Saturday, November 17, 2007

Terps have hangover

Gary Williams said he was hoping that the Hampton game would be a teaching tool for this young Maryland team but it turned out that the malaise that had them playing so poorly against the Pirates continued on to their game against Northeastern last night. I'm not sure if the sudden resignation of assistant Michael Adams had some lingering effect on this group but it couldn't have helped. The backcourt played like it was in a fog for most of the night with the same sort of sloppy passing and careless ball handling that plagued them in the last game. On offense Maryland kept settling for the quick shot instead of moving the ball around and getting through their second and third screens. This impatience had them taking quick possessions and putting little pressure on Northeastern's defense for much of the first half. In the second half Maryland started pounding the ball inside and getting to the foul line, which helped to offset the lack of production from the field. The Terps were unable to get many points in transition which is normally how they get themselves through shooting droughts.

The defense was solid, until late in the game, and probably kept Northeastern from getting a bigger lead. They limited the opponent to 36% from the floor and only 7/26 from 3-point range though those numbers were higher in the 2nd half when Northeastern went ahead. Some individuals struggled in their matchups but overall the defense was stellar once again. The only real problem was rebounding. Northeastern grabbed 19 offensive rebounds for the night and matched the Terps 43 total rebounds. That is abysmal. The guards need to do a much better job on the defensive end to prevent offensive rebounds. When a team gives up too many offensive rebounds a poor rebounding backcourt is almost always part of the problem. Yes, Vasquez had 6 rebounds but Eric Hayed only had 3 and Landon Milbourne only had one defensive rebound. James Gist, while phenomenal in every other aspect, had only 5 rebounds all night.

The two things that I mentioned would cost this team games almost killed them again. The offense was pretty dreadful but Maryland would have pulled away from Northeastern long before the end if they could have protected the basketball. Twenty three turnovers resulted in 19 points for Northeastern and prevented the Terps from ever establishing any offensive rhythm. Of all the flaws that have been exposed the last two games this is the one that needs to be corrected most urgently. In its first three games Maryland has averaged 21.7 turnovers a game. There was plenty of blame to go around last night as three players had 4 or more turnovers (Gist, Osby and Milbourne). There will be more of these close calls against mid-major teams and some potentially embarrassing losses if this kind of carelessness continues. The offense simply isn't good enough to give away so many possessions. Much will be made of Maryland's free throw advantage but Northeastern shot an astounding 30 more field goals (77-47).

The free throw shooting looked like it might also sink Maryland as they shot only 55% in the 1st half hitting 11 out of 20. That turned around in the second half and Maryland, lead by Boom Osby, hit 12/16 and 8/10 in the overtime period to win the game. When they needed to Maryland made the most of their opportunities. That is one encouraging sign.

Maryland may have its own form of Batman and Robin. It isn't Hayes and Vasquez but Boom and Gist. Gist was sensational in the 1st half with 14 points but was able to carry that momentum into the 2nd half to finish with a career high 27 for the game. Northeastern had no answer for his blend of athleticism and skill and often resorted to fouling which Gist turned into 9 points from the free throw line. Through two games he is averaging 21.5 points and 8.5 rebounds while shooting 57% from the floor and 40% from 3-point range. You can't ask for much more than that.

Osby turned from potential goat to hero in the 2nd half. In a reverse of the Hampton game Boom hit eight straight free throws in the final 8 minutes to help regain the lead for Maryland. In the 1st half he had almost as many points (5), rebounds (4) as turnovers (3) but then exploded for 11 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks in the 2nd half and overtime. He also went 9-12 from the foul line and got the team pumped up with several amazing defensive plays including a rejection of a dunk attempt on a fast break. His totals were all career highs: 16 points, 13 rebounds and 6 blocks. If he gets more efficient in his post moves (1/9 from the floor) he could be a great offensive threat as well. His ability to draw fouls is unmatched on the team.

Greivis Vasquez didn't appear to have a good game on the surface. He only shot 2/10 from the floor and totaled only 9 points while on the defensive end his assignment was to guard Matt Janning who poured in 26 points and kept Northeastern in the game almost by himself. He did rack up ten assists with only two turnovers though and grabbed six rebounds. His 6 points in overtime, including a clutch 3-point basket with 3 minutes left, helped finally put away Northeastern (the last missed free throw was intentional). He needs to be more consistent for Maryland to contend for the post season this year but he wasn't that bad last night, with the exception of the dreadful shooting foul on Janning that resulted in three free throws (his missed two).

Eric Hayes on the other hand did have a terrible game. Hayes did hit some important threes in the game and finished with 11 points but he only took 5 shots in 38 minutes. Maryland will struggle to beat anyone with Hayes taking himself out of the game like that. He only made one assist all night to go with two turnovers. That should make anyone clamoring for Hayes to run the point exclusively reconsider. His defense towards the end of the game was dreadful. He couldn't stop his man from dribble penetrating and his lapses allowed the game tying 3-point basket at the end of regulation. Hayes is really struggling to figure out what his role is on this team and he needs to shake off the passivity that permeates his play.

Forward Landon Milbourne struggled through the worst game of his young career. He had a decent, if unspectacular, five points and seven rebounds for the game but it was his team leading six turnovers that nearly sank Maryland. Not only that but he botched a sure score when Maryland had numbers on a fast break when he elected to hold the ball instead of passing and missed a critical free throw that would have prevented the possibility of overtime. Given how poorly he played I was very surprised that he logged 33 minutes. Gary Williams stuck with Osby when he was struggling and it paid off handsomely but Milbourne was a liability for much of the game.

Another area that has been exposed the last few games is the poor production from Maryland's bench. All five starters played at least 32 minutes and the bench accounted for only 6 points in 42 combined minutes of play. That isn't going to cut it against better opponents. They need not score a slew of points but more than a handful is necessary. The rebounding needs to tighten up when Shane Walker and Braxton Dupree are in the game. They tend to stand around too much instead of bodying the nearest opponent. The absence of Jerome Burney, who cut his brow in practice, certainly didn't help. He should return for the UCLA game on Monday. At least a few freshmen are going to need to improve in a hurry if Maryland is going to get through the challenging stretch they have coming up. Before December 15th the Terps play UCLA, the loser of Missouri and Michigan State, Illinois, VCU and Boston College. Many Maryland fans who complained about the lack of marquee opponents in the out of conference schedule should consider how this team has played and realize it will be a difficult test for this group. The "soft" part of the schedule doesn't come until after the BC game on December 9th.

There are things to be concerned about but these next few games will give a good indication of the progress of this young group. We'll probably learn they have a ways to go but many of the flaws that have become evident over the last two games are correctable. The offense will get better, but probably never rise to a dominant level this year. It is harder to become a good defensive team when you don't start out the season playing at a high level. While the offense works out some of the kinks the defense will have to carry the team and you can expect more scores in the 60's, which is unfamiliar territory for Maryland.

The game against UCLA isn't a good indicator of where this team is in its progression. The Bruins have some injury issues but are still a vastly superior team to the Terrapins. It may turn into a blow out but I'm more interested in seeing how Maryland performs against the best team they will play for the next two months.

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