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

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