the critical five minute stretch after closing the gap with Virginia. They trailed by double digits for most of the rest of the game and never got closer than eight points.

There were a slew of reasons why Maryland lost. At times it seemed the players thought they could just duplicate the formula that helped beat Clemson. Unfortunately they just outscored the Tigers and did a good enough job in defensive rebounding to pull out a win. Not a formula to win in the ACC. Virginia had enough success pushing the tempo to get some easy baskets in transition while being the latest opponent to trash Maryland on the offensive glass with 17 offensive rebounds. Virginia did make eight 3-point baskets but merely shot well enough, because without the incredible 39 points from free throws they would not have won the game. Maryland played poor position defense most of the night and failed to stop the efficient dribble penetrations of Sean Singletary and JR Reynolds. It wasn't bad calls or any home cooking by the referees, it was a continuation of the troubling trend of poor defense by the Terps.

Maryland has had a season long problem with giving up offensive rebounds. No surprise as everyone who reads this blog regularly is probably sick of reading about it. Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist are not great rebounders. They never have been and never will be. They are weak at positioning themselves for rebounds and are too easily pushed out of position by inferior players. However, guards also play a large roll in defensive rebounding and the guards for Maryland are failing miserably in this roll. All too often you'll see Mike Jones, Eric Hayes or even Greivis Vasquez flailing around under the basket as an opponent grabs the offensive rebound and scores. Hayes has responsibilities as the point guard usually so I'll give him a slight break for his dreadful 5.3% offensive rebounding rate, which is the worst by far of any regular point guard in the ACC. For comparison shrimpy Tyrese Rice has a 6.3% defensive rebound rate. Worse in my estimation is that at 6-5 with great strength senior Mike Jones is a virtual non-factor as a rebounder. Even Parrish Brown has a better rate of offensive rebounding than Jones. We'll get back to Jones in a bit.

The offense scored 91 points, including an incredible 36 points in the last 9:34 seconds of the game, but that was mostly a product of some lazy defense by Virginia with a large lead. In the critical first half Maryland's offense stalled. There were too many long scoring droughts with little ball movement. Too often the Terps would settle for the 2nd or 3rd look at the basket instead of working the ball around for a better shot. This quick trigger also set Virginia up with good scoring chances and made it impossible for Maryland to set up their defense. It was an atrocious and too often selfish display in the first half. If they don't work on this Maryland's opponents will know they only have to defend for about 10 seconds before the Terrapins will settle for a shot they could have at any time in the possession. They needs to be aggressive when the opportunity presents itself but then have the poise to work for the best scoring chance.

Maryland was forced to play zone in the second half, it was a mistake by Williams not to turn to it earlier, and acquitted themselves only slightly better. Williams did go to his bench early but there were no heroics by Will Bowers and Parrish Brown in this game. The duo combined for 5 points, 1 rebound and 6 fouls in 21 minutes after chipping in 14 points on Saturday. Bambale Osby had a rough first few minutes off the bench and got hooked despite almost outscoring Bowers and Brown combined with 4 points on 2-4 shooting. The substitution patterns baffle me sometimes.

DJ Strawberry didn't play like Maryland's leading scorer in the first half. He often passed up shots and deferred to less dynamic players before getting in foul trouble. Strawberry needs to assert himself more as a leader and offensive threat. He is the closest thing to a "creator" on offense for Maryland and has one of the lower turnover rates of any player on the team. Even though he shot very poorly in the game, going only 2-11, Terps need him to be more of a focus. If he doesn't take over those duties Maryland's NCAA chances will get weaker and weaker. James Gist is in a similar position. He disappears too often in games. After scoring 10 points in the first half he only took 2 shots the rest of the game and finished with 11 points in 28 minutes. He must do more for Maryland to dig itself out of a 1-3 hole.

Lastly let me get to some unpleasant business. A few years from now someone may look at the box score of this game and see that Mike Jones scored 18 points and that Ibekwe scored 17 with 14 rebounds and think they both played great games. Sadly the truth is nowhere near that conclusion.

Mike Jones seems like a nice kid who has kept out of trouble the last few seasons on a team full of kids that attracted all the wrong kind of attention. He's affable and took sitting behind unremarkable starters in stride with nary a complaint. He is also a terribly flawed player that doesn't seem to get anywhere near the scrutiny that he deserves. Far from being in Gary Williams' doghouse he played 32 minutes, a team high, against the Wahoos including almost all of the second half. His defense was absolutely wretched. If you're wondering how Virginia's Mamadi Diane was able to score 26 points when his season average was a shade over 10 points and had only scored in double digits twice in his last six games, you need only look at who was guarding him most of the night. Jones has never been a competent defender but it was embarrassing to watch him get abused by an ordinary sophomore like Diane. A particularly cringe worthy sequence in the second half had freshman Eric Hayes pointing the clueless senior to his position in the zone defense that Maryland had switched to and then seeing the ball swing to his wide open area for another Virginia 3-pointer. I won't belabor the point because I don't want to be gratuitous, but for those who see Mike Jones as the answer to Maryland's problems you have to recognize that trading 26 on the defensive end for 18 on the offensive end is a losing calculus. Gary Williams could do a better job of hiding Jones glaring flaws while trying to highlight his weaknesses but he was a large part of the loss to Virginia.

I'm not sure why Gary Williams continues to believe that Ekene Ibekwe is the kind of offensive player that you force your offense through. For the number of touches he gets in the post you'd think he was Maryland's answer to Tyler Hansbrough. It is the same story for Ibekwe that is was when he came to Maryland as an emaciated freshman. He is a terrible passer from the post and lacks the ability to score with his back to the basket. Think I'm being too harsh? Let's examine the numbers from Ken Pomeroy. His offensive efficiency rating and assist rating are the worst on the team out of the regular players. His turnover rate is also the third highest, behind only freshmen point guards Hayes and Vasquez, on the team. One of the few things Ibekwe does well is get to the free throw line but only a recent spurt of foul shooting has made his free throw percentage respectable, while still being the worst among the starting rotation. This is the player that Gary Williams wants to continually feed the ball to in the post? It is a strategic mistake last night and it will continue to kill Maryland if Williams insists on forcing the offense through such a flawed player. Leave Ibekwe to do what he is best at, being an opportunistic scorer off of rebounds and dribble penetrations by guards. Virginia's Jason Cain is a player that no one, not even Virginia fans, appreciates yet in spite of having no offense run to him he manages to scrape out 13 points and 16 rebounds by shear hustle. Hopefully Ibekwe took notes because Cain got those numbers right under his nose.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Terps hit the road

Maryland travels to Charlottesville for a showdown with the Cavaliers on Tuesday night. The loser of the game will drop to 1-3 in the ACC, but this is more of a must win for Virginia. They have more bad losses in their out of conference schedule and need to hold serve on their home court. Dropping to 9-7 overall will likely mean another trip to the NIT for the Wahoos. Virginia is in the midst of a three game losing streak after difficult road games at North Carolina and Boston College. They will be very motivated to play a Maryland team that has become their nemesis the last few years. In spite of Maryland's recent mediocrity they have won the last six games against Virginia. Clemson's Vernon Hamilton exposed some vulnerability to dribble penetrations and Sean Singletary will try to attack the heart of Maryland's defense. James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe need to continue their shot blocking prowess and keep from fouling Singletary, who is an excellent foul shooter. Maryland's strengths match up well with the Cavalier's weaknesses, but a great deal will come down to Maryland's perimeter defense and patience on offense.

Ekene Ibekwe is averaging 11.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in his last 5 games versus Virginia.

Efficiency ratings for Clemson game:

114.9 defense
124.9 offense

The 124.9 rating was the third highest offensive total of the season after only the record setting night against Missouri-Kansas City and the destruction of St. John's earlier in the year.

Weekly ACC Rankings

1. North Carolina
2. Boston College
3. Clemson
4. Maryland
5. Virginia Tech
6. Duke
7. Georgia Tech
8. Florida State
9. Virginia
10. NC State
11. Miami
12. Wake Forest

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Terps buck the Tiger

In college a team is often a reflection of its coach and therefore you'd expect that Maryland would have given a great effort yesterday against Clemson. Few coaches thrive better on adversity than Gary Williams. Tell him his team stinks, that they won't accomplish anything this season, that he made mistakes recruiting his current bunch and it motivates him even more. After the horrid night against Miami which set all kinds of ignominious records for a Williams' team you'd assume that they would come up with a supreme effort in their next game. After besting unbeaten Clemson you'd have to conclude they did just that.

In the biggest home game of the year there was a palpable sense of urgency at Comcast Center. The crowd was the most raucous of the season, even though the students won't be back on campus until the next home game. The Terps came out with some great intensity and hustled to cultivate a 6 point lead after the first five minutes. The lead seesawed for most of the first half until Maryland stretched the lead in the last few minutes of the half. The officials spoke to Terrapin players as the intensity rose to ferocious level at certain points. Greivis Vasquez came very close to getting a techincal as he was stared down by an official for voicing his disagreement over a call.

Maryland lead by anywhere from 5-8 points for most of the second half. Clemson methodically chipped away at the margin and then the Terps would make a little run to get more breathing room. Clemson is too sound a team to be blown away. They are an experienced bunch that play with great poise and confidence. The Tigers hung tough the whole game and kept the pressure on Maryland for the whole second half. The seniors for Maryland finally played big when the Terps needed them to in an important game. It was an encouraging development because Maryland needs players like Ekene Ibekwe, DJ Strawberry and Mike Jones to play better than they have recently.

Ibekwe broke out of his slump, at least for one game, with a 20 point 10 rebound performance. His quickness on the blocks gave the slower and heavier Clemson frontcourt some problems, but also resulted in offensive rebounds for the Tigers and 5 turnovers. Ibekwe will turn the ball over more than you'd like because of his lack of upper body strength, which also makes him vulnerable to powerful forwards like James Mays who dominated with 10 offensive rebounds. When Ibekwe can provide 20 scoring and some shot blocking you can live with those deficiencies.

I'd like to see Strawberry assert himself more often on the offensive end. His is the best slasher that Maryland has and usually makes good things happen when he drives to the basket. He was able to do that yesterday and booked a team high 6 assists with only 2 turnovers. I would like to see him rebound a little better, along with the other guards. The big men for Maryland are not naturally good rebounders and need the backcourt to help with defensive rebounding. Strawberry and Gist called a team meeting on Thursday to impress on their teammates that they needed to be ready for the Tigers. Hopefully that duo can develop into the team leaders that Maryland really needs.

Mike Jones had a very quiet 10 points and did not play his best game. Two rebounds in 25 minutes for a player like Jones is inexplicable. He needs to step up his intensity on defense and go to the glass like a wild animal. He needs to be more consistent if Maryland is going to make its way to the NCAAs.

Two seniors off the bench, Parrish Brown and Will Bowers, made huge contributions in the 2nd half. Brown played 11 mistake free minutes while scoring 8 points, including a big 3 pointer. He made some nice plays including drawing an offensive foul. Gary Williams even questioned if he had used his bench enough in the Miami loss and it seems Brown was making his case to see more minutes. It was very nice to see Bowers, who has been written off by the majority of Maryland fans (including me), play such a solid game off the bench. He was able to do a very nice job on Mays when Ibekwe struggled to keep Mays off the block. Three rebounds and six points in just 12 minutes is a great night for any player. I hope that this motivates Bowers because Maryland is much better when he can come off the bench and contribute.

Freshmen Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez both played well in the biggest game of their career so far. They could both cut down on their turnovers but you have to expect that from freshmen playing a demanding role. I'd really like to see Hayes shoot more. He is probably the best shooter on the team besides Mike Jones but is more consistent. He can be deadly from the outside and gets overlooked in the scouting report. He will have more opportunities as ACC play continues and he needs to become more assertive in taking scoring chances, especially from the 3 point line.

Bambale Osby was solid off the bench as usual. He grabbed three rebounds and sunk 5 free throws in 12 minutes. He's a great bench player who just does what he's asked to and hustles.

Maryland's defense was good, but not great. They allowed Mays to wreak havoc in the lane and KC Rivers scored some threes on Strawberry to help Clemson stay close. Eric Hayes struggled to contain Vernon Hamilton's dribble penetrations. The ball handling against Clemson's press was a little shaky at times and the decision making on some of the passing helped contribute to twenty Maryland turnovers.

All those problems are legitimate and need to be addressed if Maryland's NCAA hopes are going to survive the upcoming road trip. Still, Clemson is a fine team that is well coached by Oliver Purnell. To me they are clearly the second best team in the ACC right now. They don't have any horrible losses like other teams do and have much better poise and balance than other squads in the league. After seeing them in person I was very impressed with their blend of experience and athleticism. This team has a chance to go far in the postseason so Maryland's win shouldn't be minimized.

Friday, January 12, 2007

No More Fear of the Turtle

As I've pondered the results of the last few poor seasons by Maryland's basketball team it dawned on me that one of the major changes from seasons past to today didn't even have anything to do with the Terrapins themselves but with their opponents. Teams don't have any fear of Maryland anymore. If you watched the Miami players joking on the sideline towards the end of the game on Wednesday you'd get a sense of it. They were not leading by double digits and the game was still very much in doubt yet the Hurricane players seemed fairly sure they were going to win. It wasn't in just the last 30 seconds either, there were minutes left in the game. That kind of confidence would have never been evident in a Maryland opponent before 2003. Part of that respect was based on Maryland's great teams of the late 90's and early 2000's who beat plenty of very good teams regularly. There was another aspect to that fear besides just being a good team. It was that teams felt they would have to play their best to have even a chance of pulling out a victory over Maryland. Now teams like Miami, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Florida State and the other football schools feel like they expect to compete and even win against the Terps. Gary Williams mentioned this trend on his radio show, saying that Maryland had given Clemson some confidence that they could beat Maryland.

I believe that Clemson expects to beat Maryland now. It doesn't hurt that after each of the last four losses to Clemson the Maryland players talked about how they were better than the Tigers. That seems more like a delusion when you're riding the crest of a four game losing streak to a team. Just like Maryland got some confidence they could play with Duke in the early part of the decade the current Maryland teams go into games with the Blue Devils feeling like they expect to win. When you've seen so many good teams go into Cameron waiting for things to go wrong and inevitably losing, even though they should have been competitive, you understand the value of that fear. A nervous and jittery opponent won't play as tough as one with some self-assurance and even on days when Coach K's bunch are not playing well that was often just enough of an edge to pull out a victory.

Maryland has lost that sense of dread for opponents, perhaps for the foreseeable future. The awe of playing in a new conference against storied programs for teams like Virginia Tech and Miami has worn off rather quickly. Those players recognize that the Terrapins of the last few years are rather ordinary. The only way you can get that back it by beating those teams, time after time. That kind of respect is hard to earn yet easy to squander for programs like Maryland. There have been many failures of the recent Maryland squads but this particular aspect may continue to haunt the Terps even when they have better teams in future seasons.

Maryland still has some cache from its historical and recent success, which is why it is viewed as a good win by some of these lower programs, but it has lost the shine that it had a short time ago. When Manhattan can come into College Park and become the second non-ACC team to win in Gary Williams' tenure you know something has changed. Clemson had not won at Maryland since 1997 before the 2005 loss and had not won at all in 13 games before the 2002 recruiting class came to Comcast. The four recent losses to Clemson probably kept Maryland out of the last two NCAA tournaments. History could be made today if Clemson wins. It would be the first time that Clemson had ever beaten Maryland five straight times and the first time that the Tigers had a road winning streak in the series, with two straight. After today we'll have more clues to decide if the future is going to be anything like the past, recent or fading, for the Terrapins.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Burn the tape

Time to flush the stinky turd that was laid last night. Clearly the culprits behind the loss were poor defensive rebounding and simply awful shooting. The offense could have been run better but Maryland did get some good looks at the basket that they simply couldn't convert into points. The misses from within six feet of the basket became almost comical towards the end of the game. The team did get impatient in their half court offense and took too many quick shots, Mike Jones and Greivis Vasquez being the main offenders, but it had more to do with their cold shooting night than anything else.

The efficiency ratings were as follows:

Offense: 81.2
Defense: 92.9

I'm at a loss to explain Ekene Ibekwe's regression in the last month or so. Ever since he missed the Illinois game with a sprained ankle he hasn't had the same agressiveness and seems to shy away from contact more often than before. He and DJ Strawberry need to show up on Saturday if the Terrapins are going to win against Clemson. Strawberry and James Gist also missed four freethrows including the front end of two one-and-ones during a critical stretch in the second half.

After the game freshman Greivis Vasquez claimed that the team reverted to some selfish behavior and failed to make the extra pass when on offense. This would seem to be true but Vasquez was just as guilty as anyone else and went 1-11 from the floor.

Fans also saw another example of how streaky senior Mike Jones can be in the 2nd half. He went without a field goal the entire 17 minutes he played but was able to get to the foul line late in the half. Miami reverted to the stupid play that got them eight losses already this season and proceeded to foul Maryland six times in the last two minutes. If Jones had done that sooner he may have been able to erase Miami's lead.

I'm not ready to panic just yet on this team but they are showing more inconsistency of late than they had all season. Not a good place to be in with the ACC schedule starting in ernest. If they drop to 0-3 with a loss to Clemson Maryland's NCAA hopes could be in jeperdy.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Miami Blues

There isn't any way to make a horrible loss like this palatable. This is the worst loss of the recent NIT era that Maryland has suffered. Getting blown out by national champion caliber team isn't surprising since the Terps didn't have the talent to compare with those opponents the last few seasons. You really need to focus on how bad this Miami team is to appreciate how terrible this loss was. They came into the game with an 8-8 record, with very few ACC quality players, a sub 200 RPI and little chance of being an NIT squad. This is the team that Maryland lost to, AT HOME.

It was a game that Maryland's senior failed to show up for, especially Ibekwe and Strawberry. Jones may have scored a fair number of points but went only 3-11 from the floor and couldn't finish around the basket. Not that any of his teammates played better.

The offensive efficiency was non existent. Greivis Vasquez had an atrocious night from the floor and has become a totally ineffective shooter from outside. It might be time for Gary Williams to switch back to Eric Hayes as the starter at point. Vasquez showed some really poor shot selection and decision making.

I was very surprised that Eric Hayes and Parish Brown didn't get more looks with the offense struggling so badly. It seemed that Gary Williams was content to let James Gist, Ibekwe, Osby and everyone else keep missing point blank shots around the rim. It didn't seem that Gary Williams was able to make any effective adjustments to counter what Miami was doing or to minimize Maryland's struggles.

Defensive rebounding has been a problem all season and it got the spotlight placed on it by an undersized and hardly imposing Miami frontcourt. It has developed into a major weakness.

To give Miami credit the coaching staff did a good job scouting Maryland and mixing their zone and man-to-man defenses. It helped that Maryland couldn't have sunk a basket in the Grand Canyon if they tried, but the players executed the defense well. The Hurricanes hustled and scrapped all night and Maryland played badly enough to give the game away. Holding Miami to 63 points, a bunch of which came on late free throws, isn't bad but when you can't score yourself it doesn't matter much.
A very disheartening loss. I'm not sure where Maryland goes from here. They face an undefeated Clemson squad on Saturday and then go on the road to Virginia and Virginia Tech. Maryland could find itself out of the conference race by the end of that stretch if they don't improve quickly.

Miami notes

The Terps start the run of ACC games that will determine their NCAA fate tonight. Playing Miami isn't a bad way to start the league schedule given that they are terrible and will also be without senior forward Anthony King who will miss the rest of the season with a wrist injury. The absence of King will make the Hurricanes even more perimeter oriented than they have been under Frank Haith. James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe should be able to exploit the interior of Miami's already porous defense.

Miami is ranked 218 in Ken Pomeroy's RPI.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Basketball finishes non-conference schedule

With the victory over Iona the Terps have wrapped up the last game before the real ACC schedule begins this week against Miami. In some of the last few games Maryland hasn't always looked sharp on either end of the court. Against American University the Terps staggered to a 66-54 victory but looked dreadful in the first half. The team rebounded nicely to blow out Mount St. Mary's The next game but then struggled against Siena in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated. I think the team is looking ahead to the ACC schedule and is determined to prove that the loss to Boston College isn't the standard on which to judge them. They were not terribly motivated in these last few "tune up" games against mid-major competition, which isn't a good thing, but is understandable.

One concerning development is that Ekene Ibekwe continues to struggle with his game. After getting briefly demoted to a bench player he hasn't shown the determination you would hope after Gary Williams' motivational ploy. If Maryland is going to be in the top three of the league they will need Ibekwe to play less like the lazy and unfocused player he was the last two years and more like a senior leader.

DJ Strawberry continues to impress. He's dominated a number of games recently and has set his career single game scoring record a number of times. He is the clear leader on the team and seems to be getting more comfortable with his role. As he develops those skills Maryland will continue to get better. Strawberry is learning when to get his teammates involved and when to assert himself if they are struggling. In addition to his stellar defense and ability to slash to the basket he also has turned into a legitimate threat from the perimeter. He should be an All-ACC guard by season's end. There isn't a wing in the ACC who has his combination of defense and offense.

James Gist has matured into more of the player fans expected him to this year. He has posted a number of double-doubles and is a force on both ends of the floor. If he can keep his foul number down he will be a force in the ACC, which lacks a large number of great post players.

Replacing Eric Hayes with Greivis Vasquez was probably a good move. Hayes has been a great player for a freshman and will continue to be a large contributor but has been struggling as the primary ball handler lately. He needs to cut down on his turnovers and become less tentative with the ball. Vasquez is playing because he is aggressive and puts more pressure on the opponent's defense. Hayes may win his job back if Vasquez becomes too reckless but for now the General is in charge.

With the bottom of the ACC being as weak a group as the league has seen in a number of years and the middle teams unable to separate themselves or display any consistency Maryland is in prime position to make a run at the second or third place in the ACC. Outside of North Carolina Maryland matches up well with every other squad and probably has the advantage in depth. With the talent and experience on the team a double digit win total in the ACC is very plausible. Upcoming games versus the middling teams in the league: Clemson at home and Virginia and Virginia Tech on the road will go a long way in telling how special this season could be in 2007. All would not be lost if they dropped a couple of those games but it could make things harder for them.

I expect Maryland to go 10-6 in the ACC and lock up an NCAA bid for the first time since 2004.

Football Notes
Offensive tackle Jared Gaither will declare for the NFL draft according to numerous sources. Gaither underachieved in his second year and failed to improve over his freshman campaign. He often relied on his massive size instead of technique and regularly failed to finish blocks. He began the year being suspended by Ralph Friedgen and ended it by losing his starting job to Dane Randolph. Given his 5-star ranking as a prep player his career at Maryland has clearly been a disappointment. He'll need to improve his work ethic and motivation if he hopes to play in the NFL.

Friday, January 05, 2007

What We've Learned: Virginia

This was supposed to be a break through season for the Wahoos and their "best backcourt in college basketball" of Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds. Singletary has been playing excellent basketball of late but he and Reynolds are far from the best guard duo in college basketball. As a team Virginia has disappointed so far with embarrassing losses to Appalachian State and Utah. Not that Utah or Appalachian State are horrible teams but when you lose by 24 and 11 points respectively to sub-100 RPI squads it isn't a sign that you are destined for great things. Coach Dave Leitao is building a solid program with the toughness and discipline the Cavs lacked under Pete Gillen but right now he doesn't have the players to challenge the upper tier in the ACC.

It does appear that the Cavs can't challenge much of anyone outside their shiny new John Paul Jones arena. Their only win in games outside Charlottesville came against a division II team. This is a continuation of an abysmal road record, since 2004 the Wahoo's have gone 4-21 in road games. Lucky for Virginia their ACC road schedule isn't brutal with games against Wake Forest, NC State and Miami which should be winnable for teams with Virginia's talent. Based on past history I'm not convinced that Virginia can raise its play enough to win all those games but the schedule does work in their favor this season. Virginia was lucky to get a young Arizona club to start the season and Gonzaga when they clearly had run out of gas. The Arizona win will be a major chip come bubble time but the Gonzaga win will look less impressive as their RPI declines during conference play. Virginia's struggles at home with a terrible NC State team don't inspire much confidence in their abilities either.

While Singletary and Reynolds are both talented they are very streaky shooters and not all that reliable. Both are prone to the occasional 4-12FGA stinker and neither is much more than an adequate defender, but if they get on a hot shooting night they can blow a team away as they did Gonzaga a few nights ago. Singletary is a great player but as a point guard he doesn't really make those around him better. He gets too infatuated with his own dribbling from time to time and forces shots when his team is struggling. With their weak post game Virginia is not much more than a drive-and-kick jump shooting offense, which means that when they are not hitting their shots they can't beat any decent opponent. If Leitao can squeeze just a little more out of forwards Jason Cain and Adrian Joseph then Virginia might be able to sneak into the NCAAs. The losses to Utah and Appalachian State have really put his team in a bad position and probably require them to go 9-7 or better in ACC play. They might be able to do that with their favorable schedule.

Key wins: Arizona, Gonzaga

Bad losses: Utah, Appalachian State

Prediction 8-8 6th place

Thursday, January 04, 2007

What We've Learned: Boston College

Which is the real Boston College? The team that beat Maryland and Michigan State or the team that lost to Vermont and Duquesne, both at home? It appears that the Eagle's margin of error is very thin with the modest talent that they have on the roster, which is the reason why they can lose to just about any team with a few players missing. Jared Dudley is a player of the year candidate in the ACC but like Julius Hodge a few years ago he plays at a position that makes it difficult for him to elevate his largely mediocre teammates. Tyrese Rice and Sean Marshall are both streaky shooters but not very dangerous unless they sink their first few shots. Center Sean Williams is the X-factor for BC this season. If he can continue to improve he could be the best balance of defense and offense of any front court player in the league. Al Skinner's style may just enable BC to get away with the thin bench but my guess is that they will fade down the stretch. The Eagles face a brutal second half schedule with four road games bookended around home dates with Duke and North Carolina.

Key wins: Michigan State

Bad losses: Vermont, Duquesne

Prediction: 10-6 4th place

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

What We've Learned: Miami

The Hurricanes may be the worst team in the ACC right now. With losses to Buffalo, Cleveland State, Northwestern and Binghamton they have probably already played their way out of NIT consideration and have by far the worst record in the ACC at the moment. Frank Haith seemed to have some talent at Miami and was on the cusp of perhaps elevating the Miami program beyond also ran status. Guillermo Diaz and Robert Hite left and took 33 points per game in scoring leaving Miami with little scoring punch and the same porous defense that sank them in many games last season. Hurricane fans will now be getting their lesson in how difficult it is to sustain success in the ACC. Transfer Jack McClinton is a gunner who has some ability to penetrate off the dribble but offers little else. Denis Clemente and Anthony King should be better than they are but are barely average ACC players. This is a terrible team but may surprise a few opponents if McClinton gets hot.

Key Wins: None

Bad Losses: Buffalo, Cleveland State, Binghamton, Louisville, Etc. etc.

Prediction 4-12 12th place

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

What We've Learned: Duke

The last few seasons may have been among Mike Krzyzewski's best coaching jobs since his early years at Duke. He did have some excellent players in Sheldon Williams and JJ Redick, both four year players, but the rest of his team was largely a patchwork of fairly mediocre players. He had no bench for much of the last two seasons yet still managed to win 30 games last year and yet another ACC championship. The 2006-7 Duke team will pose even greater challenges to the official coach of the ESPN family of networks.

Maryland fans learned a painful lesson about the value of a sane and effective point guard, or lack there of, the last three seasons. Duke point Greg Paulus looks much more ordinary without All-Americans like Redick and Williams on the court with him. He has played better as of late and perhaps his injury problems accounted for some of his poor play, but he was so badly outplayed at times it has to give even the Cameron Crazies some trepidation. Most of Paulus' drive-and-kick game is gone except against defenders who are even slower than him, which are few these days, but he is a decent shooter from 3-point range. Duke is so short on ball handlers that Krzyzewski has resorted to Josh McRoberts bringing the ball up court in close games. McRoberts is a phenomenal ball handler for a 6-10 forward but it is more out of necessity than preference that Krzyzewski has him handling the ball. McRoberts has yet to establish himself as the interior presence that the Blue Devils need. If he continues to float outside the lane Duke will be entirely too one dimensional once ACC play starts. Demarcus Nelson is healthy, at least until his foot problems act up again, and gives Duke the only slasher from the perimeter. Shooting guard Jon Scheyer and Paulus need to improve their shooting inside the 3 point line for Duke to have a balanced offensive attack.

Freshmen guard Gerald Henderson and forward Lance Thomas will be the critical elements if Duke is to really challenge for anything this season. Forget their lofty ranking, Duke isn't a top tier team at this point in the season. If those two freshmen can become reliable contributors off the bench then Duke may just be able to challenge North Carolina for ACC supremacy. Both have the talent to be major forces off the bench which has been lacking for Duke in the last few seasons.

As with the last few seasons athletic and aggressive teams will give Duke trouble, however there are few coaches in the ACC who have the ability and talent to counter Krzyzewski's strategies to minimize those deficiencies. Despite their deficiencies the Dukies just continue to win and have already notched some impressive out of conference wins. No team in the ACC is as sound in fundamentals as this Blue Devils squad and they will not give away games to inferior opponents often. That will be good enough for a second place ACC finish this season.

Key Wins: Gonzaga, Georgetown, Air Force

Bad Losses: None

Prediction: 11-5 2nd place