This was supposed to be the year that Landon Milbourne lived up to his impressive potential and become a significant contributor. Stuck behind DJ Strawberry last season Milbourne never got on the court when the games mattered. Strawberry just did everything that Gary Williams wanted and so to assume Milbourne would get significant time was a bit of a pipe dream. Going into this season he really didn't have any competition at the small forward position. That didn't seem to help Milbourne in the early season as he struggled badly both on offense and defense. His suspension for the first game of the season was certainly a bad omen. He was shooting in the low 30's from the floor and wasn't showing any ability to hit much from the 3-point line. His defense sometimes sunk to the level of the Mike Jones matador style, though unlike Jones he actually fouled out of four games this year. His ball handling was awful and he was turning the ball over even though he rarely handled it in the first place.
In short his game was a mess. Over the last two outings Milbourne seems to have turned things around. He is averaging 12.5 points and 3 rebounds per game over the last two wins. He has sunk four 3-point baskets, while only hitting five total in the other 16 games he has played in this year, against Wake Forest and North Carolina. His defense won't make anyone forget about DJ Strawberry but he is finally putting forth credible efforts and showed some focus and intensity on both ends of the court. It seems like the emergence of Adrian Bowie and being able to play along with Cliff Tucker has really helped Milbourne feel more comfortable on the floor. He is allowing his physical talents to show through and relying more on his instincts. He outplayed Danny Green during the UNC win and can be effective against other small forwards in the ACC. Many other teams in the conference play three guard lineups and a 6-7 forward with the ability to knock down an outside shot can be a great weapon for Maryland. His free throw shooting is deadly at 80.4% this year and that is an advantage over Tucker who is making less than 50% or his shots from the line.
It will be interesting to see how Gary Williams handles the return of Eric Hayes. Against North Carolina it was clear that Hayes wasn't ready to play extended minutes but he was effective coming off the bench. Now that Bowie, Tucker and Milbourne are all playing better is it worth disrupting that and putting Eric Hayes back in the starting lineup? To me a platoon of those four along with Vasquez is the best lineup for Maryland. I'm not suggesting that Maryland was better off with Hayes out but now Gary Williams has effective alternatives and should be more willing to mix in other players. Hayes playing 30+ minutes per game is not a good thing for Maryland as the season goes on.
Bambale Osby had a fantastic game against Tyler Hansbrough. Osby and Dave Neal switched off playing Hansbrough but Osby got the bulk of that defensive assignment. He played as smart a defensive game against the All-American as I've ever seen Boom play. In 29 minutes of physical play he only gathered three fouls and often forced Hansbrough into bad shots. Maryland did double team Hansbrough in the 2nd half, especially when Neal was defending, but many times in the first half it was Boom on him one-on-0ne. He didn't have his third double double in a row but his primary assignment was to play tough defense and he did a great job of that. The high ball screen that resulted in Osby making the winning shot was a thing of beauty. True, Osby didn't exactly look graceful and he almost turned the ball over, but he is really starting to play with confidence. What a trip it has been from Richmond to a junior college in Texas to hitting the game winning shot against #1 North Carolina. It couldn't have been scripted better.
Adrian Bowie did all the little things well in this game. His floor game was very good and he played excellent defense. He didn't try to do too much and was very valuable at points when Vasquez was looking a little frantic. He had three assists and no turnovers in 17 minutes of play.
Cliff Tucker also had a very solid floor game. He scored 8 points with some great transition baskets and pull up jumpers. He was able to put some pressure on North Carolina's defense and prohibit them from only having to play half court defense.
The help defense from all the wing players was excellent as UNC shot 30% from 3-point range. Wayne Ellington had a largely miserable day and only hit 6/16 from the field largely to this group.
One weakness was the 21 offensive rebounds that North Carolina snagged. The 14 offensive rebounds they grabbed in the 2nd half kept the Tar Heels in the game. Maryland would have put them away long before the closing minutes without all the second chances that North Carolina got from them. It wasn't as if UNC shot much better in the last half going 40.5% from the floor but aided with all those offensive rebounds they shot 42 field goal attempts, while Maryland only had 27. Defensive rebounding continues to be a weakness for this group.