Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Seeding

Most projections have Maryland anywhere from a 4 seed down to a 6 seed in the coming NCAA tournament. Interesting note that since 1985 the 6 seed teams have a better opening round record(61-27) than 5 seed teams (59-29) a better 2nd round record, 34-27 compared to 31-28, and a better Sweet 16 record, 12-22 versus 5-26. Now part of the is explained by the fact that 5 seeds usually end up playing a powerful 1 seed in that round but it is an interesting fact that the 6 seed historically has a better overall record than the higher 5 seed.

Now Maryland faces Duke tonight at Cameron with both on good win streaks, the Terps with five games and the Blue Devils working on a four game run. But the win streaks are not the same as Duke beat a fading Boston College and Clemson along with Georgia Tech and St. Johns. In contrast Maryland soundly defeated Duke, Clemson, NC State and Florida State in addition to North Carolina. Not quite the same. Still Duke is a solid team that will make you play well if you're going to get the victory. This will be a great battle and another measuring stick for the progress of this Maryland group.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Let's Dance!

First let me apologize for the delay in posting about the North Carolina game. If you're a long time reader you know I don't do this for a living yet I still try to devote as much time to this blog as I can during my free moments. I'm not always able to update the blog as often as I, or some readers, would like, but I do my best. The only thing I would ask from the readers of my blog is to understand those principles and refrain from criticising me for not spending more time writing for their enjoyment. I appreciate everyone who takes time to visit my humble blog and read what I have written. So now that I've gotten that out of the way...

What a victory! Going into the season I felt that the coronation of North Carolina was a bit premature and that the Tarheels would likely lose somewhere in the neighborhood of four games in the ACC. They are a very talented collection of players, if perhaps a bit overpraised, but I had some doubt that they could mesh together to form an exceptional team. If the last few weeks are any indication they have a long way to go before the NCAA tournament if they hope to make a deep run. Having said all that this was by far the best opponent Maryland has faced during the win streak which validates the turnaround in this team's season.

North Carolina got out to a comfortable lead in the first half, ahead by as many as 13 points midway through the period, and seemed to be in control of the tempo of the game. Maryland came out a bit too amped up and settled for some poor shots only going 6-20 to start the game. After about the first ten minutes Maryland settled down and was able to whittle away at Carolina's lead to close to within three points at halftime. In my opinion the game MVP was senior DJ Strawberry who scored 10 points in the last 10 minutes of the first half to help Maryland close the gap and position itself to keep the game close. The rest of the team scored 14 points during that stretch including a nice contribution by Bambale Osby who posted 6 points and 8 rebounds in only eight minutes of play during the first half.

The Tarheels helped Maryland by committing 14 fouls in the first half and allowing Maryland 13 free throw attempts. If Maryland had not missed the front end of a couple one-and-one chances it may have hurt UNC even more. Roy Williams use of reserve forwards Alex Stephenson and Deon Thompson backfired as the pair picked up six fouls between them in the first half alone, only 3 of those fouls came after Hansbrough picked up his second foul of the half at the six minute mark. He also must have been searching for some frontcourt help as Maryland crushed the Tarheels on the offensive glass with 15 in the first half. That enabled Maryland to stay in the game in spite of 39.5% shooting compared to Carolina's 48.6% mark for the half. Dispite some sloppy play that led to turnovers the Terps kept within shouting distance.

In the second half North Carolina was able to build up another double digit lead and by the 10 minute mark they enjoyed a 12 point cushion. Only the fantastic play of DJ Strawberry kept the Carolina lead from growing to the point that a comeback would have been impossible. In those critical first ten minutes of the second half Strawberry scored 12 of Maryland's 20 points and helped get the offense, which had veered off into a dribble and jumpshot routine, back on track for the heroic final 7 minutes. It culminated with an assist by the senior for a 3-pointer by Mike Jones to cut the lead to 77-70 after a missed Bobby Frasor layup and then another 3-pointer by Strawberry on the next possession to make it a four point deficit.

The difference in those final seven minutes was that North Carolina didn't have an seniors able to steady their talented underclassmen and beat back the Maryland rally. Strawberry totally outplayed the closest player Carolina has to an experienced veteran in senior Reyshawn Terry. I was somewhat surprised that Roy Williams didn't use one of the four timeouts to stem the run by Maryland. That tactical error may have cost his team the game. He relied on media timeouts until under a minute left in the game, by which point his team's 12 point lead had evaporated.

Seniors Mike Jones and Ekene Ibekwe had perhaps their best games of the year, even if they were not the most gaudy in the box score. Ibekwe went 4-4 from the foul line in the closing minutes and Jones blitzed UNC with a succession of 3-pointers and flex curls in the middle of the lane. Roy Williams tried Wayne Ellington and defensive specialist Marcus Ginyard but neither was able to slow down Jones who scored 3 straight field goals as Maryland traded buckets with Carolina for about 4 minutes.

Maryland then proceeded to dig in defensively sparked by a block of Ty Lawson by Eric Hayes with four minutes left and the Terps still trailing. From that point on North Carolina would only score only two field goals in the final four minutes. Bambale Osby did a fantastic job defending Hansbrough and frustrating his physical below-the-rim offensive style for most the the final ten minutes of the game. The defensive rebounding was superb and few jumpshots went uncontested in the last few possessions by Maryland. It was a very impressive and gutty showing by a group that has often had their grit questioned this year.

The entire frountcourt had the best collective game of the season as the trio of Osby, Gist and Ibekwe combined for 32 points and 26 rebounds. Will Bowers also contributed during his 10 minutes of play with defense, blocking two shots. This was the frontcourt that Maryland fans dreamed about during the early part of the season. Gist had an effective, if unspectacular, 12 points and 9 rebounds. Given the quality of the opponent they all had excellent showings.

Perhaps feeling the pressure of such a high profile game the freshmen struggled in the first half, especially Eric Hayes who had 4 turnovers by halftime. Vasquez played a little better but was out of control at times and made some poor decisions with his shot selection. They both played well enough down the stretch with Hayes amassing 5 assists to only 1 turnover in the 2nd half. This was a game for the seniors, however, and none shined brighter than DJ Strawberry, who was awarded his second ACC player of the week honor after this win. His 17 points in the 2nd half turned the tide of the game in favor of Maryland.

With Carolina down by two with 4 seconds left in the game Brandon Wright intentionally missed his second free throw, after missing the first, resulting in a scrum for the ball. Players went sprawling and the most tenacious rebounder in the ACC, perhaps in the nation, seemed like he would be able to grab the rebound and put a shot up before time expired. Instead Greivis Vasquez snatched the ball from Tyler Hansbrough as time expired. It seemed fitting that one of the freshman sealed the win by wrestling the ball away from the celebrated Tarheel and in the process probably secured a NCAA bid for the Terrapins, their first in two seasons. The precocious freshman struck a pose after he grabbed the ball from a prostrate Hansbrough before streaking out to the the middle of the floor with his teammates. The bench had erupted onto the floor in a mixture of fist pumps and shouts of unadulterated and pure joy. The students poured out onto the floor from the stands to join in the euphoric celebration. My brother's stomach settled back down after he squawked "I'm going to be sick" throughout the last few minutes of the game and I sat in stunned disbelief at the improbable continuation of a five game winning streak.

Gary Williams was almost overcome with emotion after the victory and could barely finish his television interview as the celebration continued on the floor all around him. Sometimes Williams can be grouchy and defensive in regards to criticism of his team but there is a high personal price for caring about something as deeply and genuinely as Gary cares about Maryland basketball. The failures wound him deeper than any Maryland fan, while his driven and sometime maniacal nature keeps him from truly appreciating the successes. There is always another opponent, another recruit or another season to keep preparing for which leaves little opportunity to enjoy the moment for a coach like Williams. Hopefully one day when Gary walks away he'll be able to enjoy his achievements but for now it is nights like Sunday night that Williams lives for. When it is he and his team against all the odds and doubters coming up with a gritty and tenacious victory.

The tears welling up in Gary's eyes, the students and players on the floor, the hearts of Terrapin fans everywhere and the snowflakes outside in the cold winter night were all doing the same thing.

They were dancing, and it isn't even March.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Terps heel Carolina

Back at the end of January following a tough overtime loss at Virginia Tech Gary Williams said that if his team kept playing as they did in Blacksburg they'd be "okay" much to the confusion of many Maryland fans, your intrepid blogger included. Turns out Gary was right. After the win against North Carolina on Sunday the Terrapins now have won five games in a row and seven out of their last nine games.


It now appears that Maryland has ended its two year hiatus from the NCAA tournament by assuring at least a .500 record in the ACC. Not that this group seems to be content with that as they can now work on improving their seed in the Big Dance.

I'll have more on the game after I get a chance to digest what was a whirlwind game. Suffice to say that senior DJ Strawberry was the game MVP and has removed all doubt that he is the leader of this group.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Fire and Ice

Maryland was able to extend its winning streak to four games with another convincing win tonight. I'll give my thoughts on the game later but first I wanted to write a little about Maryland's freshmen point guards, Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez.

I'm not sure in spite of the attention these two have received that fans realize how good this duo is at the moment. In the game tonight the two combined for 15 assists and only 3 turnovers. That is excellent for any two point guards let alone two freshmen. They also combined for 12 points and 8 rebounds. The level of their play in this winning streak has been nothing short of amazing. Both are among the top of the ACC in assist to turnover ratio in league games and in the last four games Vasquez has totaled 27 assists and only 10 turnovers while Hayes has 21 assists and only 4 turnovers! That is incredible.

Vasquez struggled on the offensive end just a little against FSU and Hayes rarely looks for his own scoring chances but they are both the rare kind of college players that make their teammates better. The renaissance of DJ Strawberry and James Gist goes hand in hand with the play of these two freshmen.

These two young pups are contributing at a higher level than anyone could have expected at this point. They both are beginning what could be phenomenal careers at Maryland.

More on the FSU game to follow...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Why college is better than the NBA

It may not be related to Maryland sports but these two articles about the NBA All-Star weekend are fantastic reading. The Jason Whitlock story about the mayhem in Sin City that took place off the court, ignored by the "booya" shills at ESPN, is must reading. The past his prime Bill Simmons can sometimes summon a little of his old magic back when his writing was still fresh usually when he writes about the NBA. Enjoy.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Terps tame the Tigers

Maryland won its third consecutive game for the first time since December and took another step towards earning a bid in the NCAA tournament. Against a struggling and desperate Clemson squad the Terrapins showed some poise and fortitude that had been missing as they muddled through the first half of their ACC schedule. Getting their third straight road victory in the ACC wasn't easy as the Tigers have too much talent and experience to go away without a fight.

Maryland went out to a double digit lead right before halftime before settling on an eight point advantage at the break. The two catalysts for this win, Greivis Vasquez and DJ Strawberry, then came up big and scored 10 points and dished two assists in a two minute span that helped gain an advantage for Maryland. Vasquez continues to improve game to game and was at times dominant scoring 15 points and amassing an incredible 11 assists and 5 steals. It was an amazing performance for a freshman in such an important road game. This game followed up another 15 point, 6 assist and 4 steal gem against NC State last week. If Terp fans had any doubt about Vasquez before this week they should all be gone now.

With just over eight minutes remaining in the game Maryland's once 12 point advantage had been reduced to a single point. Clemson had momentum, their crowed aroused from its slumber to roar and Maryland seemed rattled by the pressure. It was a perfect recipe for a collapse by the team some, like me, considered a little soft in the belly. Maryland needed its leaders to come through in this tenuous moment. Earlier in the season Maryland may not have had an answer but recently when the Terrapins have found themselves in this position Greivis Vasquez and DJ Strawberry have been the heroes. Tonight was no different. Behind those two Maryland stiffened its defense and showed who was the tougher team by going on a 19-5 run to seal the win.

This victory must have also been sweet for the often maligned Strawberry. He scored 22 points many off of assists from Vasquez and was aggressive in looking for scoring opportunities. I felt that Maryland would not be able to make the postseason without Strawberry playing well. In his last two games he has scored 40 points and grabbed 11 rebounds with only two turnovers. He has also seemed to find a nice rhythm with Vasquez on the floor which is obvious when you realize that Vasquez had assists on seven out of Strawberry's nine field goals! That is an amazing number. It speaks to the comfort that Strawberry has found with Vasquez and the confidence that he doesn't have to force bad shots to create offense. Between them they have formed an impressive duo.

As in the NC State game both James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe were limited by foul problems. They played 27 and 25 minutes respectively in the game. Both were effective during their time in the game and Gist dominated the first half with 12 points. Ibekwe struggle to guard the physical post players for Clemson but still managed 6 points and 6 rebounds. Maryland got another decent performance from its bench players with Bambale Osby and Will Bowers combining for 8 points and 5 rebounds but also providing 27 minutes of valuable play while Gist or Ibekwe were nursing foul problems on the bench. They helped Maryland to win the rebounding battle with Clemson, even if they did surrender 11 offensive rebounds, 33-31 which helped Maryland pull away for a 16 point win.

Maryland did a decent job defensively limiting Clemson to 32% from 3-point range and a respectable 43% from the floor (40% in the 2nd half). They forced 17 Clemson turnovers while limiting their own mistakes to a scant 12 turnovers, matching the previous game total at NC State for the second lowest number in the season. Why is Maryland on a three game winning streak? They are doing almost everything better in every aspect of the game.

Another important development is that seniors like Mike Jones and Ekene Ibekwe have seemed to accept diminished roles and deferred to freshman like Vasquez and Eric Hayes. In contrast to earlier games in the season when both players lead the team in scoring while forcing bad shots and disrupting the offensive flow they are now taking their opportunities only when given high percentage shots. Is it a coincidence that Maryland has lost every game that Jones has lead the team in scoring? Both Ibekwe and Jones are more valuable being contributors and not trying to dominate the offense. If this three game winning streak, or the previous struggles, are any indication it is clear that the two seniors are not the kinds of players you flow your offense through and win very often. With this apparent change in the flow of the offense it has brought the best out in the true franchise players on this team, James Gist and Greivis Vasquez. Maryland will win more often than not if Gary Williams continues to put the fortunes of this team in their hands.

Maryland gets a trip back to College Park to face the Florida State Seminoles who have gone in the opposite direction since demolishing Maryland last month, losing their last four in a row. They will likely be without their second leading scorer Toney Douglas who has missed the last three games with a broken hand. Douglas scored 16 points in FSU's 96-79 win over Maryland.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Terps get some love

Maryland climbed a little further out of their NIT abyss with the 85-70 win over NC State last night. Given that I had the finishing touches put on a root canal this morning (insert joke about watching Mike Jones play defense here) I'm not in much shape to give great analysis on the game. I'll try to write more this weekend about the win.

Maryland kept the Wolfpack close through much of the game with some poor shot selection and mistakes on offense. It wasn't until midway through the 2nd half that they were able to pull away. No need to downplay the win as NC State, regardless of their record, is a solid opponent that beat North Carolina and Virginia Tech recently. Maryland got excellent play from their backcourt, namely Greivis Vasquez and DJ Strawberry. The frontcourt struggled with foul troubles but got decent contributions from the bench. Dave Neal is solidifying himself as a legitimate member of the extended rotation. Bambale Osby also showed he can contribute when he isn't yanked back on the bench after one mistake.

Perhaps it wasn't an overwhelming victory but it was a fairly solid and focused effort on the road, probably the best road games since Illinois.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Terps take step forward

The Duke team that Maryland defeated on Sunday 72-60 isn't close to the level of the recent versions of Duke with JJ Redick and Sheldon Williams. The twelve point defeat by Maryland was the worst loss of the season for this Duke team, however, and they had dropped three games against Virginia, Virginia Tech and Florida State by a combined five points. Without a few bad bounces or unlikely baskets by those opponents Duke could have come into College Park sitting near the top of the ACC with an 8-2 record. With so much parity in the ACC that is the margin between bubble teams and the top of the standings. This Duke squad maximizes its talent and plays sound defense. They were in command against a vastly more talented North Carolina team until they ran out of gas in the last few minutes. The reports of Duke's demise are greatly exaggerated.

Maryland needed to play a fundamentally sound game on both ends of the floor to win. Duke's ball handling problems came back to haunt them against Maryland's pressure. Duke had 17 turnovers, 7 by Greg Paulus, and only 9 assists. The Terp's pressure seemed to flummox Duke in the half court and got them to take contested jump shots for most of the first half. Josh McRoberts has the tools to be a dominant scoring threat but lacks the mindset to make himself one. His lack of touches in the post helped Maryland limit Duke to 43% shooting from the floor. Maryland in contrast was able to take care of the basketball with only 15 turnovers in an encouraging trend down from earlier in the season while recording 14 assists. A number of baskets came off steals and in transition which helped Maryland shoot 48% for the game. The guards for Maryland were also able to exploit Duke's slower backcourt for dribble penetrations.

In short it was the kind of team effort that has been lacking since early in the year. The team was focused and energized from the opening moments, in contrast to the lethargic effort against Virginia. DJ Strawberry had an excellent game and his 10 points, on only seven field goal attempts, don't tell the story of how important he was to Maryland's win. He also, along with Mike Jones, added some critical rebounding from the wing players that had been sorely lacking recently. Jones and Strawberry combined for 10 rebounds. He also showed some leadership and took charge during some critical stretches for Maryland.

James Gist had another double double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. He disappeared at points in the 2nd half but was a force in the 12 minutes he played in the first half and racked up 10 points and 5 rebounds. It was good to see him bounce back from a poor game against Virginia which is a good sign for his continued development.

Greivis Vasquez was a tornado of energy as he lead the team with 18 points. At times he got out of control and it seems fans will have to live with his cocky attitude that goes a little far at times. He did carry the team for a stretch in the 2nd half as Duke was making a run to close within seven points. His ability to dribble penetrate got Maryland through some rocky stretches in the half court offense. Vasquez seems to play his best when the lights are brightest and the opponent the most intimidating. Fans are getting a glimpse of what could be a special career at Maryland for Greivis.

Ekene Ibekwe had one of his better games of the season. His stat line was solid but modest with 13 points and 7 rebounds, while limited to 29 minutes due to foul trouble. He did a much better job of playing within his abilities and not forcing shots, while sharing the ball more than normal. He also was active on the defensive end. Maryland needs these kinds of solid, if less spectacular, nights from Ibekwe instead of 17 points nights where he forces too many shots and disrupts the offense.

Will Bowers had a great game off the bench. His contribution in the first half was critical as Gist and Ibekwe both had early foul trouble. His 5 points and 1 rebound won't get much notice but his defense and scrappy play helped Maryland tremendously.

Bambale Osby continues to be in Williams' dog house and it seems to have shaken his confidence a little. He is thinking too much and it is causing him to make mistakes. He was limited to seven minutes of playing time and had to put up with the mismatch of guarding McRoberts. That isn't a fair matchup for Osby without a double team. Not that Gist, Bowers or Ibekwe limited McRoberts either as he scored 16 points in the 2nd half with Osby only in the game for 4 minutes. Maryland needs Osby to continue to contribute and Williams needs to do a better job of getting Bambale back to doing what he was doing in the early part of the season. Hustling, rebounding and setting screens should be his primary goal.

Overall it was a very solid game, perhaps the most solid league game Maryland has played all season. Now the Terps go on the road to NC State and Clemson. Hopefully this group realizes that unless they are able to grab one of those games this Duke win won't matter much, a lesson their predecessors never learned.

Spoiled Rotten?

Excellent commentary by David Steele of the Baltimore Sun in today's edition. I'd say Steele is right on the money in writing Maryland fans have become sickeningly spoiled in recent years. For some reason many Terp fans feel like they are owed something, that the continued success of their basketball program has morphed into a birthright for the Red & White faithful. Apparently after the first Final Four appearance ever for Maryland followed up by the greatest season in the history of Terrapins basketball many fans assumed things would get easier for Gary Williams and the program he built. Problem was that many of the recruits who came onto campus at that time also thought things would be easy. The rest of the ACC didn't get that memo. Terp fans have gotten a lesson that they should have never needed in the first place, that winning a national title doesn't turn your program into a dynasty. Duke and North Carolina were not what they are today after their first national titles. It took decades of sustained excellence to arrive at the rarefied air they inhabit. Think that is easy? Go look at what Villanova, Arkansas, Georgetown and Louisville have suffered since their first national title. Did they "squander" their momentum?

I'm not sure when Maryland fans decided that they were entitled to harbor the same delusional expectations that are a part of places like Kentucky, Connecticut, North Carolina and Duke but they should all hope that the basketball gods are not the malevolent type. There may be some lean years once the Gary Williams era is over in College Park.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Virginia sinks Terps

The Cavaliers swept Maryland for the first time since 2003 and, more importantly, had the better team for the first time in over a decade. Dave Leatio has a pair of experienced and tough-as-nails guards in Sean Singletary and JR Reynolds while Maryland has a bunch of kids that Gary Williams can't count on from game to game. It wasn't just Virginia's superior guard play as Maryland's heralded frontcourt was thoroughly outplayed by the unappreciated scrappers on Leitao's squad.

Virginia coach Dave Leitao has been very successful in getting his players to buy into the style of play that has allowed them to win. Without supporting players like Jason Cain, Tunji Soroye, Mikalauskas the attention getting performances of Sean Singletary and JR Reynolds wouldn't amount to many wins. The frontcourt for Virginia often has more rebounds than field goal attempts. Unlike the Miami team from a year ago, which would get high scoring games from Robert Hite and Guillermo Diaz and still lose, Virginia has the kids willing to do the dirty work to help them win. The talent on their roster isn't very deep, not even as deep as Maryland, but the parts on their team fit well together.

Rebounding and half court defense were problems again. Virginia crushed Maryland on the glass again for a +13 rebound margin and a dominating 18 offensive rebounds. There were several 2nd half possessions by Virginia that lasted over a minute with multiple offensive rebounds allowing several shot attempts. The frontcourt did a terrible job blocking out and the backcourt continues to be one of the worst defensive rebounding groups in the ACC. Singletary, who might be six feet tall if he stands on a stack of phone books, grabbed eight rebounds. Mike Jones and DJ Strawberry had four rebounds between them.

By the time Maryland raised the level of its half court defense Virginia was already sitting on a solid double digit lead. After getting torched for 51% shooting in the first half they recovered and held Virginia to 32% shooting in the 2nd half. They also were able to limit Virginia to 25% from 3-point range to continue their league leading rate. Sean Singletary had a rather pedestrian game against Maryland yet Reynolds was able to come through with 23 points. Still, the lapses in the first half put Maryland in a hole which they could not climb out.

The offense struggled in the first half and only shot 36% while missing a number of point blank shots in the lane. The game was called rather loosely which hurt Maryland and prevented them from getting to the line very often, having only 15 attempts (compared to Virginia's 45 attempts in the last game). Not that the Terps took advantage hitting only 8 attempts for 53%, including a few front end of one-and-one's.

James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe both struggled as they often do when there is physical play in the post. Ibekwe was practically worthless as Tunji Soroye dominated him for most of the night. DJ Strawberry tried to carry the offense as much as he could with 11 points, 5 assists and 4 steals, but he doesn't have the offensive skills to make up for lapses by other players. Mike Jones may have scored 18 points but blew a dunk and layup that he should have converted and allowed another Virginia roll player in Adrian Joseph to score 13 points on 5-7 shooting.

Greivis Vasquez scored 13 points in the first half and didn't score again. He was out of control at points in the game and was limited to 14 minutes in the second half. He played very physical defense on Singletary but needs to do less yapping and taunting. It is getting a little out of hand.

Eric Hayes hit a big 3-point shot to pull Maryland within 2 points at 65-63 and didn't turn the ball over all game, while amassing 4 assists but disappeared at times before that.

The bench contributed nothing during the game as Will Bowers was considered a matchup problem and Bambale Osby was yanked after a few mistakes and played one minute in the 2nd half. Gary Williams misused the bench with four starters logging 30+ minutes and sticking with the starters too long as Virginia built a lead. I get the feeling that Williams doesn't seem to know what the answer is in regards to his rotation. Many of his moves in this game, including inserting Dave Neal for a few minutes, speak more to desperation than deliberation.

With Maryland sliding into the NIT abyss again this season it is fitting that the Duke Blue Devils come to Comcast with what may be the coup de grace to this Terrapin team.

In other news Sporting News Mike DeCoursey debunks the "last 10" NCAA selection criteria.

Monday, February 05, 2007

News and Notes

The ACC has only two teams remaining in the each of the top 25 polls, North Carolina and Duke.

Eric Hayes is averaging 10.6 points per game and 3.3 assists in his last three games.

James Gist is averaging 22 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 72% from the floor over the same span.

In the 103-91 loss to Virginia last month the two combined for 19 points.

The Diamondback appeals to students to treat the game against Virginia like the annual Duke hate fest.

Your intrepid blogger scored some tickets to this pivotal game for the Terps. I'll report if the students heed this request.

On Gary Williams cable show senior guard Mike Jones said the one thing that gets him mad is being deprived of his sleep. You can steal his money but don't wake him up while you're doing it. Let's hope Rip Van Jumpshot gets his beauty sleep tonight.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Maryland desperately needed its first road win of the season and they got it, if just barely. The Terps had a efficient offense performance with 19 assists on 28 field goals for 52.8% shooting. Many of those baskets were within six feet of the rim and Maryland only hit three of fifteen attempts from 3-point range. On defense Maryland rebounded from an atrocious game against Florida State to hold Wake Forest to 41% shooting and only 8-26 from 3-point range. They held a slim +3 rebounding margin but also gave up 12 offensive rebounds to the Deacons.

After stretching the lead to 23 points in the 2nd half the Terps almost squandered their advantage as Wake got within 5 points at the end of the game. The 37-19 run that the Deacons were able to muster was sparked by Michael Drum who scored 16 points in about six minutes. Mike Jones did such an ineffective job guarding Drum that Gary Williams finally put DJ Strawberry on the senior, but not before he was able to rally Wake Forest to within striking distance. Maryland was able to hang on for the final minutes even though the foul shooting was spotty, including by reserve Dave Neal who was placed in the game for his passing and foul shooting and promptly missed both of his attempts. I'm not sure how the team could feel very good about this game. Coach Williams seemed to indicate in his post game comments that he didn't think Maryland would win by 20 points, but I doubt he expected his team to almost blow a 23 point advantage either. Only Wake Forest's inexpereince and poor defense kept them from overtaking Maryland. The Terps would have lost this game if they were playing most of the other teams in the league. They still have a long way to go if they expect to play their way into the NCAA tournament.

James Gist continued his stellar play with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists. His aggressiveness in going to the basket and his three assists in the second half staved off Wake's desperate come back attempt. That is a good thing since it was Gist's foolish technical foul for taunting after a dunk with ten minutes left in the game that sparked the Deacon's run. I'm not sure if he is picking up some bad habits from Ekene Ibekwe since technical fouls that end up costing Maryland the game seem to be Ibekwe's signature move. Very disappointing and out of character for Gist, who is a gentleman by most accounts.

Speaking of Ibekwe he had 16 points and 10 rebounds but also had his share of costly mistakes. He almost had as many turnovers(4) as field goals(6), which isn't a ratio that will help Maryland win many games. He even added a 3-second violation, which I haven't seen called in a college game in a while. Most of his baskets were on dunks or with a foul laden Kyle Visser guarding him. It was another example of a nice looking stat line that doesn't tell the true story.

DJ Strawberry didn't have a great game but played well enough to help Maryland get a road victory. Stawberry has put a great deal of pressure on himself to lead this team but he'd probably do better to allow other players to carry the team. Vasquez and Hayes both bounced back from terrible games at Florida State to do a great job against Wake Forest's equally young backcourt. Vasquez had five assists and only two turnovers while Hayes added in 12 points. At the moment Hayes is contributing more than senior Mike Jones who continues to struggle. Jones didn't score a point in 20 minutes and was ineffective on defense. It seemed Skip Prosser was content to almost throw out his playbook and let Michael Drum go one-on-one with Jones. Sadly he won that matchup. I'd like to see more sets with Hayes and Vasquez on the floor at the same time, with the minutes coming at Jones' expense. Will Bowers came off the bench and contributed a tidy 7 points to the winning effort.

Maryland needs a great deal of improvement if they are going to be competitive with confident Virginia team on Tuesday. There wasn't much to take from this game except that it got Maryland another game closer to 0.500 in the ACC. Wake Forest may not be the worst team in the ACC, but they are in the neighborhood. It is impressive how Visser has improved since last year when he was an after thought amongst more heralded players. He has rounded out his game and is an effective low post player. If only Will Bowers could have provided the same level of play Maryland would be in much better shape. Ishmael Smith will be a good point guard as he matures and some of the other young players on Prosser's roster may develop but that are a very flawed bunch. The fact that they nearly came back against Maryland when they had the game well in hand sours the good feeling the Terps may have otherwise enjoyed going into Tuesday's huge showdown.

Friday, February 02, 2007

How good is the ACC?

The last second victory by Virginia over Duke inspired me to ponder the state of ACC basketball. The league champions will point to the number one RPI ranking of the ACC, the four teams in the top 25 rankings and at least five teams in good shape to make the NCAA tournament.

On the other hand, the ACC is only 25-22 against the other major conferences and that is mostly based on the lopsided ACC-Big Ten challenge results. Remove the 10-3 record against the Big Ten and that record drops to 15-19. The 0.532 winning percentage against the other major conferences this season is lower than the 0.566 all time percentage against those conferences.

The ACC has three out of its top four teams with six or more losses while no other power conference had more than one as of Friday.

Vermont, Marshall, Duquesne, Western Michigan, Utah and Appalachian State have all score victories against the top teams in the ACC this season. I'm not sure something like that has happened in the modern era. Most of those losses were on neutral sites. I'd say that those losses carry as much weight in regards to the resumes of Boston College, Virginia Tech and Virginia as any of their wins. Besides Virginia's win over Arizona to start the season none of the other teams has an impressive out of conference victory. With the Wildcats swooning that win has looked less impressive by the week. It seems very hard to argue that these teams are more than just good, and certainly nothing special.

Outside of North Carolina is there any team that would give anyone reason to think that they can make a serious run past the sweet sixteen? I don't think so. Assuming the ACC gets around five teams in the NCAA tournament I'd be surprised if two or more of those teams makes it out of the first weekend in the tournament.

The quality of basketball in the ACC has declined beginning with the expansion of the league. By proportion the ACC is getting fewer teams in the tournament than before and the quality of traditional teams like Wake Forest, Maryland and NC State has declined. The demise of the round robin schedule has gone a long way towards assuring that 0.500 records will more often than not be sufficient to get a team into the NCAA tournament. The fact that flawed teams like Virginia and Virginia Tech are among the elite teams in the conference speaks to the weakness of the ACC this season. The abysmal play of the Big Ten and Big East has failed to highlight the overall mediocrity of what was once a great basketball conference.

Maryland was the lone road team to win on Saturday as Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Clemson, all ranked in the top 25, lost. Some would argue this demonstrates the depth of the conference, I say that is just a smoke screen for parity. North Carolina's young squad still hasn't figured out how maintain its defensive intensity, while Clemson and Virginia Tech are clearly flawed teams. Duke's loss to Florida State on Sunday, the first time ever at Cameron, puts the period on the sense of mediocrity that the ACC has now.

The ACC is still one of the best conferences in college basketball, which seems to be in an ebb of quality play across the nation, but it isn't what it once was. Last season's NCAA tournament was one of the poorer exhibitions in recent memory. The eventual national champion Florida team probably wouldn't have beaten any of the last five or six national champion teams. The fact that college basketball is at a low tide makes it more troubling that Maryland has struggled so badly.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

DC Sports Blog

Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post writes a DC Sports blog that is worth checking out. He has a local hoops poll that I participate in which seems fairly good. I'd give it a look.

Do you think that there will be as much outrage over the embarrassing errors in officiating during the North Carolina rout of Miami last night? I doubt it. For you young pups out there the term "Carolina refs" didn't originate with the rise of Coach K.

If, I say if, Maryland has a chance to get to 8-8 in the conference the last game of the season against NC State will be the crucial contest. Given that the Wolfpack upset an overrated but solid Virginia Tech team last night in Blacksburg that may be a tougher set of games than Maryland expected. Will Atsur(11.5ppg 4.5 ast) continue to haunt the Terps? Former Maryland target Ben McCauley is having an excellent sophomore season (16.1ppg 6.6 reb) and destroyed the Hokies inside. I'm not suggesting Maryland should have taken McCauley who was at the time a less athletic version of Nik Caner-Medley. McCauley has added some bulk and is an effective inside presence for the Wolfpack.