What a bizarre game last night. Maryland got swept in the regular season series by a NIT level Virginia Tech squad. It was another dreadful performance against a team that seems to drag every opponent down to their awful Big East style stall ball games. It was a game that Maryland held significant double digit margins in each half and the Hokies didn't lead until the last three minutes of the game. A VT player threw up on the court resulting in a 10 minute stoppage until someone could find a mop in Comcast Center. My brother pointed out a mop isn't much good without a bucket but that didn't seem to connect with the folks running the arena. After Seth Greenberg got a technical things seemed to change in the officiating. Greenberg even got a warning from one of the officials after the first technical but it seemed to work. From his technical to the end of the half Maryland was called for six fouls as opposed to Virginia Tech's four. In the second half Virginia Tech was not called for a foul in the final 11 minutes of the game even though Maryland was already in the bonus. I've never seen three offensive fouls on moving screens called before. Moving screens are like holding in football, it happens on almost every play. At one point it seemed whenever there was a whistle players from both teams would look around because they had no idea who the call was going to be on.
Like the first game the Hokies kept in the game until the final few minutes and relied on some clutch shooting and transition defense lapses by Maryland to escape with a four point win. There isn't much to admire about Greenberg or his awful team but I will give them credit for a complete effort. They don't have an excess of talent and probably lack the pieces needed to get to the NCAA tournament in the next few years. Their roster is full of guys who probably are playing on the only ACC team that would take them but they are scrappy and will beat a superior opponent if taken for granted. They quit against North Carolina but showed resilience in coming back and winning in College Park.
That said it was a terrible loss for Maryland. As I wrote earlier this team's NCAA chances were much more tenuous than many realized. Now they probably must win one of the next two road games, preferably at Miami, to have a decent shot at the NCAAs. Winning at Miami or Wake Forest will be no small feat as both have beaten Duke in consecutive games. I'd say the chances of getting a bid now fall into the 50/50 range.
Greivis Vasquez probably had the best game of any player on the floor but even he had a spotty night against Virginia Tech. He certainly played much better than he did in the first game at Blacksburg. Having Vasquez attempt 22 field goals is probably not a great strategy for Maryland even though he made 11 for the game. He finished with 25 points, which is his third 20+ point game in a row, and added 9 rebounds and 5 assists. That was balanced with 6 turnovers and at times an inability to get other players involved in the offense. Vasquez deserves his share of criticism for his poor decision making and shot selection but you also need to balance that with the fact that Eric Hayes and James Gist went a combined 5/16 from the floor and were almost non-factors on offense. Bambale Osby seemed to do a good job getting himself into position to score, three of Vasquez's five assists were to Boom, so why did the other players have such problems? One of the main differences was that Osby did a good job finishing around the basket and the other players didn't.
Between Osby and Vasquez they accounted for 66% of Maryland points (41/65), 70% of the field goals made (19/27) while only taking 59% of the shots (34/58). Just so it is obvious for everyone that means that the rest of the team went 8/24 from the floor which is a measly 33% shooting. You won't win many games with that kind of offensive performance. The truth is that if James Gist had a decent, not even great, but decent performance Maryland would have won the game. That isn't even asking Landon Milbourne or Eric Hayes to produce above their season averages, which neither of them were able to do.
Boom had a great night scoring and was even fouled with 3 minutes left in the game by Jeff Allen, but nothing was called even though the replay was clear. He did struggle from the free throw line, only hitting 2/5 shots, and that was a problem for the entire team. He only grabbed 4 rebounds and, though he got a number of impressive blocks, his low post defense against Jeff Allen in the last few minutes was lacking. He did score 18 points in just 28 minutes, however. He will have to be a much bigger force on the boards against a Miami team that lives on offensive rebounds.
James Gist struggled for the second time in the last three games. His performance against Duke was as bad as the egg he laid the other night. He did grab 9 rebounds but on offense he looked tentative and confused. He only managed to go 3/11 from the floor with a paltry 7 points for the game. He scored more points on fewer shots in the FSU win (6FGA, 17 points) and was also able to score 17 points on just 9 field goal attempts against Virginia because he was aggressive in both those games and got himself better shots. In both those games he was able to get to the foul line 10 times because he was drawing contact, he only took two free throws last night. Late in the game he posted up Deron Washington and instead of talking the ball strong at the shorter and weaker Washington he got his shot blocked at point blank range. Washington also guarded Gist in the first game and knocked the ball away from him in the closing minutes of that loss. Washington is a fine defender but he should not be able to match up with Gist under the basket. Perhaps it shows how ordinary Maryland's offense is when one of the Gist or Vasquez does not play well.
Outside of Vasquez the guards didn't offer much help. Eric Hayes continues his shooting slump and is now 5/24 (21%) from the floor in the last three games. When his shots are not falling Hayes is a much less effective player as he only had 3 assists and 7 points, two of which were off free throws from the technical foul. He blew defensive assignments on two of the three 3-point baskets that the Hokies hit to go ahead in the closing minutes and in he fouled twice when the VT got out in transition resulting in a three point play by Malcolm Delaney and a made free throw by Hank Thorns. In spite off all that he still logged 34 minutes with Cliff Tucker recovering from the flu. The absence of Tucker to spell Hayes certainly hurt the Terps in this game.
There was much discussion of the bench afterwards and Gary Williams and Vasquez both mentioned the bench needs to produce more. There isn't much argument with that but it rings just a little hollow when you consider Williams' use of his bench lately. Does he really expect two walk-on caliber players in Jason McAlpin and Dave Neal to score points in bunches? It won't happen. They are on the team for their hustle and smarts, not because they can light up the score board. Missing Tucker with his 6 assists and 3 steals from the first game against the Hokies certainly tied Gary's hands somewhat but he had a perfectly fine Adrian Bowie who scored 12 points in the first meeting. Yet Bowie played all of 5 minutes in the 2nd half. He didn't produce much in 11 minutes on the floor but then again it is hard for your bench to score when they don't take any shots. Bowie and Shane Walker played a combined 21 minutes and never took a shot. In many ways Williams has created this situation because he was reluctant to go to his bench earlier in the season. Now he finds himself with a bunch of younger players who are tentative and unassertive on offense. Some, like Braxton Dupree, are just struggling to adapt to the demands of ACC play. He got a great feed from Gist later in the game and instead of converting the easy dunk he was stripped and turned the ball over. Unfortunately Dupree's freshman year seems to be a wash at this point as he is playing with little confidence and less effectiveness.
Williams has suggested that he doesn't want to play his starters 30+ minutes per game but has then suggested he doesn't have a choice and that with TV timeouts you can get away with that. As the coach he is entitled to play whatever rotations he thinks are best but if you make that choice then you shouldn't criticize you bench because they are not helping you more.
As the season wore on I wrote that Williams reluctance to use his bench more might come back to bite this team and that seems to have happened the other night, and at the worst time. The defensive lapses at the end of the game have a familiar look to them recently and you have to assume that fatigue is part of that. Hopefully Cliff Tucker can get back healthy and provide a boost to the bench against Miami.
This team probably wasn't as good as everyone, including me, thought during their win streak. The fact that a mediocre Virginia Tech team swept the season series should be evidence enough for that. They have a thin margin of error in almost every game. Is it just bad luck that they clearly outplayed a number of recent opponents like NC State, Virginia, Florida State and Georgia Tech and didn't win any of those games by more than 10 points? They have to play at a high level every night to win, regardless of the opponent. They need to get back to being road warriors with the upcoming games at Miami and Wake Forest. Oddly the wins both those teams had against Duke are a blessing because if Maryland can knock them off they will reap the benefit in RPI ranking. Make no mistake that it will be a tough road for Maryland to get back to the NCAA tournament. The margin they squandered from failing to beat Virginia Tech and sitting at 8-4 to where they are now is massive.
Greenberg the clown
You probably already know I don't think much of Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg. He strikes me as a bully and a loud mouth and some of his sideline antics are embarrassing. His players have been suspended by the league for on the court misdeeds more than any team since he arrived in the ACC. So you won't be surprised to find out that I thought his histrionics at the end of the game when it became apparent that his team would pull out the unlikely victory were pitiful and childish. Given Greenberg's pathetic and immature response to the request for an interview with the Maryland radio broadcast before the last game it shouldn't surprise anyone. I can't imagine any other coach in the ACC behaving in such an asinine manner on the sideline, especially on the road. There is certainly no love loss between Duke and Maryland but after the win the Blue Devils had at Maryland earlier in the year Mike Krzyzewski went out of his was to complement the Maryland program and what it meant to get a win there afterwards. The rivalry between these schools is as intense as any in the ACC and Krzyzewski would probably be justified in loathing Maryland fans given some of the recent history, perhaps he does, but he respects Gary Williams and has the dignity to win with class. Greenberg could learn a lesson from that. To describe the handshake between Greenberg and Williams afterwards as icy would be putting it in the kindest light. I doubt Williams has an ounce of the respect for Greenberg as he does for Krzyzewski or Roy Williams and I venture to guess that if you polled ACC coaches Greenberg would probably be the least liked in the entire conference.
Greenberg's paranoid and insecure chip-on-the-shoulder mentality does go over well with his fanbase at Virginia Tech who are painfully aware that no one wanted them in the ACC to begin with. Their basketball program hasn't won anything of note in any league before joining the ACC and probably never will win much of anything. About all they have to hold onto is the satisfaction in the occasional win over teams like Maryland, Duke and North Carolina. With his team heading into NIT territory again that will make one NCAA bid in four seasons since joining the ACC.