Monday, October 29, 2007

Injuries crumble resolve

The Terps got pummeled at home by Clemson on Saturday. I'll have to watch the game on DVR for a more detailed explanation of how it turned into a 30-17 drubbing. It is clear that injuries have devastated this team. The offense is a hollow shell and can't really do anything well at this point while the defense has played better but can't be counted to make the plays to keep the game competitive. It is clear the offensive line is a shambles with walk-ons now playing in critical moments. True freshman Bruce Campbell has a chance to be very good at tackle but even he had to go out with an injury. He was able to return after the already injured Scott Burley took his place.

I probably sound like a broken record but it is another reminder of the recruiting miscues by Ralph Friedgen. Yes, the injuries have been as bad as I can remember in recent times, but every team has injuries at this point. Virginia came in here last week without their starting running back and had a kid come off the bench and post 200+ yards of offense. It isn't just injuries to Andrew Crummey and Jamie Thomas that are killing this team. Let's review. Two linemen flunked off the team in the off season, Jared Gaither and Brandon Nixon. Guard Donnie Woods would have been very useful right now but decided he'd rather walk away than use his last year of eligibility. A player who gives up his eligibility without serious injury issues is very rare. What made Woods, a likely starter, decide it wasn't worth it? Friedgen went into this season on a wing and a prayer and now this team is in a death spiral. There was no real backup plan if there were injuries to the starters. He has recruited more offensive linemen in the 2007 class and this current recruiting season but those players won't contribute for a few more years.

I'm not advocating that Ralph be replaced. I think he needs to make some changes on his staff, starting with hiring an offensive coordinator, but Maryland probably won't find anyone who is better on the open market. He shown enough in his first six seasons to warrant more time to turn things around. We've seen the last few years that Fridge is a good, but not great coach. He has his flaws just like most coaches in college football and his teams are prone to inconsistency from year to year. I can't imagine he is the easiest guy to get along with especially when things are not going well. That probably had a lot to do with the departures of Gary Blackney and Charlie Taffee. Since then things have not gone so smoothly and the defense, which used to be the bedrock of this program, has deteriorated.

Did you see that NC State opened their offense up and beat Virginia on Saturday? Tom O'Brien of all people had the daring to have quarterback Daniel Evans air it out 46 times against the Wahoos. He was sacked three times and threw a pick but he also tossed three touchdowns and piled up 347 yards against a vulnerable secondary. Ralph, your season is going down the tubes so you have nothing else to lose at this point. Maryland will need to throw the ball if it is going to have a hope of winning two more games and getting to a bowl.

Scrimmage Report II

The second and final public scrimmage for Maryland took place on Saturday and you could certainly tell from Gary Williams' demeanor that the season is rapidly approaching. This scrimmage was more intense than the the one a week ago and the coach was back to his normal feisty self. He told sophomore Landon Milbourne he would find his way to the bench if he did "that" again after he gambled on a steal and gave up an easy basket. He told Bambale Osby and James Gist that they were good but not good enough to try the ally op dunk that didn't work. On another offensive play he proclaimed after it failed, "There was nothing there. PERIOD!"

All in all it was a good performance by the coach. The fans had a few chuckles and the new players got a sense of how intense you have to focus to play well at the collegiate level. Dino Gregory and Shane Walker were both benched at various times to make that point.

The starting five is probably pretty well set at this point. Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes are really working together nicely and the pair had 27 and 15 points respectively in the scrimmage. Vasquez scored in almost every way, slashing to the baskets, big 3-point shots on the perimeter, steals off the press, foul shots. If he adds a consistent perimeter game this season he will be very hard to shut down. He still plays a little loosey goosey with the ball at times and is too enamored with his no look passes but that is the trade off you have to live with. He is playing at an All-ACC level right now. Hayes has improved his production on offense and certainly has a respectable outside shot. Between Hayes, Gist, Milbourne and an improving Vasquez the fear of Maryland's perimeter woes are a little overblown. This may not be a deadly perimeter team but they will be able to keep defenses honest.

James Gist and Bambale Osby mirrored each other with 15 points and 13 rebounds each. Gist found some time at small forward again and we may see more of that in the early part of the schedule. He is already one of the best perimeter shooters on the team and if Milbourne struggles Williams may use his backcourt depth to shift Gist to the three spot. Osby had himself a nice scrimmage with a couple of classic rejections of Milbourne and Braxton Dupree. He may not be lanky and tall but Boom can play some defense. On offense he just cleans up in the lane and is normally in the right place for an easy assist when one of the guards drives the lane. He forced Braxton Dupree into a terrible shooting performance and also drew a number of offensive fouls by the freshman.

Dupree will be a very good player for the Terps but no one should expect him to unseat Osby as the starter this season. There were a number of times he put himself in a prime position to score under the basket but could not convert. He has soft hands but needs to find a better touch around the basket. He was working on a little hook shot that could be devastating if he learns how to finish with it.

Milbourne struggled to assert himself during the scrimmage. He needs to develop some confidence in his ability. Maryland will need decent production out of him this season. He has the physical tools but his focus sometimes lapses. As Gary Williams suggested he hasn't fully made the transition to a wing player after being more of a power forward for most of his high school career. I think it may be a little rocky for Milbourne early in the year but fans should have patience. He has the skills to be very good with some experience.

Most freshmen have up and down moments as they learn the speed of the collegiate game and the new offensive and defensive sets. Shane Walker wowed everyone in the first scrimmage and has come back to earth a little bit. He still looks to be a factor in the rotation off the bench but he is struggling with assignments and decision making. Dupree had a dreadful scrimmage but has some tantalizing ability. Once he gets himself in the low block he will be very difficult to stop. Adrian Bowie is probably ahead of all the other freshmen in terms of playing time. He is a good ball handler and is very good at slashing to the basket. His court vision needs to improve as he is in a slightly different role at Maryland than the one he played in high school. He'll have to look for his teammates more as there were numerous times he missed Dupree in the low post. His entry passes need some work.

Cliff Tucker seems to be coming along nicely. He was asked to guard Vasquez which was a tough assignment for him. On offense he seems to have a better grasp of the sets than he did only last week. He is getting a better sense of the speed of the game and where he needs to be on both ends of the floor. As he is putting most of his effort into figuring out where he needs to go his offense isn't as advanced but that will come.

Dino Gregory wasn't much of a factor as he experienced some freshman growing pains. Like the rest of this class there will be times he will impress you and other times have you shaking your head. He may not be a factor this season but he has good potential.

It isn't clear what Jerome Burney's roll will be yet. He needs some work on his offensive game but his rebounding and defense are coming along nicely. It would be preferable if Burney could cultivate a decent offensive repertoire so that there would not be a large drop off on the offensive end when he comes in the game. He is very active and a hard worker so we'll have to hope Keith Booth can work with him.

There isn't much need to worry about some of the sloppy play or defensive lapses at the moment. With so many new players and the mix and match style of play at these intrasquad scrimmages there is going to be more turnovers and blown assignments as everyone gets a feel for each other. The defense will come around in the next couple of weeks and when the starters were on the floor at the start of the second period things ran pretty smoothly on offense.

Maryland has a intersquad scrimmage versus Temple coming up and then the only exhibition game of the season on November 7. The season is almost here with the first game against North Florida only two weeks away.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Steffy healing, Navy comes around

Quarterback Jordan Steffy has been cleared to practice again and you can expect to see him this weekend against Clemson. With the offense struggling badly I wouldn't be surprised if Friedgen made another switch at QB even though he has stuck with inconsistent quarterbacks in the past. The increased concussion risk has put Steffy's career in serious jeopardy and with the way the offensive line is crumbling I wouldn't put much faith in him finishing out the season. Until the playcalling starts improving it doesn't much matter who is under center for the Terps.

The latest victim of injury for Maryland was DE Mack Frost. He injured his knee in the Virginia game and will miss the rest of the season. With Barrod Heggs flunking off the team and Frost now lost for the year the defense has no real pass rush ability from its defensive ends. That is really bad news because all five of Maryland's remaining opponents place among the top six in passing yards in the ACC. The next three opponents also rank 1 through 3 in passing efficiency in the league.

Navy and Maryland agreed to play another game in Baltimore in 2010. Navy AD Chet Gladchuck finally got over his hissy fit that Maryland decided to play in a more prestigious bowl game instead of playing Navy in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. The game will be played in the Baltimore Raven's stadium and will likely generate $1.4 million for each school. We all know it was that big payday that got these two sides together considering this game could produce anywhere from 10-15% of each football program's revenue for that season. It will be a good game for the state of Maryland and for the fans of both teams.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Scrimmage Report I

I had a chance to take in the first scrimmage of the basketball team on Saturday and came away impressed. This group has the potential to be one of the deepest teams that Gary Williams has had in a number of years. The returning veteran players also showed marked improvement over last season. It was clear that Greivis Vasquez and James Gist benefited from their international play over the summer. The pair were the best players on the floor by a wide margin and displayed a swagger in their play that you want in players that hold the fortunes of their team on their shoulders.

Gist didn't disappoint in his first public appearance since the Pan Am games over the summer. He finished with 23 points while playing a number of positions including small forward. He showed a wide variety of scoring moves with a slew of dunks, fade away jumpers in the lane, intermediate jumpers and 3-pointers. Many preseason magazines will claim that Brandon Costner of NC State is the most versatile big man in the ACC, but he doesn't nearly have the skill set of Gist. He looked confident and ready to take the mantle of leadership this year.

Greivis Vasquez didn't look like he missed a beat since Maryland season ended against Butler. He was the same swashbuckling and dynamic leader on the court that he was in March, all be it more mature and confident (if that is possible) with a summer of experience. It was almost as if last season Vasquez was too fearless to be concerned about how he would measure up in the fabled ACC and so he played with an abandon that sometimes rose to greatness. Vasquez showed the same court leadership and fiery demeanor that he showed last season during the scrimmage. His outside shooting still needs a little work and after the second 20 minute session ended, while others were talking with family and friends, he was on the court shooting 3-point shots. He will sometimes get too confident and force some passes that he shouldn't. There isn't much else to be critical about at this point. He caused havoc on the defense with his dribble penetrations and assists. He is equally adept at finishing and passing so he forces the defense to play both possibilities. He and Gist are two players that can really put pressure on defenses, something that none of the seniors were consistently capable of doing.

The other starters looked solid with Eric Hayes, Landon Milbourne and Bambale Osby all having nice moments. Hayes did what he normally does: he handled the ball well, distributed it to his teammates and knocked down the few shots he took. I think his defense has improved slightly and he is physically a little bigger than he was last year which will help when he goes in the lane. He doesn't shy away from mixing it up down low in the trees so that extra weight will help him finish. He and Vasquez have further developed their already good chemistry.

Landon Milbourne has tantalizing talent at small forward. He does athletic moves that will leave you gasping but also has a tendency to disappear in games. Early in the scrimmage he struggled but then came on strong in the 2nd period when the starters matched up with the bench. At times he was also matched up on defense against James Gist. It was a tough assignment but Milbourne held up better than you would have expected. Milbourne has some impressive potential on offense but he needs to start becoming more aggressive on offense instead of sitting back and letting the game come to him.

Bambale Osby is solidifying his hold on a starting position. He is still more of a scrapper and hustle guy. His physical talents, linebackeresque physique aside, won't wow any observers. He does all the dirty work down low and let's James Gist and others make the highlight reel. He may be a tad too short, a tad too slow and a tad too low in his vertical but his bulldog mentality makes up for some athletic shortcomings. He's been trying more face up jump shots which he can make but are probably not his strength. His lack of vertical extension on his jumper and shorter arms make it too easy to block, however if he picks his spots it may be effective. Most of his work should be within eight feet of the basket. Right now he is not being threatened by freshman Braxton Dupree.

Dupree will probably have a great career at Maryland but I think his time is not now. He has much more potential than Osby but isn't as polished. He is a space eater who can grab rebounds but needs a great deal of work in his touch around the basket. The truly great physical post players with Dupree's body type like Lonny Baxter, Sean May and Tyler Hansbrough all had great touch. He has good hands so it is likely that his feel around the rim will improve. He will get better but unless there is an injury or Osby implodes he isn't going to be a starter this season.

Adrian Bowie seems to have the inside track at being the first guard off the bench. Vasquez and Hayes will see lots of minutes but Maryland also needs a backcourt rotation. Bowie is a good ball handler and excellent slasher in transition. His shooting range isn't great but as a backup point guard he will be adequate this season. He has a quiet confidence that you like to see in freshmen. He is physical and solid for his height and defensively he can get up under taller guards and give them trouble. He could develop into a Johnny Rhodes kind of player for this Maryland team.

Shane Walker was seen as a throw in "project" for this club. His former high school coach was current Maryland assistant Chuck Driesell when he played at Ireton. A rangy 6-10 freshman, Walker is thin but not as painfully skinny as Ekene Ibekwe when he came to College Park. He has an excellent shooting touch for a big man with legitimate 3-point ability. He has long arms and will excel as a shot blocker because he possess a good feel for timing and tends to stay on his feet till the opponent commits to a shot. He may work his way into the rotation sooner than people think. He's not ready to carry a heavy load, as he needs some time in the dining hall and weight room to survive the rigors of ACC play, but he will be a contributor and valuable defensive specialist. The the end of the game his shot blocking and good shooting will be valuable.

Dino Gregory is a kid who won't get much notice but will play a great roll behind the scenes in practice. He's tough competitor who knows how to win, his high school team's record was 123-19 during his time there. He is active on defense and rebounding and seems to have a good grasp of positioning. He is a pretty good shooter inside 15 feet and can do some damage with his jump shot.

I think Cliff Tucker will also find a roll coming off the bench for this team. He is tall and lean with good ball skills and has a tough football born attitude. The level of play he saw in El Paso is many levels below what he is preparing for now and you can see he is overwhelmed by the speed of the college game at times. Once he gets his feet wet and his instincts get honed he'll be a valuable bench player.

I was a little disappointed with Jerome Burney. I thought he would be better prepared than many of the freshmen with his extra year of practice. He as a little too timid at first but then showed a few nice moves on offense towards the end, including a sweet little half hook in the lane. He needs to play with a little more confidence and let his physical ability speak for itself. It is almost like he's holding himself back. In the second scrimmage he grabbed 11 rebounds so maybe he is learning.

Overall the scrimmage was a little sloppy at first then got much better in the second period. Part of that was the defense. This group has the potential to be even better on defense than last year's squad that was one of the best in the nation. Players 6 through 10 are so much better as a group than the 2006 bench it isn't even a fair comparison. The depth on this team may be as good as it has been in years. Almost all of them are decent defenders and rebounders so that is an upgrade from the start. When the starters blitzed the freshmen to start the second period, partly due to a smothering press, they didn't give up and actually came back to win the half. After some recruiting miscues from 2003-5 the bench is in very good shape and will allow Gary Williams much more flexibility. He'll be able to scheme better than last season and throw out waves of players to wear out the opponents.

Notables who attended: 2008 recruits Sean Mosley and Gus Gilchrist, Maryland color commentator Chris Knoche, Walt Williams and local hoop tournament legend Charlie Weber.

Boom tries a turnaround jumper in the lane as Jerome Burney elevates for the block.

Greivis Vasquez, sporting some sweet red shoes, practices his jumper.

Dino Gregory shooting free throws during a break as Sean Mosley and Gus Gilchrist look on from the stands.

It's raining basketballs.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Gist is a leader

James Gist is finally taking ownership of the basketball team. It is now or never for this senior and I don't see him going out like Chris McCray or Ekene Ibekwe. Gist says in the Washington Post that there was no senior leadership on the teams during his first two seasons in College Park. The first was the John Gilchrist meltdown season and the second the Chris McCray flunk out year, both seasons ended in the NIT. Gist is engaging the young players and making sure that everyone on the team remains focused. It is a great sign of maturity. Gist is also getting Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Bambale Osby to show more leadership.

Gist also admitted that Maryland relaxed against Butler in the NCAA tournament loss that ended the season in March. He confirmed that both he and Ekene Ibekwe were looking ahead to a matchup with defending champion Florida.

The senior promised to make sure the team stayed focused and that the players will be more close knit this coming season. The players and coaches have stated the chemistry on this team is excellent. Hopefully that will translate into wins.

Let's hope this one turns out better

It is getting close to Halloween so I hope I don't scare the living shit out of you if I say a Gilchrist will arrive in College Park soon. No not that Gilchrist. This is a 6-10 235lbs PF/C from Clinton, Maryland named Augustus Gilchrist who just gave a verbal commitment to the Terps. Gilchrist can enroll at Maryland by January but will probably spend this year as a red shirt and practice with the team. I saw Gilchrist at the basketball scrimmage on Saturday along with 2008 commit Sean Mosley. Gilchrist even got onto the court briefly after the game was over and pretended to finger roll an imaginary ball into the hoop. At that point everyone's recruit sense should have been tingling.

Just considering the talent of Gilchrist this is big get for Gary Williams. At 6-10 Gilchrist can run the floor very well and has a decent jump shot. He is not a "project" by any means and should complement Braxton Dupree very well in the low post. A season of practice with the current squad will be invaluable for Gilchrist and may make the departure of James Gist and Bambale Osby a little easier to take next season. Gilchrist is equally adept at scoring in the post, shooting from intermediate range or driving to the basket. That would explain why he is nationally ranked by a number of recruiting services: 55th by Rivals, 47th by Rob Harrington in USA Today and was ranked 55th by Scout in 2007. He should be ready to contribute right away next season.

The less attractive side is that Gilchrist was originally committed to Virginia Tech before backing out of his letter of intent after the tragic shooting incident this spring. Gilchrist was a less heralded recruit when he signed with the Hokies, apparently Maryland had not even offered him at the time, but his stock rose when he played elite prospects like Patrick Patterson well in an AAU tournament and was named MVP of the Capital Classic after scoring 24 points. It seems clear that Gilchrist concluded he could play at a higher level program than Virginia Tech. I don't have a major problem with that as kids change their minds, see Terrence Jennings and Jeff Jones. I did find it dishonorable that Gilchrist alluded to the shootings as part of his reason. To use that as a pretext was not acceptable.

Georgetown was very interested in Gilchrist and he even attended their midnight madness celebration. When they got a commitment from a top rated recruit in Greg Monroe Georgetown didn't have any more room for him. So in a sense this was more about Gilchrist finding a chair after the music stopped. He also bounced around a few prep schools and even did some home schooling at one point. Let's hope his transcript doesn't resemble the Salamander Letter. I'm not poo pooing this commitment, it could work out very well for the Terps. At the same time there are some warning flags to be wary about with Gilchrist. Perhaps he just made an honest mistake and is now trying to find the best situation for himself. In fairness there has been real turmoil in the Hokie basketball program the last few years as large number of players have either quit the team or transferred which may have made Gilchrist think twice. The way Virginia Tech handled the transfer of Nigel Munson will haunt them for years in the Washington area. It may be a big reason why Seth Greenberg hasn't been able to establish any traction in a loaded Washington area 2009 class.

One thing you can put to rest is rumors or accusations floating around that there was something unethical about this commitment. Anyone who knows his ass from his elbow knows that Gary Williams doesn't deal with "handlers" or anyone looking for a deal. Gilchrist signed with Maryland because he thought it would be advantageous for him, not because Williams tampered with another school's recruit. I don't expect Gilchrist will receive a warm welcome at Blacksburg based on what he did vis a vis his commitment but the suggestions that Maryland is doing something underhanded in this recruitment are absurd.

That gives Maryland a nice 2008 class of Sean Mosley and Gus Gilchrist. Maryland needed a big man in 2008 and it seems Gilchrist will fit that bill. Let's hope he turns out better than the last Gilchrist.

Homecoming Heartbreak

We've seen this movie before. The Terps get out to a comfortable lead, the offensive playcalling gets timid, the opponent gains momentum and the defense ends up falling apart at a critical moment. It happened again on Saturday against Virginia, who may not be a great team but knows how to win in close games. The Terps still don't. It seems Maryland blew all of its luck last season when they were winning almost every close game they played. The law of averages seems to have caught up with Ralph Friedgen's team.

I'm not sure when Fridge will finally accept that this group is not a power running team. Clinging to a 14-10 lead Maryland still went with a 60/40 run to pass ratio. It wasn't as if Maryland was having great success running the ball anyway as they finished the game with 148 yards on 36 carries for a 4.1 yard average (I excluded sack yards). That isn't an impressive average in the college game and certainly nothing that you can ride to victory. Neither Keon Lattimore or Lance Ball, who had killed Virginia in past games, were very effective in the second half. The two combined for 34 yards on 12 carries for a 2.8 yard average after halftime, yet Maryland doggedly stuck with run heavy playcalling. In fairness to Friedgen Maryland's pass protection had to scare the daylights out of him and with the loss of guard Jamie Thomas (broken leg) the line really has become patchwork.

Still, why not try some short or intermediate routes? Screens or delays to the running backs may have been effective and there should have been more quick hitting plays up the middle. Make the Virginia pass rush back off by pulling some screens or reverses. The offense simply had no imagination nor did it take any chances. On the first two scoring drives Maryland had great field position but in the second half the average field position was Maryland's own 14 yard line. Right now this offense doesn't have the ability to drive 80 yards for a touchdown, they lack the consistency to string out a long drive like that.

You could sense that the tide was turning before Virginia scored a touchdown in the 2nd quarter to pull within 4 points at the half. Once Chris Long sacked Turner in the end zone for a safety you had to think Virginia was going to march down the field and score. The coaching staff didn't act like they appreciated the precarious situation at that point in the game. The attitude seemed to be that they had the lead and were interested in just draining the clock out. Not that they accomplished that either.

The defense regressed badly in this game. They nearly gave up a game winning field goal the game before against Georgia Tech, and save for a holding penalty the Yellow Jackets probably win that game. This isn't a good defense. The scheme is predictable and not suited for the personnel that Maryland has at the moment. It is a reactive instead of aggressive defense. With undersized and mobile players you should want to get up the field and attack the offense. Virginia didn't do anything special in this game. They ran the same running play between the tackles probably a half dozen times, including the game winning drive. Maryland's defense had no answer and more to the point the staff didn't make any adjustments. Erin Henderson had 18 tackles but you could clearly see he was not healthy and his effectiveness was limited. Senior Dre Moore did play well with 2 sacks and 10 tackles but the rest of his line mates are not much better than average.

It wasn't just the last drive either. Virginia ended 8 out of 11 drives in Maryland territory. If Virginia's kicker had not missed a 32 yard chip shot they would have scored on three of their first six drives. I don't think Maryland got screwed by the officials on the final drive. If the calls had gone their way it would have been more accurate to say that Maryland got bailed out by those calls. Bad teams find a way to lose these kinds of games and, as in the Wake Forest game, Maryland found a way to lose.

Virginia really was the only power running team on the field. They ground out Maryland's smaller defensive line to the tune of almost six yards a carry when you remove the sack yardage. They nearly totaled 200 yards on the ground but also totaled 248 yards passing for a very balanced attack. It seems like Jameel Sewell should be better than he is when you consider his physical tools but he plays just well enough to win. Al Groh was confident enough to put the game in Sewell's hands and had him throw the ball 35 times even though the run game was working. To be blunt Groh had the courage to take some chances and Friedgen didn't. It has usually been the other way around when these two have coached against each other. Neither Sewell nor Turner had any interceptions or fumbles but a major difference was that Virginia trusted Sewell enough to put the game in his hands.

Running back Mikell Simpson was a revelation. He posted a complete game of 271 total yards and had over a hundred rushing and receiving. Maryland's offense had less total yards as a team. He sliced and diced Maryland's defense while Chris Cosh couldn't figure out a scheme that could stop him. It isn't even as if Virginia has a dynamic receiver corps to balance out their attack. Maryland may have a two headed running attack but neither back has that kind of flexibility or big play potential Simpson showed.

Chris Cosh should be on the hot seat right now. The defense must improve significantly if Maryland is going to qualify for a bowl game. He continues to get out coached by opposing offensive coordinators and doesn't make effective adjustments during the game. Not that the offense is off the hook. Ralph needs to give up the coordinator duties this off season and get a coach calling plays that he trusts. He is reminding me more and more of a timid Joe Gibbs in this role as head coach and coordinator. Even offensive coaches like Brian Billick, Mike Martz and Mike Holmgren struggled when they were wearing two hats.

It was most disappointing that Maryland was coming off a bye week while Virginia had squeaked out a last second victory against Connecticut the week before. It was a tailor made scenario for a big Maryland win yet the team came out flat. Does this Terrapin squad have the commitment level required to win? Do they have the fire in their bellies? It remains to be seen.

Injury Report
Guard Jamie Thomas is probably lost for the season with a broken leg. It was very similar to Andrew Crummey's injury a few weeks ago. This places the offensive line play past the critical point. Phil Costa and Jack Griffin filled in at the guard positions. I'm sure some readers are sick of my harping on this point but the lack of any depth at offensive line continues to hamper this team. It doesn't matter how many good skill position players you have if your line can't open holes or protect the quarterback.

Fullback Cory Jackson broke his hand. It is unknown how much time he will miss.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Queens Game

Great piece in the Washington Times by Dick Heller regarding a Maryland football game in 1957 that Queen Elizabeth II attended. Maryland beat No. 6 North Carolina that day along with the Tarheel's coach Jim Tatum. The same Tatum who lead Maryland to its national title in 1953. Many of the players were more enthused about beating their former coach than about the visit of the Queen. I would guess that Byrd is probably the only college football stadium to ever host a member of the British Royal family for a game. A fantastic story of Maryland lore. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


If it wasn't for the sterling freshman campaign of Greivis Vasquez most Maryland fans would be excitedly speculating on what Eric Hayes was going to do in his sophomore season. After watching the early scrimmage last year I figured that Vasquez would replace Hayes at some point but not because Hayes wasn't ready to play in the ACC. In many respects Hayes comported himself very well in league play but it was obvious Vasquez had a play making ability that was superior.

Hayes' 132 assists was good enough for 5th best all time by a freshman and had he not split time with Vasquez he may have been able to get close to Steve Blake's record of 217. He provided the stability and (mostly) good decision making that Maryland was missing the year before at the point position. In the half court and on the fast break Hayes makes very good decisions and has a good feel for timing on his passes. He puts the ball in a position where the recipient can do something with the ball at the right moment. Hayes is not the fastest player and he doesn't have a great ability to dribble penetrate at this point. This contributes to the fact that Hayes, who is a fantastic free throw shooting, doesn't get to the free throw line nearly often enough. According to Ken Pomeroy Hayes' 26.0 rate of getting to the foul line was the second worst on the team behind only Mike Jones, who couldn't get fouled if he had his own whistle. It is an area that Hayes needs to improve dramatically this coming season. Here is a comparison of returning point guards in the ACC:

Assist RateTurnover RateOffensive RatingeFG%Free Throw Rate
Eric Hayes26.033.699.250.426.0
Ty Lawson34.521.4116.055.538.7
Tyrese Rice30.720.9113.553.147.0
Sean Singletary30.118.5114.949.351.3
Greg Paulus23.527.1105.757.528.4

The table makes it clear that Hayes has some significant room for improvement on offense as compared to other point guards in the ACC. He will be asked to score more this season but scoring isn't what Hayes is best at doing. As you can see from his eFG% he has the shooting ability to put up some points but needs to get better at using his opportunities. It remains to be seen if just shooting more often will help Hayes' production. The other noteworthy concern is his turnover rate which is much higher than Gary Williams can live with.

After starting the first eleven games of the season at the point Hayes made way for Vasquez for the rest of the season. Hayes still averaged 24 minutes in ACC play, which is more than he averaged in out of conference while starting, and lead the team in assists on six occasions even if his role decreased slightly. As you can see in the table below most of his numbers didn't drop significantly once ACC play started and he may have been one of the best reserve point guards in the league.

Non Conference7.862.57.44.645.8

As you can see his scoring went up in ACC play even as his effective field goal percentage dropped dramatically. Part of that was he took more shots in league play(about +20) and so his percentage declined somewhat. He was facing better defenses and you would expect that he would have more difficulty getting off his shot as he is more of a spot up jump shooter at this point in his career. I think Hayes ran out of gas right at the end of the season as evidenced by his fairly dreadful postseason performances. In his last three games Hayes only made one field goal and saw his playing time decrease in every game. He also scored just 10 points in the last 6 games of the season. Clearly the theme here is scoring. Hayes' decision making ability is very good and his defense is adequate enough to get by with but he'll need to get his scoring way up this season. Maryland is losing about 30 points per game on the wing and between Hayes and Landon Milbourne the Terps will need both to replace much of that production. Hayes percentage of shots while on the floor was a pitiful 11.1% which was even below Will Bowers (13.0%) last season.

Another area of improvement for Hayes is his defensive rebounding. You don't want your guards acting like forwards but it is very helpful to have your guards playing weakside defense and grabbing defensive rebounds. It helps to start the transition game to have your guards get the ball without the need for an outlet pass and contributes to reducing the opponents offensive rebounds. The one weakness of last year's defense was a high offensive rebound rate for opponents which at 35.9 was ranked 10th in the ACC and 277th nationally.

There is still much to be pleased with starting with the fact that his turnovers decreased significantly in ACC play, which isn't what you'd expect against better athletes. The high turnover in the first table is the result of some sloppy out of conference play. In just the Fordham, Hampton and Mount St. Mary's games Hayes turned the ball over 16 times but then only had more than 3 turnovers twice in the next 20 games. His 39% 3-point shooting may not impress anyone but it isn't a bad starting point for improvement and a number of those were desperation shots at the end of games. He took few enough that a couple of those kinds of shots can mean the difference between 39% and a impressive 42%. I think his 45% shooting in the early season is probably closer to his true shooting ability. He also showed flashes that he may be a clutch shooter as his 3-point shot over Virginia's Sean Singletary in the closing seconds of Maryland's 69-65 loss demonstrated.

I don't see a traditional point and shooting guard role for Hayes and Greivis Vasquez. The two will probably play a little of both positions while they are on the floor. The good thing is that Vasquez and Hayes compliment each other very well with a slashing versus jump shooting style. That is not to say that Hayes cannot dribble penetrate but Vasquez is a superior finisher. Overall they will be an excellent backcourt combination and probably the best ball handling duo in the ACC.

Dino and Braxton

Here is a little blurb in the Examiner about Maryland freshmen Dino Gregory and Braxton Dupree. The Baltimoreans have known each other for many years and played on rival teams in the Catholic league. They will be roommates at Maryland. Both have already figured out that hard work in practice and a commitment to defense will help them see playing time.

I read this article in the Diamondback about the armored car that the University police have sitting in a garage. The article suggests the police could use it to diffuse a riot by the anarchist elements in the student body or to assist the police in a response to a campus shooting spree like at Virginia Tech. I could help but think about the line in Die Hard where the terrorist says, "Wait a minute. What have we here, gentlemen? The police have themselves an RV."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

News and Notes

Football Injuries

The news on linebacker Erin Henderson isn't too good. His status for Saturday's game against Virginia is likely a game time decision. It seems his knee hasn't responded during the bye week as was hoped.

Linebacker Rick Costa and QB Jordan Steffy are still out with concussion related injuries. Steffy has not been cleared to practice yet.

The offensive line is shuffling around as usual. Once again this team has no depth on the offensive line, which has been a ongoing problem the last three seasons. Freshmen Bruce Campbell and Lamar Young are getting prep work in practice in case there are further injuries to the starters.

Roundball News

Maryland plays Charlotte this season and the job of their head coach, Bobby Lutz, may be on the line. After last season Lutz was invited to explore his options with other programs but eventually turned down a job offer from South Alabama to stay with Charlotte. Not that I blame him. He did haul in a consensus top 20 recruiting class with a number of Juco players and transfers. They better contribute right away because things sound pretty desperate and former Maryland assistant Rob Moxley who left to go back to Charlotte may also be out of a job. The Niners are picked in the middle of the A-10 this season.

Maryland will hold three scrimmages this season, two open to the public, so fans will get a great opportunity to see some of these young players in action. I'll be there scouting both the scrimmages before the Virginia and Clemson football games. Check the Maryland website for tip off times.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lowering the Boom

The other bookend to the 2007 frontcourt will probably be senior Bambale Osby. The junior college transfer surprised most Maryland fans by becoming a solid contributor off the bench and was instrumental in wins over Illinois and North Carolina. He will be asked to replace Ekene Ibekwe who departed as a three year starter with over 1,000 career points and 700 rebounds. Will "Boom" be able to do that?

Some fans might think that freshman Braxton Dupree will be starting in place of Osby by January. I don't put much stock in that prediction. There are two ways that will happen: Osby struggles badly in November and December or if Dupree is shockingly good. I think Dupree will be a fine player at Maryland. You can probably put him down for 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in his career. I don't think he is good enough to come in and start right away, however. He may get significant minutes especially in the early part of the season or if Osby struggles with foul trouble. Keep in mind that Terp great Lonny Baxter didn't start as a freshman until Obinna Ekezie, a good but not great player, tore his Achilles tendon and was lost for the rest of the season. My suspicion is that once league play starts Osby will be starting. The scrimmages over the next few weeks will tell us more, until then lets examine the two main questions regarding Osby: how well did he really play last season and will he be able to produce as a starter?

This is what Osby was able to do last season:

2006 GamesPoints/40minRebounds/40mineFG%
Out of Conference17.711.762.9

That is not a mistake he did average 17.7 points per 40 minutes in both non-conference and ACC games. Usually role players or bench subs have their numbers drop in conference play where the games are more competitive and there is less chance for "garbage" stats. In Osby's case that didn't happen as his production actually went up in rebounding, but it would be impressive if his numbers dropped only slightly let alone stayed the same. His effective field goal percentage dropped significantly as he took more shots once conference play began but it was still a respectable 50%. Some out there might still be skeptical. If you view Boom as only a bench player you might suggest that he wouldn't be able to produce like that if he was given starting minutes. Perhaps, but there are a few stats that contradict that theory. We can try to answer the second question at the same time, can he replace Ekene Ibekwe?

First we'll start off by comparing the two in ACC play:

ACC GamesPoints/40minRebounds/40mineFG%

So adjusting for playing time Osby actually was slightly more productive in ACC play than Ibekwe. Some of you still might be muttering about how Osby was just a role player and you cannot extrapolate his limited minutes like I just did. If that were true then Osby would have a limited role in the offense when he was on the floor and just happened to score when he was give those limited opportunities. The more involved he was on offense the more clearly his deficiencies would be exposed, or so goes the logic, but was that the case?

All GamesOff RatingeFG%% Possessions% of Shots% Minutes Played
James Mays98.248.827.023.770.2
Raymond Sykes106.160.811.68.826.9

In this table I compared Osby and Ibekwe but also included James Mays and Raymond Sykes from Clemson. More on why I included them as an example in a moment. A quick aside as to what those categories mean is warranted. The offensive rating is points per 100 individual possessions, a measure of efficiency. The possession percentage is how often the player ended a possession in some way (by scoring, committing a turnover or missing a shot), which gives an indication of how involved they are in the offense. The shot percentage is a measure of the proportion of shots they took when they were in the game relative to the number of shots the team took as a whole. The percentage of minutes played is what you would expect.

What this shows is that Osby was just as involved in the offense when he was on the floor as Ibekwe. When he was involved he was also more efficient than Ibekwe. If anything it demonstrates that with a poor eFG% and offensive rating that Ibekwe was probably too involved in the offense last season. He tended to suck up possessions (his 23.4% rate was highest on the team) without much benefit (his 96.1 rating was the lowest of any starter). A high possession rate or shot rate doesn't mean a player is good but it does indicate their statistics are a more reliable indicator of their true value. As you can see the Tiger's Raymond Sykes was better than starter James Mays in a number of important categories but it would be wrong to assume he would be a better player with more playing time as his % possession and % shots numbers do not indicate he was very involved in the offense. It is rare that a player can raise those numbers significantly and still produce at a high level year over year.

Osby's numbers suggest that he will be able to increase his playing time and production while keeping his efficiency at the same level. Now his numbers are merely okay, as a 100 offensive rating isn't any great shakes, so I'm in no way suggesting that Osby will play at an all conference level. For example here are some of the better post players in the ACC from last season:

Al Thornton 117.3
Tyler Hansbrough 119.8
Josh McRoberts 108.1
Kyle Visser 113.6

Boom won't be at those levels most likely but he will be a steady contributor. Osby's biggest weakness is his foul shooting which is a miserable 58.7% which is even worse because Osby is good at getting fouled boasting a team high 71.9% rate. (Did you know that even with that bad shooting percentage Osby made more free throws than Mike Jones?) If Osby can improve that shooting just 5% he could raise his scoring average by 2-3 points per game.

Ekene Ibekwe was one of the better shot blockers in the nation and Osby won't be able to replace that intimidating presence in the middle. He is decent but not great defensively and relies more on positioning than shot blocking. The trade off for all those blocked shots with Ibekwe was also a team high 108 fouls and four disqualifications. It is probably a net loss on defense with Osby replacing Ibekwe but not a significant one.

Overall I think Bambale will be able to effectively replace Ibekwe in the low post with little, if any, drop off in production. In some ways his presence will actually benefit the team as Osby is a better passer and has superior shot selection. His presence in the locker room should be mentioned as well. He is well liked and respected on the team. His infections optimism will be helpful when this young team experiences some adversity.

You can read a great story by Patrick Stevens in the Washington Times about Boom.

Terps Land Kim

Junior forward Jin Soo Kim attended the opening festivities for the basketball season on Friday night and liked it so much that he decided to commit to Maryland before going back home. Kim is a small forward prospect at high school powerhouse South Kent School in Connecticut, which regularly places players in high Division I programs like Pitt, Syracuse and Washington. Former Maryland 2009 target SG Maurice Creek, now probably out of the picture since Maryland landed SG Sean Mosley, is also going to attend South Kent. There is some confusion as to how tall Kim is, some sites list him at 6'7"-6'9", and what year he is scheduled to graduate. That is probably an indicator of how little scouting services know about Kim right now since he plays for the Korean national team and doesn't participate in the AAU circuit. His coach, Ralph Chillious, is quoted in this article as saying that if Kim had been on the summer circuit of AAU tournaments that he would be a top 30 player in his class. The fact that Gary Williams offered Kim a scholarship after seeing him on the spot tells me all I need to know. There is still no better coach in college basketball at identifying underrated talent than Gary Williams.

Kim is probably a SF at the college level but could bulk up and play PF as well. He has good shooting range out to the 3-point line but can also score in traffic. He is showing some new found aggressiveness and is asserting himself more which is raising his game to another level. When he is passive his rebounding and defense suffer as with most high school players. Kim is still somewhat of a work in progress but his international experience puts him at a significant advantage to most of the American AAU players. After another year at South Kent Kim may be ready to contribute to the Terps right away. He has a good feel for using screens and making cuts on offense which should be music to Gary Williams' ears. He'll fit well in the flex offense.

In other news former Maryland commit Terrence Jennings has given his verbal to Louisville. Not surprising that is where he ended up after transferring to a Pitino feeder prep school.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Evolution of James

The great work by Ken Pomeroy at the Basketball Prospectus has inspired me to analyze the crucial players for the Terps this basketball season. I'm going to start with perhaps my favorite player on the team and the most crucial to the success of this squad. The physical talents of James Gist have never been in doubt. He is a fantastic shot blocker and is explosive on the offensive side of the ball. When he decides to go strong to the basket there are few players who can stop him without resorting to fouling. He has developed a nice outside shot that few big men his size can match. He is a great leaper but also has a good touch around the basket. His biggest weakness has been his own tendency to defer to teammates too often. Tracking his progress from his freshman year gives us this chart:

YearPoints/40minRebounds/40mineFG%Off Rating

As you can see his progress has been more incremental than some fans would like but he has enjoyed steady progress and a similar improvement this year would make Gist a legitimate All-ACC kind of player. He learned from his Pan Am games experience that he needs to work harder if he is going to really improve. A very good sign for this coming season is that Gist's numbers actually went up in ACC play.

2006 SeasonPoints/40minRebounds/40mineFG%
Out of Conference17.210.853.6
ACC Games19.410.056.2

As you can see it was encouraging that Gist's numbers went up against the superior ACC competition when the weaknesses of most players get exposed. Gist, not Mike Jones, lead the Terrapins in scoring during the ACC schedule last season. It is also worth noting that he scored in double digits in 13 out of his last 14 games in 2006. He is learning how to be the main scorer on the team. Gist is not without weaknesses. He still needs to work on his rebounding as he gets too passive with his interior play sometimes. For a 70%+ free throw shooter he needs to get to the line more often. His lack of ability to draw fouls probably cost him almost two points per game in scoring. His free throw rate, a measure of how often he gets to the free throw line in relation to field goal attempts, was 37.0 according to Ken Pomeroy which puts him at the level of a perimeter player, for comparison Ekene Ibekwe had a 60.2 rate and Bambale Osby had a fantastic 71.9 even though both were inferior foul shooters. Gist also tended to have one very strong half and then go missing for large portions of the rest of the game. Consistency will be the key to his play this season, especially with all of Maryland's young players. The team will need reliable production from a veteran like Gist.

Mike DeCourcy declared he has given up on a breakout year for Gist but he may be getting off the bandwagon right when it is about to take off. I expect Gist will continue to raise his scoring and efficiency numbers this coming season with Ekene Ibekwe not around to suck up possessions.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Basketball Media Day

Some notes from media day for the upcoming basketball season.

A nice article on Greivis Vasquez in the Washington Times by Patrick Stevens. It was mostly about Vasquez's experience over the summer playing in the FIBA games for Venezuela. Apparently Kobe Bryant was very complimentary of Vasquez and said if he continued to work hard he had a future in the NBA. Don't let that worry you, he is no John Gilchrist. He was quoted in the article as saying, "It's not about me or about what's going to happen to me. It is all about Maryland and us winning games."

Coach Gary Williams had some good things to say about his sophomore leader. He lauded Vasquez's ability to focus and motivate himself as well as his dedication going into this season:

He would get himself ready to play. I think that is one of the things I like about him the most. It is like that for games but it is like that for Saturday's practice as well. He just gets excited. He is excited to have the opportunity to play basketball. It is a dream of his to play in the ACC and he hasn't forgotten that. Some guys forget that and he hasn't. What he is going to give us is more scoring this year and more ways to score. I think he picked up quite a bit international experience from last year but he came back here wanting to work. Some guys comes back and say, `Listen, I need a couple weeks off. I just played all summer.' Not him. He came back ready to play.

All good signs for the Terps this fall as Vasquez will be a bell weather for this team. For his part Vasquez knows the fortunes of this team rest heavily on his shoulders,

People are going to find out if I can take the pressure and if I can be the man who really is going to make his team play by making everyone involved and making everyone happy. That's a pretty tough situation.

Williams was also impressed by the resolve of sophomore SF Landon Milbourne to take advantage of the minutes available now that DJ Strawberry has moved on to the NBA.

I gained new respect for Landon last spring where he didn't hang his head at all. Some guys, first thing they do when they don't play a lot as a freshman is they come in and say they are thinking about transferring. When Landon came in, he said, `Coach what can I do? I want to play next year so what can I do?' That is all you ever want. He wants to be given the opportunity to play and I'm looking forward to tomorrow to getting out there with him and see how he fits with the others guys.

Heather Dinich writes about Milbourne in the Baltimore Sun. He is a smart and hard working player who may get much better as the season goes on. Greivis Vasquez for one thinks that Milbourne will have a "breakout year."

The one big advantage that this team seems to enjoy is very good chemistry. That hasn't always been there the last three or four seasons for Williams' squad. The senior leadership of DJ Strawberry will be missed but a group of players like Vasquez, and seniors James Gist and Bambale Osby should be able to step in and create a positive influence on the large freshman class. The lack of that in years past certainly hurt the development of players like Mike Jones and Ekene Ibekwe. There doesn't seem much doubt that the young players on this team will get all the support and mentoring they need from the veteran players. According to Gary Williams:
I am very fortunate and our coaches are very fortunate because we have guys that we want to coach. I have been coaching a long time now and I haven't been able to say that every year; that you have guys that you necessarily look forward to getting onto the floor with everyday. These guys play hard when it comes time to play. The veterans demand that the other players play hard, and that makes my job a lot easier when I don't have to be the person doing that all the time. If the veteran players come out ready to play, then the new guys watch them very carefully and they go along with the program. I am really proud of the way our returning players have handled things so far this fall.
It should be great fun to see all the new faces tonight.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Maryland Madness

Friday kicks off the 2007-8 season for the men's basketball team. Starting around 8pm the festivities for what used to be Midnight Madness will kick off at Comcast Center. It is a little over the top and does have a cheesy carnival atmosphere but it is your first chance to see the large crop of incoming freshmen. It is just a pep rally but a good chance to show your support for the program and impress some of the recruits who will be in attendance that Maryland is a great place to go to school.

You can watch the festivities online for free here.

To set the stage for the upcoming season here is a little look back at the 2006-7 season. You may remember last season I used the Pythagorean method to get the expected wins in league play for all the teams. What this does is give you a more sober guide to what happened last year. How many wins would you expect a team to have based on a statistical analysis of their offense and defense? Did a team overachieve or were they unlucky? This method is used by stat gurus like Dean Oliver. I use offensive and defensive efficiency ratings instead of points scored.

TeamActual WinsExpected Wins
Virginia Tech109.6
Georgia Tech88.4
Wake Forest52.2
NC State52.6

A couple of things jump out at you right away. Virginia, Boston College and Clemson won more often than you would have thought and probably were not as good as their records. That is probably more surprising in Clemson's case considering that people thought their death spiral in league play was an anomaly. Those numbers suggest that it should not have been a shock the Tigers went 7-9 and missed the NCAA tournament.

Duke, UNC and Maryland all probably should have won more games than they did. In Maryland's case I immediately thought of the dreadful loss at home to Miami. It also implies that Duke was not as bad as everyone thought last season with the close losses to Virginia Tech, Virginia and FSU coming to mind. North Carolina underachieved all season and even did so in the NCAA tournament.

For the teams that won very few games the difference between their actual and expected wins probably has less significance. For instance NC State should have only won about three games and yet won five. But it also can help determine that there wasn't much difference between Miami, Wake Forest and NC State at the bottom of the ACC and that the Wolfpack, picked as a top 25 team by many people this year after winning three games in ACC tournament, were indeed as awful as their record indicated.

Ken Pomeroy is now working at the Basketball Prospectus which is just getting into the statistical analysis of college basketball in addition to their baseball flagship. You will be a more informed fan if you read Pomeroy's work as no one is a better analyst of the college game. In his recent preview of the upcoming ACC season he does a very solid analysis of how fans can expect the league to shake out. Forget the almost useless preview magazines and their predictions, Ken's projections are the best in the country.

He has UNC, Duke, Clemson and Maryland as the top four in the conference. NC State, Georgia Tech and Virginia make up likely bubble teams around 0.500 in league play. Miami is a surprising pick to go 7-9 this year with Denis Clemente and Anthony Harris both gone. Virginia Tech and Boston College plummet to 10th and 11th in the ACC after finishing last season tied for third. Wake Forest finds itself in the cellar with fewer wins than last season.

He also took into account the imbalanced schedule that the ACC uses after expansion and adjusted the results from last season to account for strength of schedule in the home-and-home league games. The biggest beneficiaries of a softer schedule were Virginia (the weakest in the league) and Virginia Tech while the teams with the tougher schedules were Duke and Clemson. Note that Clemson's tougher schedule probably didn't hurt the Tiger's win loss record according to Pomeroy's analysis.

Overall I think his projections for this coming season are as balanced and accurate as these kinds of projections could be. In the end my predictions on the ACC standings probably won't be much different.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Victory at a high price

As a fellow Terps fan wrote in an email to me it was a "bizarre" game against Georgia Tech on Saturday. It made me think back to another game that Maryland played against the Yellow Jackets back in 1992. I thought about that game because I remember it very well as I was a Maryland student watching from the stands. The final score of that game was also 28-26 except the Yellow Jackets won that contest. The Terps went on to go 3-8 in the first year of the Mark Duffner era. Those Duffner teams didn't win very often but they were exciting as they ran the run-and-shoot offense that went up and down the field. The only problem was the other team's offense went up and down the field too against some of the worst Maryland defenses in history.

The offense under quarterback Chris Turner was reminiscent of those Duffner days with big plays in the passing game that Maryland hasn't seen this season. In this game the run to pass yards ratio was turned on its head for the first time all season. Turner threw for 255 yards even though he only passed the ball 17 times. The run to pass play calling was still heavy on the run end but without the big plays by Darrius Heyward-Bey and H-back Jason Goode Maryland probably doesn't win that game. The running game was fairly good as Lance Ball finally took over for an ineffective Keon Lattimore and ran for three touchdowns and 86 yards. In his normal fashion Lattimore had 4 carries that lost yardage out of 13 total. Once Ball replaced him in the second half the running game improved. Lattimore seems to be wearing down already and I would not be surprised to see Ball get more carries as the season goes on.

Turner only had one bad mistake and that was when he tried to scramble before the half and fumbled the ball. It was scooped up by Georgia Tech and ran in for a touchdown. A 21-3 lead suddenly went to 21-10 before halftime. As was the case against Wake Forest and Rutgers the opposing team started moving the ball up and down the field against Maryland's defense. (By the way did you notice that Rutgers has now dropped out of the rankings only two weeks after getting beat by Maryland. So much for that "top ten" victory.) Taylor Bennett gathered himself and started picking apart the Maryland secondary, completing 13 of 16 passes in the last two quarters. It probably wasn't all that hard given that he wasn't sacked once in 34 pass attempts. The total lack of a pass rush is going to hurt Maryland in the coming games. I shudder to think what Boston College's Matt Ryan would do to this secondary.

Bennett wasn't alone as Tashard Choice finished with 135 yards rushing for the day. When the quarterback was struggling Choice started taking direct snaps. You may wonder how the Yellow Jackets had a 300 yard passer and a 135 yard rusher and still lost. The short answer was they almost won. Had it not been for a crucial holding penalty on the last drive that moved them back from the 25 yard line of Maryland to the 35 yard line and a 50+ yard field goal attempt they probably would have won the game on a last second field goal.

Consider that GT outgained the Terps in all offensive catagories: rushing yards, passing yards, and total yards. The last catagory by almost 150 yards. They won the time of possession battle 37 to 22 minutes. Georgia Tech converted 53% of its third downs and didn't surrender a single sack. Yet they still lost. Perhaps the play that decided this game wasn't Travis Bell missing a 52 yard field goal. Maybe it was the 2nd quarter fumble by Tashard Choice on the Maryland 28 yard line, which resulted in a Maryland score after two big passing plays. In all the usual measures except turnovers it was a game that Maryland should not have won.

Turner's pocket presence is certainly the best on the team and he has a way of getting the ball to Maryland's playmakers. Darrius Heyward-Bey has 170 yards on 9 catches the last two weeks as a result. Even Danny Oquendo and Isaiah Williams have been more effective with Turner at quarterback. It is exactly what Ralph Friedgen needs for a more balanced offense. With Jordan Steffy still out after his concussion I think the starting job is now firmly in the hands of Turner. He did struggle a little more after halftime (5/9, 59 yards, 2 sacks) when Jon Tenuta made some adjustments. Opponents will study the 2nd half film of this game to blitz Turner more and play underneath zone coverage.

The cost of this win was high. Guard Andrew Crummey is probably lost for the year with a broken leg. Phil Costa replaced him and did a decent job. Phil's brother Rick was replacing the injured Erin Henderson at linebacker and was himself injured. He strained his neck in a scary looking collision with teammate Carlos Feliciano. He was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center but was later released. Costa will likely miss at least two weeks if not more. Backup defensive tackle Travis Ivey has a knee injury of unknown severity. The second and last bye week comes at a good time as Maryland needs to get some players healthy, most notably Henderson. Dave Philistin was named ACC defensive lineman of the week for his 21 tackle performance. Many of those tackles were in pursuit not near the line of scrimmage, however.

Friday, October 05, 2007


It is still up in the air as to who the starting quarterback will be tomorrow. My guess is that Chris Turner will be under center at kickoff. If Steffy has a legitimate concussion I think it would be slightly irresponsible to play him anyway. John Tenuta's aggressive blitzing style will test Turner much more than Rutgers. My guess is he won't look quite so good after that. Recall Turner threw two interceptions on six attempts against Villanova. I like Turner, as you may recall I felt he might challenge both Steffy and Portis for the starting job, but he still has much to prove. Note Steffy is still listed as the starter on the depth chart.

Linebacker Erin Henderson looks doubtful for the game against Georgia Tech with a knee injury. That would be a huge blow to the defense. Adrian Moten or Rick Costa may fill his place.

The Yellowjackets will be motivated. At 1-2 in the ACC they cannot afford to drop another game and still challenge for a Coastal Division title with Virginia, Virginia Tech and Miami all undefeated in conference.

Zeros, lots of zeros

There has been a fair amount of buzz regarding the NCAA's release of the GSR or graduation success rate for all college sports programs from 1997-2000. As you've probably already heard Maryland's men's basketball team had a zero percent graduation rate for this time period. Notice I did not say that none of those players graduated. According to the Washington Post three of those players: Tahj Holden, Danny Miller and Matt Slaninka have all graduated but do not count because they either transferred or got their degree after the six year window the NCAA uses. Add those to the calculus and suddenly the numbers look much different. Of the other players on the 2002 national championship team three are making millions in the NBA and another four are playing professional basketball here or overseas some with high six figure salaries. Two other players during the 1997-2000 time frame Terrence Morris and Steve Francis also either played in the NBA or a currently still in the league.

I'm not trying to excuse anything. It is obvious that academics has not been a focus of the coaching staff until recently. The program and the university can and should do better. I think they have made very good progress recently as three seniors graduated last year and two more are on track to graduate this year for a two year rate of over 70%. Keep in mind these numbers are in some cases a decade old. I would make a couple of points in regards to this controversy.

As I think was illustrated in the first paragraph there are more to these numbers than what the NCAA considers. Danny Miller and Matt Slaninka don't count at all according to the NCAA, nor does Tajh Holden. You can hide a boatload of cheating and dishonesty behind a good looking GSR number and the NCAA wouldn't have a clue. Consider these examples:

In 1998 the Texas Tech football program got hit with a major infractions ruling by the NCAA for among other things academic fraud. According to the new GSR report their rate for that time period was 79%, which looks pretty good until you consider what was going on at the time.

In 2006 Ohio State was put on probation for major infractions regarding their basketball team which included academic fraud. Their GSR rate for that same period is listed in the released data as 40%. Not great but much better than Maryland's number. At the same time members of the football team claimed that tests were taken by other students and all manner of other academic fraud was taking place the Buckeyes recorded a 53% GSR score. Consider the cases of All-American Andy Katzenmoyer, 2nd team All-Big Ten guard Ron Murphy and All-Big Ten saftey Damon Moore who all were nearly ineligible in 1998. The got eligible taking embarrassing courses like golf, music appreciation and AIDS awareness.

Florida State's basketball team has a better GSR rate than Duke or North Carolina. You can't get much better than 100% and yet I recall news about an academic cheating scandal broke last week in Tallahassee. So what does that number mean?

Yet given all this people still think these numbers have some legitimacy. The GSR just invites all of us to be liars and hypocrites right along with the NCAA. We can all pretend that these athletes belong on college campuses and that they really are students. Many football and basketball players could care less about getting their college degree, if they did they wouldn't major in things like sports management, "letters and sciences", and sociology. No offense to kids who study those subjects. This is the same system more or less that allowed Dexter Manley to walk off Oklahoma State's campus as an illiterate. The NCAA could get serious about its academic standards if it really wanted to but it would rather continue to give just the appearance of caring about such things.

As an aside it makes me curious as to why the NCAA no longer publishes minor or secondary infractions. This constitutes transparency? What do that have to hide? I'm sure I could find many more questionable GSR scores if I was able to review the entire list of NCAA violators.

Whatever the failures of Gary Williams' program they are not cheating like other schools that have better GSR scores. It may not be laudable but it is at least honest. The NCAA could learn a thing or two about that. In the 18 seasons that Williams has been at Maryland the program has not run afoul of any NCAA infractions while other programs that are obvious rules violators have nice and tidy GSR scores.

But is this really the main responsibility of Gary Williams? His main responsibility, along with every other college coach is to win games. His main focus is the development of his players basketball ability and the continued success of his program. That is the cold truth of college sports. It is a business, big business. It is sad that many people cling to the idea that it is something else. John Bunting ran one of the best football programs in the ACC at North Carolina. His players graduated, rarely got into trouble and in most respects were a credit to the university. Only problem was he didn't win enough for the Tarheel faithful. So despite being an alumnus who was doing things the right way he got canned. Just one example that highlights the formula in big time college sports were winning trumps everything. You don't get your sins washed away because you get a good GSR score.

Williams does have a responsibility to make sure his players behave in the right way and represent the university with honor. Over his tenure I think he has done a very good job of doing those things. It is the responsibility of the university to educate the these students. That is why they are there, or is it? My opinion is that the educational part of the university at Maryland and other places bears the responsibility for these kinds of embarrassments. Where is the criticism of the deans and presidents that allow programs to have poor graduation rates? The university needs to do a better job of providing academic support while the players are on campus and after they have left. The current staff is also doing a better job of bring players into the program that care about going to class in the first place. Coach Williams now has incentives in his contract for academic progress and all signs are that he will meet those guidelines.

Whether you are a Maryland fan or a fan of some other team ask yourself this: If you could win a national title but your graduation rate would be zero would you accept that bargain? The vast majority if they were being honest would say yes to that question. The same college sports fans that howl about graduation rates of their rivals are part of the larger problem, they're just to arrogant to know it.

More about this story:

Gary Williams website statement

Washington Post Article

Baltimore Sun blog by Heather Dinich

Dan Steinberg's DC Sports Bog

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Escape from New Jersey

By this point in the week backup quarterback Chris Turner's 2nd half performance against Rutgers has reached almost mythic proportions. Turner showed some of the same poise and ability to move the chains that he exhibited in the Spring game. I was very impressed with his game sense after watching that so in some ways I'm not surprised he did a good job replacing Steffy.

At the same time Steffy didn't so all that bad when he played in the first half. He lead the Terps on two touchdown drives before getting knocked out on an illegal helmet to helmet hit. To say that Maryland would not have won with Steffy in the game is a little disingenuous. The larger difference was that the defense finally stiffened and prevented Rutgers from scoring. Maryland would have had a halftime lead had the defense not surrendered two touchdowns in the last minutes of the 2nd quarter. With Steffy behind center the Terps scored two touchdowns the got in field goal range twice (both of which Egekeze missed) while Turner also lead two TD drives and had three field goal tries of which two were good. If you accept that Rutgers let Maryland score with 2 minutes left in the game then in terms of scoring the two quarterbacks were not all that different.

Granted Turner has some advantages. He has a better rythm in the passing game, has a better sense of when to get rid of the ball and avoid a sack and seems to have a knack for converting on critical downs to keep drives alive. In the 2nd half Turner had 5 straight drives of 8 plays or more. That is pretty impressive but Steffy had four drives in the 1st half of 7 plays or more. I do think the offense flowed a little better and more receivers made plays when Turner was in, partly to his credit, but he was more efficient than spectacular. That is all this team needs at the moment, a quarterback who can get the ball to the right player. Even Friedgen's fossilized offense broke out a little. One big advantage for Turner is that he was 6/12 on 3rd down while Steffy was 3/9.

Rutgers QB Mike Teel had a good statistical game but his decision making was pretty terrible, especially in the 2nd half. He got rattled and started spraying the ball all over the field in the 4th quarter. The Rutgers' passing game did expose Maryland's secondary somewhat as three receivers racked up 70+ yards a piece. Ray Rice had a decent, if unspectacular, game against the Terps. His coaches probably took the ball out of his hands too much in the 2nd half but he was effective against Maryland when given the chance.

I know Rutgers was technically a top 10 team but it was clear after watching Maryland bully them that they are far from that level. The got fat on some cupcakes and in their first real test flopped badly. This won't look as impressive when Rutgers gets into its Big East schedule and starts losing. Kind of like beating a fifth ranked Florida State in 2004.

Quick Thoughts

Can this team really consider itself a power running team when it gets stuffed on two 4-1 running plays?

Erin Henderson may have tweaked a knee and his status for Saturday isn't for certain yet. If he can't play it will be a huge blow for the defense.

Two sacks on 44 passing attempts is an improvement from where the pass rush was but they have a long way to go.

Two sacks on 28 passing attempts is an improvement from where the pass protection has been but the offensive line has a long way to go.

Isaiah Williams and LaQuan Williams had a nice breakout game. Maryland needs the two of them to make some plays and draw attention away from Heyward-Bey.

The Duke spygate issue is a tempest in a teapot. Still it won't help the civility of the Comcast Center when Duke comes to town in basketball season.