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.

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