Thursday, November 29, 2007

Terps top Illinois

It was a nip and tuck game against Illinois in keeping with the styles of both teams. Neither is an offensive juggernaut and both have stout defenses so you would not expect a game that was wide open or high scoring. Neither team had the firepower to pull away from the other and I'm not sure how many games Maryland will win in a blowout this season. Probably not many and you'll be sitting on the edge of your seat as Maryland clings to a bunch of 6 to 10 point wins.

The officials let both teams play in the lane and called very few fouls until late in the game. Neither team got into the bonus until the last few minutes of the game. The loose officiating made scoring difficult for both teams and allowed Illinois to crash the boards and haul in 16 offensive rebounds. Both offenses settled for jump shots early until Maryland started having success driving to the basket and scoring a few transition baskets. The shooting percentages won't wow anyone but the Terps did a better job of knocking down open jumpers than they had previously.

Eric Hayes deserves the game MVP and showed what kind of player he is capable of becoming. Illinois backcourt was over matched by Hayes and Greivis Vasquez but Hayes was much more aggressive in looking for his own shot and created more opportunities for himself. He is the best shooter on the team and Maryland needs him to be a bigger part of the offense. Hayes was able to do this his senior year in high school when a number of scoring options had graduated the year before so he has show that ability. He combined accurate outside shooting and some nifty drives to the lane. If he continues this new found aggressiveness the team will be much more dangerous on offense.

Some thought that Greivis Vasquez struggled in this game with 2/14 shooting and if you look at just that line it might be true. Vasquez still struggles with shot selection and much of that was some ill advised 3-point attempts. His shooting aside he finished with 10 assists and only 2 turnovers in a whopping 38 minutes of play. Right now this team relies on no player more than Vasquez. Throw in 7 rebounds with a modest 5 points and I think he actually had a very solid game. He is the type of player who can help you win by scoring 20 plus points one night and then being a complimentary player through assists and rebounds the next. There are not too many of those kinds of players in college basketball.

James Gist hasn't been putting up the same numbers he did early in the season but he had a solid 12 points and game high 9 rebounds. He may be taking a few too many 3-point attempts and turning the ball over too often when double teamed but he is improving in finding the open man when the defense collapses on him. He is Maryland's only post player that any opponent would deem worthy of help defense so he needs to keep getting better in that regard.

Braxton Dupree started in the place of Boom Osby again. Gary Williams was somewhat evasive when asked if it would become a regular occurrence. I'm not sure what Gary will do but it is worth noting that while Dupree started Osby played more minutes. Osby was probably a little fatigued from his stomach illness and that probably played a factor in his 21 minutes. Dupree has shown some rapid improvement and the most impressive part of his game against Illinois was his stout low post defense against Shaun Pruitt. Pruitt could not move Dupree off the block with any of his power moves. I would like to see Braxton improve his rebounding. I'm guessing that we'll see Osby back in the starting lineup soon. I don't think Dupree is ready to play starter level minutes at this point.

The most impressive freshman was Cliff Tucker. He has been a sneaky player up till the Illinois game. He hasn't put up numbers that will jump out at you but he plays a very mature floor game and doesn't try to force things like most freshman. With the game tied at just over 11 minutes left he scored 7 points and grabbed 2 rebounds in just over 3 minutes to give Maryland a lead they never relinquished. The two shots he did miss were very good looks. He was a great spark off the bench when Maryland needed another player to step up and he makes for a good defensive combination with Adrian Bowie. Landon Milbourne may see his minutes decrease if Tucker keeps playing at this level.

The defense, as it has been all season, was solid. Illinois only shot 33% from the floor and 31% from 3-point range. Illinois is a rugged rebounding team and to almost come out even (42 to 41) was a good accomplishment in my mind. Throw in 9 blocks and 7 steals and it was a pretty good all around effort. There were 16 offensive rebounds by Illinois which kept them in the game and this team has been susceptible to that all year and going back to the 2006 season as well. That needs to improve.

Another big reason for the win was only 12 turnovers, a season low, and 20 assists on 27 field goals. The offensive is improving slowly, though it is still a work in progress. It may not be a linear progression but a few of the freshmen, Bowie, Tucker and Dupree, have shown that they may be legitimate contributors this season. Jerome Burney even showed some nice flashes as a defensive post specialist even if his offensive game is still unevolved. I think this game bodes well for the next few weeks as the Terps will face VCU, Morgan State and Boston College in three important contests. Like last year maybe this win over Illinois will show this team how good they can be if they continue to improve.

Ratings
Offense: 98.2
Defense: 87.2

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