Monday, March 31, 2008

Football notes

The football team started its spring practices last week and the focus will certainly be on the offensive backfield as both the quarterback and running back positions are an open competition. Chris Turner will try to hold his starting job over Josh Portis and goes into camp with the official starting spot but without a ringing endorsement from head coach Ralph Friedgen. Morgan Green and Da'Rel Scott will both compete for the "starting" spot but my guess is that Friedgen will platoon the two regardless.

The Sporting News' Tom Dienhart rated Ralph Friedgen as the 10th best head coach in the ACC ahead of only Jeff Jagodzinski and Randy Shannon. It has been a long decline for Friedgen after his first three years at Maryland when he was anointed with the dreaded title of "genius" by many media types. Even though there is discontent over the state of the basketball program it is the football program that could see dramatic changes if things don't get turned around. It seems clear that the relationship between Friedgen and the athletic department has somewhat soured over the last few years and the pressure is on for him to have a good season.

Monday, March 24, 2008

ACC exposed

There shouldn't be any further debate about the relative strength of the ACC after the happenings of last weekend. Not after two of the top three teams in the conference lost to lower seeded and mediocre Big East foes on Friday and Saturday night. Clemson seemed to lose its composure against Villanova who handled their press and their interior advantage with relative ease. It was a tough first round game for a five seed but the Tigers almost played like they were just happy to be in the NCAA Tournament at all.

Duke had the flaws that were apparent all season long exploited by West Virginia, a lack of low post game and a fatal dependence on 3-point shooting. West Virginia's Joe Alexander, who really isn't all that different from or talented than former Terp Nik Caner-Medley, scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. It is a little less impressive when you consider that he only hit 7 of his 22 field goal attempts. He played well in the game but was hardly the reason they beat the Blue Devils. Duke's freshmen clearly went into the NCAA Tournament with little left in the tank. Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Taylor King could muster little offense in the two NCAA Tournament games.

The near loss to Belmont the night before should have made Duke fans very worried about the chances they would get back to the Sweet 16. The lack of interior presence for the Blue Devils was fatal in this game as an equally small West Virginia squad dominated the glass and got too many follow up shots off misses. Duke tried to play Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas in the middle but neither was able to provide the defense or rebounding that was needed. By the time Mike Krzyzewski decided to go with a small lineup in the 2nd half it seemed the die was cast. The perimeter shooting that had carried Duke during the season failed to materialize.

It was especially nice to see DeMarcus Nelson flop in his final two games at Duke. He followed up his two point stinker against Belmont with a 6 point effort against West Virginia and went a combined 3/17 from the floor in two NCAA Tournament games. He was simply terrible the entire game. You would have never known he was the defensive player of the year and 1st team All-ACC this season by watching the last two games. Maybe that will be a lesson not to talk about another player because it certainly came back to haunt Nelson after he called out Maryland's Greivis Vasquez after the last Maryland game. I think it was a tribute to Krzyzewski that this team, with its numerous flaws, won as many games as it did this season.

It is a sign of how bad things were for the ACC that some were taking solace in Miami's narrow loss to Texas in the second round. The only team left alive is North Carolina and that is a good thing for the ACC because the Tar Heels look to be playing their best basketball of the season. They have as good a chance as any to win another championship for Roy Williams but that doesn't change the fact that the ACC is no longer a preeminent basketball conference. If UNC doesn't fulfil its destiny and get to another Final Four it will be the first time since the early 1960's that the ACC has not had a Final Four participant in three consecutive seasons. Simply put the ACC is as bad as it has been in a long time.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The ride is over

I'm a little busy watching all the NCAA Tournament games today but I'll try to give a summary of the Syracuse game in the next few days. I'm sure everyone else is focused on the only games that matter at the moment. I'll be at the Verizon Center tomorrow to see the Duke versus West Virginia game. Should be entertaining.

Obviously it was a disappointing ending to a somewhat disappointing season. In many ways it was the kind of game I expected would end Maryland's season. Too many turnovers and rebounds given away to Syracuse. For every good play there would be some bad mistake, even by the seniors. In some ways it was a relief to close the book on this turbulent season but it ends with the Maryland basketball program at a crossroads. There are some critical decisions that will be made in the next few months that will go a long way towards deciding if this program will get back to contending in the ACC or sink further into the NIT malaise. I'm not referring to Gary Williams status as head coach but it is clear that this team needs a new infusion of talent.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sun Pub

Thanks to the Baltimore Sun's Matt Bracken for his endorsement of Turtle Waxing on his recruiting blog the other day. Bracken's recruiting information is fantastic and is a must read for a truly serious Maryland fan. It is probably the best free scouting service on the internet. If you don't mind waiting a few days or weeks after the "insiders" on pay recruiting websites find out about a scoop there isn't a better place to go for Maryland recruiting news. Keep up the great work, Matt!

Terps win at The Barn

It was a surprisingly entertaining game between the Gophers and Terps last night. It wasn't a well played masterpiece of basketball artistry but both teams gave a very good effort in the kind of game that often musters little enthusiasm. The lethargic performances by Florida State, Syracuse and Virginia in other games last night show that it isn't always easy to get a good effort in these circumstances. The game had the plodding pace of a Big Ten wrestling match but Maryland was able to get out in transition from time to time and shoot well enough to pull out a ten point victory.

The offense is still a work in progress as evidenced by the 39% shooting. Gary Williams elected to start Adrian Bowie in place of Landon Milbourne last night and probably tinkered with his line ups more than he has in years. Braxton Dupree, Cliff Tucker, Jerome Burney and Bowie all had significant minutes in the 1st half. I wasn't as concerned about the outcome as I was pleased to see Williams take some chances in a game that really didn't matter much. The bench was somewhat effective as Milbourne, Tucker and Dupree combined for 16 points. Both Bowie and Tucker were effective in getting out in transition against the less athletic Minnesota backcourt. Dupree showed more desire and hustle than he had in months. He hasn't had that kind of effort since the Illinois game and it may bode well for next year. Coming back from winter break in poor physical condition really set him back.

Greivis Vasquez had a solid night with 16 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. He limited his turnovers to "just" three and was under control for most of the game. He had several impressive assists. James Gist continues to struggle and only went 4/11 from the floor with 11 points and 6 rebounds. He is trying too hard to prove he can score outside the lane and except for several transition dunks has avoided the post area. Bambale Osby had the kind of game that fans have grown to love this year. He had his usual passion and added 14 points and 6 rebounds while hitting 8/11 free throws. Neither Boom nor Gist did a good job on the defensive boards and they had several breakdowns on high screens.

The defense overall was good but Minnesota helped out by bombing 30 3-point shots during the game even though they only hit 26% for the night. The Gopher fans were upset at the officiating but when you are taking half of your shots from 3-point range you won't draw many fouls. Despite the poor defensive rebounding Maryland grabbed 47 boards compared to Minnesota's 38.

This sets what could be a very enticing game with Syracuse at 7pm on Thursday shown in the Bermuda Triangle of ESPNU. Baltimore's Donte Green plays for Syracuse and has indicated he is excited to play this game against the home state team. This is the same guy who told 2008 Terrapin recruit Sean Mosley that he "wouldn't be his boy" any longer if he chose Maryland. Green is a slightly inferior version of James Gist and loves to shoot 3-point shots. The Orange are certainly talented but lack smarts and hustle at times. Playing the Carrier Dome isn't the advantage it was a few years ago and Robert Morris gave them all they could handle. It should be interesting.

Offense: 105.2
Defense : 86.6

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Gopher Preview

The kind folks over at Gopher Nation agreed to give Turtlewaxing readers a quick scouting report on their team. As you can see Tubby Smith is a bit more appreciated than he was at his previous job.

The Gophers have been arguably the most predictable team in the country. They have beat every team they should have beat and they lost to every team they should have lost to. While that may not seem like a great season it has been a very successful season for Gopher fans. A year ago this team had a nearly identical roster but their win percentage has been anything but status quo. Last season's Gophers finished with 9 wins and this year's version has posted a 20 win season for only the second time since Clem Haskin's final season as coach. The 1998-99 season (unofficially, 1992-93 officially due to NCAA sanctions).


PG - Lawrence Westbrook (8.4 ppg, 3.4 reb and 2.4 ast) - sophomore who plays good defense and has the ability to score in bunches. Westbrook as a prep player led the nation in scoring with 41.0 ppg. He obviously hasn't carried that knack for taking a lot of shots into the Big Ten but he can be dangerous if forgotten. Westbrook's biggest flaw is his knack for turnovers. He doesn't lead the team in giving the ball back to the opponent but he tends to make bad decisions that often lead to balls sailing out of bounds.

SG - Lawrence McKenzie (12.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.8 ast) - last season's leading scorer who needed some adjusting time to Tubby Smith's offense. McKenzie is a local product who originally signed with Kelvin Sampson at Oklahoma State but soon transfered back to Minnesota and has had a nice few seasons. McKenzie, like Westbrook, is capable for scoring a lot of points in no time at all. He has had a few games this year where he was very average in the first half but would explode for 17 in the second and carry Minnesota to the win. If McKenzie has a weakness it is his decision making on offense. If he makes a shot or two early he won't hesitate to think he is "feeling it" and take a few terrible shots before he receives the Tubby Stare on his way to the bench.

SF - Damian Johnson () - Johnson is a glue guy. He can hit the outside shot but isn't a prolific scorer. But Johnson will block shots, get rebounds and do things necessary to help the Gophers win. He has arguably been the most improved player from a year ago and has deserved every minute he has been on the floor. Johnson has great verticle quickness but doesn't move laterally with the same explosiveness. He is solid but not flashy.

PF - Dan Coleman () - Coleman is our most talented player but has lacked the necessary drive to take his game to the next level in his senior season. He is an athletic and strong powerforward and he has the ability to dominate the boards and be a very tough matchup for his opponent. But DC often goes soft and disappears for long stretches.

C - Spencer Tollackson () - Solid but nothing spectacular senior center. Tollackson has good size and is capable of scoring in the post but he lacks the athleticism to guard athletic centers. You never know what you will get from Tollackson he could produce a 4 point, 6 rebound night or he could just as easily give you 16 and 9.

Bench - primarily two freshmen guards. Blake Hoffarber is making a name for himself after his game winning shot to beat Indiana in the Big Ten Tourney. The Hoff is a VERY dangerous shooter who is on pace to crush the Gopher all-time three point record. While his range and touch may resemble JJ Redick, he does not have a complimentary offensive game to go with his shooting making him very one dimensional. Along with Hoffarber, Al Nolen will come off the bench to play PG. Nolen has a unique knack for the ball and will steal passes or pick your pocket. But he then tends to turnover that steal and negate his defense. In the frountcourt we have 6'10" Jonathan Williams. He is a big guy with limited offensive moves but he rebounds well and plays solid defense.

Outlook - I know very little about the Terps but I will be most intrigued to watch the head to head mind game of Tubby vs. Gary Williams. Both men have their NCAA Championship rings and are desperately looking to put that NIT ring on their middle finger to...nevermind.

As a homer I am going to predict a Gopher win for a few reasons...

1. It is at home and The Barn presents a unique home court advantage.
2. It seems as though Minnesota is playing better (beating Indiana in B10 Tourney) while Maryland is regressing.
3. This is all about revenge for stealing our women's coach. If you were Michigan you'd be stealing our softball and volleyball coaches next, we wont' stand for that!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Terps headed to Twin Cities

Not only was Maryland relegated to the NIT for the third time in four years but they won't even have the luxury of playing a game at Comcast Center. Turns out the disastrous meltdown against Clemson was the last game that James Gist and Bambale Osby will probably play at home. In a way I'm glad that this team will have to go on the road if they are going to make a run in the NIT. They didn't deserve to be rewarded with a home game after losing five out of their last six.

Maryland was awarded a five seed and will play the four seed Minnesota on Tuesday night at 9:30pm on ESPN. The Gophers have an RPI of 101 but recently upset Indiana in the Big Ten tournament. They have won four out of the last five at home including a win over Ohio State but also got beaten by Illinois twice during the last 12 games of the season. Seven of their eight Big Ten wins were against Michigan, Iowa, Northwestern and Penn State. I do think Tubby Smith is a very good coach and the Gophers will be ready for this game, it remains to be seen if Maryland will also be ready. An intriguing matchup against Syracuse looms if Maryland can get past Minnesota.

There are some rumors being circulated that Eric Hayes and Dino Gregory may transfer in the off season. Give that Juco Ken Bowman has been rumored to have a scholarship offer when there are no free scholarships currently available would indicate at least one of those two will be leaving. I wouldn't be surprised if two players leave the team. I'll give my thoughts on that when it happens.

I wasn't surprised that the ACC only got four teams in the NCAA Tournament. The post announcement show on ESPN has turned into a collection of whining coaches who got excluded and analysts who flail at the committee like they were a blindfolded kid hacking at a pinata. The worst "analysts" like Digger Phelps and Dick Vitale gripped about Virginia Tech being left out but offered little to support their opinions besides the fact that the Hokies almost upset North Carolina as if this "look test" as they called it wasn't even more arbitrary. I think the truth is that Virginia Tech wasn't as close to being selected as people thought and that Georgia's SEC tournament win probably knocked out Ohio State or Arizona State. You would expect Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg to advocate for his team but he stupidly claimed on Saturday that anyone who didn't think his team was among the 65 best in the country was "certifiably insane." Tom O'Connor, the selection chair for the NCAA, responded correctly that the Hokies may well have been among the best 65 teams but that there are only 34 at large bids. They didn't think that Virginia Tech was among the 34 best teams and they were right.

I felt it was one of the least controversial selection results in years. As Mike DeCourcy indicated in his level headed column the only team with a real gripe was Arizona State. With a dismal 296th ranked out of conference schedule and sitting at 83rd in the RPI it was a long shot for them to make the tournament. The loss to USC in the Pac-10 tournament, even with the controversy, was probably their undoing.

The reasons why Virginia Tech didn't get in are well laid out in DeCourcy's column. It is about time ACC fans stop bringing up how many conference wins a team had or that the ACC was the number one conference in the RPI. Neither factors in to the committee's decision and they have been very clear on that for a long time. What matters is who you beat and where you beat them. In its last twelve games Virginia Tech had five total chances at North Carolina, Clemson and Miami and only had one win. If they had won just one more game out of those five they would probably be in the NCAA tournament. You shouldn't get a bid because you were competitive against a great team, you actually need to beat someone good.

Virginia Tech set a dubious record of being the only 9-7 conference team to win an ACC tournament game and not get to the NCAA tournament. In addition they have had an ACC tournament bye twice and still missed the tournament which is another record. As I have written before this will become more and more common for the ACC. If you only have 9 wins you had better of beaten a top team in the conference because you won't bet a bid by dominating the dregs of the league like Virginia Tech did. Miami had four games against Duke and Clemson and came away with two wins which is what got them into the NCAA tournament. The Hokies were unable to do that and so they deserved to go to the NIT.

In 2006 Maryland finished 18-12 and 8-8 in the ACC but had a better RPI (49 to the 2008 Hokies 52), had a better record against the top 50 in the RPI, and also had an ACC Tournament victory. Maryland also had no losses to any team below 100 in the RPI while this year's Virginia Tech team had four. That year Maryland also had more top 100 RPI wins with a better overall and non-conference strength of schedule. The Terps didn't get a bid that season either. Florida State also went 9-7 that same season with more top 50 RPI wins and only one loss to a team lower than 100 in the RPI but didn't get into the NCAAs due to a dismal non-conference schedule and weak (63) RPI. There should be little outrage over the Hokies getting passed over. If you had paid close attention to the signs it should have been obvious that unless they had beaten North Carolina in the ACC Tournament they were NIT bound. The fact they were even in the discussion was more a commentary on how soft the bubble was this season.

The four bids again this year should demonstrate that ACC teams should not expect the benefit of the doubt. You have to beat good teams to get into the NCAAs and when you have your chances you'd better win those games. Villanova, Oregon, Kentucky and even South Alabama won those kinds of games and that is why they are in the big dance.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Terps implode

There will be much written and discussed about the fact that Maryland took another double digit lead in a game and still ended up losing last night against Boston College. I wouldn't describe it as a collapse, as it was in the Virginia Tech or Clemson losses, but more as an implosion. Watching Boston College methodically chop away at Maryland's lead and then build a double digit lead of their own was more like watching the controlled demolition of a building. You see the charges blow the support structure out and the floors begin pancaking each other in an orderly succession until there is nothing left but a pile of rubble.

That rubble was the hopes of another NCAA birth for a mercurial and unreliable Terrapin's basketball team. The loss was certainly emblematic of the problems that have plagued this team all season: copious turnovers, the surrender of offensive rebounds, a sputtering offense and a defense that goes missing in the last 10 minutes of the game. Perhaps in the sober light of the next few weeks when the lamentations subside we'll look back on this season and realize that this team wasn't as good as everyone, including me, thought.

The biggest culprit of the season has to be the impotent offense. Since the Florida State win the offense has averaged a 95.3 rating while during the stretch when they went 6-1 in the middle of the season they averaged a 108.9 rating. For some perspective on those numbers 108.9 would put a team just outside the top 50 in the nation this season while 95.3 would rank your offense 275th . The shooting has been decent, Maryland made 51.9% of its field goals last night, but they have turned the ball over too much and failed to get to the free throw line because they settled for jump shots. Maryland has turned the ball over 109 times in the last six games while the opponents have only turned it over 76 times. That is a whopping -33 margin in the turnover battle and that kind of deficit is hard to overcome. In that same six game run Maryland only made 56 free throws while their opponents made 98. That is a 42 point advantage for their opponents in just six games. It isn't the officiating either because when your power forward would rather shoot from 15 feet than down low you won't draw many fouls.

Greivis Vasquez turned the ball over another six times but he wasn't alone as Eric Hayes, James Gist and Boom Osby combined to add in 11 turnovers between the three of them. Vasquez got even more sloppy at the end of the game when Maryland was trying to mount a furious but futile comeback. I thought he actually deferred to his teammates too much last night and finished with only 8 field goal attempts, three of which were in the closing minute. He got some garbage points at the end to finish with 11 to go along with 9 assists and 7 rebounds. He played decent defense on Tyrese Rice for most of the 1st half but when Rice got out in transition in the 2nd half when Maryland started missing shots he diced the transition defense to finish with 19 points. It was a similar problem that Maryland had with Singletary in the previous game. Vasquez is clearly the best player that Gary Williams has on his roster but he is probably better suited to play the two or three position. Hopefully next year either Bobby Maze or Adrian Bowie will allow him to play off the ball more often.

Eric Hayes continued to struggle last night. He has really faded the last four weeks of the season like he also did last year. He did hit a few outside shots on the night but he turned the ball over four times with only one assist in 27 minutes of play. Late in the game he seemed unwilling to take a shot even though he had some decent opportunities. To me it seems like his confidence is shot. Cliff Tucker nearly matched his point total and didn't commit a turnover in 21 minutes. Tucker is still in need of improvement in a number of areas, especially defense, but he was very good at getting some easy transition baskets. I thought Adrian Bowie played well if unspectacular. He had five points, a rebound and a steal in 13 minutes. Bowie and Tucker combined for only one turnover in 34 minutes of play.

Landon Milbourne started off the game on fire offensively. He had five points in the first five minutes of the game but then picked up two dumb fouls in just a couple of minutes and sat on the bench for most of the rest of the half. He was limited to 20 minutes because of that foul trouble. He helped little on the defensive glass, as has been the case for most of the season, and only grabbed 2 rebounds the whole game.

Bambale Osby also started off well but finished with only 5 points and 8 rebounds for the game on 2/6 shooting. He did have 4 blocks and 3 steals but was also in foul trouble during the game though he still played 30 minutes. Boston College isn't a great matchup for Osby but it was reserves like Shamari Spears and Josh Southern that really killed Maryland on the offensive glass. Too often one of those forwards or Corey Raji would grab a key rebound over Maryland's big men. It was kind of sad to see them scurrying out of the lane like a couple of crabs every time BC crashed the boards. That had a ridiculous 21 offensive rebounds which has to be a reflection of who was more motivated to win that game. Sadly it was the team that came in having lost 12 of their last 13, not the team with some slim hope of an NCAA birth still alive.

James Gist had what looked like a good night from the box score. He finished with 19 points and 6 rebounds on 8/15 shooting and added 5 blocks and 4 steals to his total. It was probably one of the more deceptive stat lines of the season. He played well the first 10 minutes or so but then went back to his jump shooting ways in the 2nd half. When Maryland needed him most in the midst of a nip and tuck game he came up short. He missed two of four free throws in the 8 minute stretch when Boston College went ahead by 5 points. He seems to be playing more like a guy who has one foot in the NBA than a guy who is trying to do whatever his team needs him to do to win. He got blocked by John Oats and played virtually no defense nor did he do much boxing out in the last 10 minutes. He had a few scores late in the game when BC was nursing a comfortable margin but that was about it.

Outside of Bowie and Tucker the bench didn't offer much. Shane Walker was a train wreck in the two minutes he played. He turned the ball over and then surrendered a 3-point basket on the other end which was the coup de grace for Maryland as they never lead again. Dave Neal continues to get minutes and produce little for it. He was getting killed so badly on the defensive rebounding front that Williams had no choice but to pull him in the 2nd half. For a guy who has been in shrink wrap for much of the season Jerome Burney didn't do that badly. He had a few gaffs and didn't rebound or defend like you would hope but also had two steals.

I thought it wasn't one of Gary Williams finer coaching jobs but maybe this game indicates that there isn't any miracle working for this group and that all the coaching moves in the world wouldn't save this team from its fate. The closed out the year losing two in a row to two teams with the worst and second worst record in the conference. Maryland was a pathetic 3-3 against the worst three teams in the ACC this year. At least the suspense is gone and Maryland fans can wait to see the NIT selections on Sunday night. Gary Williams indicated that the Terps will play in the NIT because it is an NCAA property now. The season can't end soon enough for me. The staff needs to close the book on this year and go back to the drawing board to fix what ails this team.

Offense: 95.7

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Accentuate the positive

The team seemed positive and upbeat at the practice yesterday to kick off the ACC Tournament. Dave Neal threw a ball off a the backboard for a dunk and Boom Osby hit a half court toss in two of the lighter moments of the session. Given the dire situation the Terps find themselves in going into the post season they need a leader on the team to demand more consistent efforts from his teammates. From some of the quotes in recent articles Boom Osby and Greivis Vasquez may be trying to fill that need.

In the Washington Post Osby had this to say:
You just can't accept anything from anybody. If a guy is going to throw a pass away, you have to get in his face and say, 'We can't have that crap anymore.' All the freshmen and sophomores, they have played all year. They know what to do. For them to give a half-effort or not understand a play, it is just too late for that.

That is fairly tough rhetoric but I think some of the more passive members of the team need a player to demand they perform up to their skill level. Juan Dixon famously chastised Chris Wilcox in the 2002 NCAA Tournament when he felt he wasn't playing well. A team needs that kind of check coming from someone other than the coaching staff. There has been a suggestion that some players were concerned about hurting a teammate's feelings if they took playing time away from someone else. Think of how ridiculous that is. James Gist is a nice guy and a good player but he isn't really a leader. Vasquez relayed, in a Diamondback article, an incident earlier in the season in which Eric Hayes rebuffed an attempt by the senior to demand that he start playing better. Certainly players will talk back to one another but it is worth noting that one of the most passive players on the team had little problem talking back to the more experienced senior captain.

For his part Vasquez had this to say:
I'll tell everybody, if one of you guys think I'm trying to do too much, then maybe one of you guys can step up and try to do too much, too.

It would be nice if someone took him up on his challenge, starting tonight.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

BC Preview

We've been lucky to have Bill from Eagle in Atlanta to give us a glimpse of Boston College sports over the last few years. He's back again this week as Maryland takes on Boston College in the Conan O'Brien game scheduled for a 9:30pm tip time. Mock me if you must but that is damn late for a basketball game. Last year the six versus eleven seed game between Georgia Tech and Wake Forest went into two overtimes and finished the next day, or might still be going on somewhere in the space time continuum for all I know.

I also answered some questions on Eagle in Atlanta that can be found here.

1. Some recent quotes from Al Skinner seem to indicate he isn't happy
with the effort and focus of this team and in some of the recent games
it seemed at times that the players were going through the motions. Is
this just a product of the recent losing streaks and the frustration
at a season that "got away" from a team or is it a sign of deeper

Eagle in Atlanta:I think Skinner is clearly frustrated. He's not the type to vent to the media or even share what's going on behind the scenes, yet this year he's been honest. He's tried everything and it just hasn't worked. I think the season did get away from the guys. Tyrese Rice even mentioned it in a recent interview. In late January, they lost to Virginia Tech at home in OT and then faced Duke, UNC and Clemson over a two week period. That rough road sent them in a tailspin that they weren't able to overcome.

I don't think there are deeper problems...more of a series of problems (age, talent, confidence and lack of focus) that manifested in this terrible second half. You'd hope things would improve with time. We won't know until next season how deep these problems go.

2. Sophomore Shamari Spears was a player I thought would be the first
option in the low post for the Eagles this season yet his playing time
has dwindled. Is he in Skinner's dog house and, if so, why?

EIA:I don't know if he is in a true doghouse. I just think he's not that good and didn't improve enough this year. He's a fine role player but doesn't have the skills to be BC's second scoring option. I think his and fellow Soph Tyler Roche's playing time has dwindled lately because Skinner is trying to shake things up and see what the freshmen can do with more playing time.

3. Freshman Corey Raji seems to be the second option behind Rice
lately. Is this just an anomaly or is he really separating himself
from the other freshman?

EIA:Raji is good, but at this point I wouldn't say he's going to be the best of this freshmen class. Rakim Sanders and Josh Southern both have more upside and could be great if they grow into their bodies. Raji is just a filling a void with hustle and smart plays. He's the type of guy who has thrived in Skinner's system in the past. Most of his points are coming off rebounds and mismatches in the flex.

4. In the recent losing streak what do you feel has been the biggest
problem for BC?

EIA:The biggest problem is the offensive efficiency. The D hasn't been very good for years, but BC could always score consistently and methodically. But Skinner's offense has worked best when he had low post players that were good rebounders and good passers. This year he doesn't. Our big men -- Oates and Blair -- are limited and have been killing the productivity. Too often it is just Rice creating his own shots and the other guys waiting around. We had a similar style under Troy Bell, but Bell was protected by guys like Uka Agbai and Ryan Sidney -- natural rebounders who could convert put back after put back.

If Rice returns, I think things will be better, but the young guys are going to have to mature fast.

Gary in the news

There is a great article in the Washington Times by Patrick Stevens about Gary Williams. I highly recommend it. Williams isn't especially gregarious and keeps his distance from all but a select group of people. The article is a rare window into the man. He is at times self deprecating but also fiercely proud of his accomplishments. He has done as much for his basketball program and University as any coach in America over the last 18 years. That isn't to say that fans shouldn't expect more than one winning ACC season in five years, there isn't much point defending that record. Williams prickly nature and reflex towards defensiveness is something that hurts him with the media and by extension some of the fans. You know he doesn't like the status quo any more than the rest of the Maryland faithful but he is loath to admit that it hasn't been good enough.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

My All-ACC team

The media announced the All-ACC selections for 2008 yesterday and the selections went mostly as you would expect. I would have put Greivis Vasquez on the first team in place of a one the dimensional Jack McClinton but I think Vasquez's antics probably rubbed some media types the wrong way. It likely cost him enough votes to relegate him to 2nd team. I also feel that Bambale Osby should have been on the defensive team instead of James Gist. Gist is a very good shot blocker but he isn't a great low post defender and over the last few games his defense has been atrocious.

My All-ACC team

1st Team
Tyler Hansbrough North Carolina
Sean Singletary Virginia
Tyrese Rice Boston College
Greivis Vasquez Maryland
DeMarcus Nelson Duke

2nd Team
James Gist Maryland
James Johnson Wake Forest
Jack McClinton Miami
Kyle Singler Duke
Toney Douglas Florida State

3rd Team
AD Vassallo Virginia Tech
Ty Lawson North Carolina
Cliff Hammonds Clemson
Greg Paulus Duke
Wayne Ellington North Carolina

The player of the year should clearly go to Hansbrough. He is by far the most dominant player in the ACC and should be considered among the best players in the last decade for the conference. Lawson may have missed a large portion of the season but it was clear how much better North Carolina is with him at point guard when they went to Duke and won last week. What is striking is how few great post players there are in the league right now. Johnson and Gist like to float outside often and Singler is hardly a low post player. Others like James Mays, Trevor Booker and JJ Hickson are solid players but just not productive enough.

My coach of the year was Oliver Purnell. Only the third time in Clemson history that they have won 10 games in an ACC season. He lead the Tigers through injuries to both James Mays and Trevor Booker while losing to North Carolina twice in overtime. Only late losses to Georgia Tech and Florida State kept them from contending for an ACC title. The ACC media Coach of the Year award is a joke as evidenced by them awarding it to Seth Greenberg again. Greenberg has won the award twice for going 8-8 and 9-7 and likely a second NIT trip. That deserves coach of the year?

I also want to give some credit to the unsung players who do the dirty work for the good of their team. They won't get much notice but their effort and hustle are essential to their teams. I call it my All-Grunts team.

Bambale Osby Maryland
Raymond Sykes Clemson
Jon Scheyer Duke
D'Andre Bell Georgia Tech
Ben McCauley NC State
Lars Mikalauskas Virginia

Now for some fun. What I like to call my All-Weasel team and this year is an excellent collection. In the fine tradition of Makhtar Ndiaye, Dahntay Jones, Juluis Hodge and Vytas Danelius I present my selections of the dirtiest bunch of cheaters and jerks in the ACC.

Deron Washington Virginia Tech
I'll miss his flopping antics and attempts to bait other players into retaliating after he puts his arm in their huddle. Washington's collection of embarrassing antics against Duke this season even got him a montage of shame on ESPN. How can we forget he got suspended for trying to wipe his shoe on Lee Melchionni's face a few years ago?

Jeff Allen Virginia Tech
Another Hokie who got suspended by the league for on the court misdeeds. Has any recent team had two players with that distinction? Allen bumped an official after a call he didn't like. What a start for a freshman. I guess I shouldn't be too hard on Allen. He does have the brain of the 12 year old.

Chas McFarland Wake Forest
A chippy little jerk who tends to let his emotions get the better of him. He hacked his way to six disqualifications this season. In the mold of Danelius whose nickname was Thugalius for his free flying elbows.

Gerald Henderson Duke
The hard edge to Duke's team of finesse players. Last year I thought his "sweep the leg" moment in which he broke Hansbrough's nose was an accident. Watching him delight in trying to dunk on people to show them up and then preening for the crowd has made me change my mind.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Singletary flattens Terps

Back on February 16 Maryland was 7-4 in the ACC and looking in great position to land an NCAA tournament birth but after collapsing to an 8-8 record the Terps are almost certainly out of the only tournament that matters for the third time in four years. On Sean Singletary's senior night (nobody mentioned it but Adrian Joseph was also playing his last game) the Terps had a chance to at least keep their NCAA hopes alive against a bad Virginia team that is barely an NIT squad. It may not have been the worst loss of the season, there are just too many of those to chose from, but it probably was the most embarrassing.

Only Duke scored more points on Maryland's defense all season and the 15 point margin was the worst of any game this season along with the Miami loss. It was also the first time that an opponent had shot 50% on Maryland all season. Clearly the defense was atrocious and in the second half many of the players were just standing around watching Virginia convert easy dunks and layups. It was such a pathetic effort that after Wahoo scrub Jamil Tucker drove by Jerome Burney and dunked Bambale Osby berated his teammates in the huddle for their lack of effort. None of the Maryland defenders could check Singletary but it was more of a breakdown in team defense than in any one player being unable to stop his man. When a perimeter player was beaten off the dribble there was none of the usual frontcourt help defense that Maryland has relied on all season. It is also true that one of the reasons that Osby and Gist block so many shots is that the wing players regularly allow dribble penetrations into the post.

The offense wasn't great but wasn't horrible either. That is somewhat impressive given that James Gist and Eric Hayes combined to score less than 10 points on the night. Let's assume for their sake that they were still feeling the effects of the flu, though neither has needed an illness excuse to lay an egg on offense this season. Vasquez lead the team with 16 points but he also took 18 attempts to get those points. He still takes way too many 3-point attempts given his poor outside shooting but he also dished out 9 assists. Adrian Bowie has been an offensive surprise the last couple of games and set a career mark with 15 points on 6/8 shooting, including 3/4 from 3-point range. He just may be the best finisher around the basket on the team and if he can improve his shooting may become a valuable player next year.

Boom looked more like his old self last night and finished with 14 points and 5 rebounds on 6/8 shooting. He also added 3 turnovers and was in foul trouble for most of the 2nd half. With James Gist deciding to go back to his jump shooting habits Osby was the only credible inside scoring that Maryland had all game. He still isn't the same defensive presence he had been earlier in the season and only has one block in the last three games. Lars Mikalauskas is Virginia's version of Osby and the two had some entertaining battles in the low post. Boom only made two of four free throws on the night.

Cliff Tucker, Jerome Burney and Dave Neal combined for 10 points. Shane Walker was unavailable due to the same flu bug that has swept through the team. Braxton Dupree seems to have been put in cold storage until next season. Just when you thought it was safe Neal seems to be getting minutes again. He didn't play at Miami or Wake Forest but has played 21 minutes the last two games. It is pretty sad that he is seeing court time on this team but that is a commentary on the thin talent that has been recruited the last few years.

It seems that James Gist is the bellwether for this squad. In four of the last seven games he has scored 10 points or less and Maryland lost all four. Perhaps all the minutes or all the pressure of providing such a pivotal role has made the senior crumble under the weight. Whatever the reason he has come up short when the team needed him the most during this losing stretch. It is a shame because he had resurrected his season after the debacle against American but a player with his talent shouldn't score in single digits in 3 out of his last 7 games. His season has been a little deceptive as his statistics look fairly good but mask unbelievable variation in his efforts. Is there another player in the league capable of scoring 30 points one night and 6 the next?

Barring some ACC tournament miracle the Terps have played their way out of the NCAA tournament. Getting to the ACC final with wins over Clemson and Duke may not even be enough. Looking back on the season this team is probably sitting where it deserves to be at this point. There was one high note at Chapel Hill and too many horrendous collapses to justify this group playing in the NCAA tournament. The hopes of getting back to the tournament evaporated like the morning mist once the bright lights of the ACC season reached their harshest level. All the blemishes and flaws that were shown in December became visible again during this brutal closing run of the ACC season. There will probably be much lamenting in College Park about the how close the Terps came to pulling off an invite to the big dance but in reality this team was much closer to mediocrity than the promontory of college basketball. Good teams, teams that deserve to play on the biggest stage in college sports, close out games and grind out opponents when they have the advantage. They make other teams crumble under the pressure and don't rely on other teams to do their dirty work. They are not a measly 3-2 against the dregs of their conference. In this case the Terps are what their record indicates they are, a team with an roughly equal chance of winning or losing, no matter the opponent.

Offense 102.6
Defense 122.4

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Road

After Sunday's game against Clemson I began to wonder why this team has such a mediocre home record. In ACC play they are 4-4 and overall they have six home losses this season, which is a new record in the short life of the shiny new arena. In true road games they are 5-3 which makes it all the more perplexing why this team struggled at home against the likes of Ohio, American, Virginia Tech and Boston College. Those two ACC foes are only 6-13 in road games this year overall and have combined for a 4-10 road record in the ACC. Two of those four wins are at Comcast Center. Neither is a good road team and yet they came into College Park and stole a victory. I really don't know what the explanation is for that kind of inconsistency.

Here are the ratings for home and away games:

Offense(home/away): 104.3 /101.3
Defense(home/away): 103.4 /105.1

You would think that Maryland wasn't a very good road team with those kind of efficiency ratings and yet they are 4-3 on the road this year with their best win coming at North Carolina. They are still the only team to have defeated the Tarheels with a healthy Ty Lawson.

Perhaps you can partially explain those discrepancies by pointing out that Maryland has won a string of ACC road games by tight margins. The wins were all within a 5 point margin with the 70-65 victory over BC being the largest of the group. In essence you could say that luck has played a big role in their road wins. If you also consider that the two losses to Miami and Duke, though each was close in the 2nd half, turned out to be blowouts (or as close as this team will come to blowouts) that skewed the ratings a little. The other part may be mental. It doesn't appear that this group focuses well in the friendly confines of Comcast. The early season struggles against Hampton and Northeastern were an early indicator that this would not be a dominant team at home. My brother suggested that the pressure to win that surrounds this program is most acute playing at home, which could be true. The recent players that have come into College Park have mostly crumbled under the weight of lofty expectations. This group seems to be more at ease in a hostile gym for some reason.

You can't really claim that Comcast Center is an imposing venue when teams like Manhattan, Ohio and American have all won there since it opened. It just doesn't seem to have much intimidation factor for visiting teams. It used to be a special win for a road team but after teams like Miami and Virginia Tech can claim to have won there it has lost all its luster.

Fun Facts
Did you know that sophomore Greivis Vasquez has more 20+ point scoring games in ACC play than the entire NC State roster and as many as every player on Virginia Tech combined? The sophomore is putting together one of the finest seasons for a Terrapin sophomore in history. He is already 3rd all time in assists behind only Keith Gatlin and Steve Blake and has set records for 3-point shots attempted and made for a sophomore. Given that his percentage isn't all that great those may be more ignominious records. His 17.5 points per game would put him 8th all time by a sophomore behind a who's who list of Maryland greats including Joe Smith, Tom McMillen, John Lucas, Adrian Branch and Juan Dixon. The 526 points he has scored is already 8th all time and he could climb as high as high as 5th all time (Lucas sits at 564 points) with a strong finish to his season.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Now that the shock has worn off

Some more fallout from the Clemson loss. Terrance Oglesby was awarded ACC freshman of the week for his game winning shot. He only scored 12 points (18 total for the week) so I guess they just ran out of freshmen that week. James Mays and Trevor Booker are the pair that won the game for Clemson. Right now they are probably the most formidable inside duo in the ACC.

Cliff Hammonds broke his wrist on his non-shooting hand when he went up to block a dunk attempt by James Gist with 16 minutes left in the game. Gist went down hard and stayed on the floor for a few seconds. I don't know if it rattled Gist but he only scored two points after that block.

It seems pretty clear that Bambale Osby still isn't 100% healthy after his bout with the flu last week. At Wake Forest the poor kid looked like he was just dragging his influenza ravaged body up and down the court on shear determination. He had none of his usual bounce and hustle. If not for the emergence of Jerome Burney Maryland could be looking at a four game losing streak. Since winning back his starting job after the ill fated Braxton Dupree experiment Osby had scored in double digits in 10 of his 11 games until getting bit by the flu bug. In his last three games he has only averaged 5 points and 3 rebounds and hasn't scored in double digits once. If Boom can get healthy and Burney continued his recent play Maryland would have an even better inside game than they had a few weeks ago. It is painfully clear that Maryland misses his inside scoring, especially in the half court. Defensively Osby hasn't been the factor that he was earlier in the season either. He struggled against Dwayne Collins, Chas McFarland and Trevor Booker in the last three games.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Tigers sour Senior Night

Game over, man. It's game over.

This wasn't even on a short list of worst losses ever. I can think of at least a half dozen in the last ten years ago that were much worse. This wasn't even the worst loss this season. Perhaps it is the most painful for fans but losing at home to Boston College and Virginia Tech, not to mention American and Ohio, were worse for this team's postseason hopes. Win either of those ACC games and Maryland probably doesn't need to beat Clemson to get in the NCAA tournament.

This loss is hard because it was a missed opportunity. Yes, yes Maryland was leading by 20 points with about 11 minutes left but it was really in the last 5 minutes that the Terps lost the game. Clemson is a solid team and they were playing so bad that you had to believe that they would rally at some point. They kept their poise and suddenly found themselves in a position to win because of Maryland's ineptitude. In the last four and a half minutes Maryland turned the ball over three times, went 1/4 from the floor and missed the front end of a one-and-one. Clemson went 8/11 during that time, including 6/6 on its last six possessions, with three steals and 3 offensive rebounds. Clearly the players thought the game was already over when they went up by 13 with under 5 minutes to go. Clemson outworked them in the final moments.

Clemson is a deeper, more experienced and in some ways more talented team than Maryland so it wasn't surprising that they closed the gap. This squad probably should have beaten North Carolina twice this season and perhaps they learned something from those losses about toughness and playing hard for the whole game. This Maryland group still doesn't understand that. I've been commenting all season about how this group doesn't finish off opponents. Even in wins over Wake Forest and Georgia Tech they let the game get way too close for comfort. I think part of this is the passive nature of so many of the players on this team. It also has something to do with the decisions of Gary Williams in regards to rotations. It is no coincidence that he plays the starters for 30+ minutes a night and so many games come down to the wire after the opponent has a furious comeback in the closing minutes. The starters look gassed and confused at the end of games. It wasn't the freshmen making critical mistakes down the stretch that lost the game for Maryland.

If you just took a measure of the box score you'd assume that Maryland would have won the game: they won the field goal percentage margin and rebounding margin, had more free throw attempts and assists and even had more bench scoring. Maryland did have more turnovers but only 7 of the 21 total were in the 2nd half. That isn't great but when you have a double digit lead and you only turn the ball over seven times in a half it probably wasn't turnovers that killed you. The kinds of turnovers were bad since a number lead to easy scores by Clemson but the offensive rebounding by the Tigers and poor free throw shooting by Maryland was probably what did them in. Clemson had 4 steals in the 2nd half but also had 11 offensive rebounds. There is no question which is more valuable. Clemson is supposed to the be the worst foul shooting team in the ACC but it was Maryland that missed crucial free throws down the stretch. If Landon Milbourne makes both his free throws with a minute left instead of missing the front end of the one-and-one Clemson would have probably been forced to foul on the last possession. Instead of forcing the Tigers to do something that they didn't want to do Maryland allowed them to gamble and not foul. At worst Maryland would have had the ball with the opportunity to take the last shot with the game tied.

I'll never understand Gary Williams decisions in regards to player rotations. Again in this game he pulled Adrian Bowie and Jerome Burney after Maryland had built up a double digit lead again and the starters proceeded to squander it. On the last possession by Clemson you had to assume that the Tigers would take the last shot so instead of playing for defense Gary Williams left in Hayes and Milbourne for what I have to assume were offensive concerns in case Maryland got the ball back without any timeouts or opportunity to substitute. Again the two worst perimeter defenders on the team were on the floor when you knew that Clemson would probably try either a drive and kick or some inside-outside set. Terrence Oglesby, who has little ability to put the ball on the floor, was covered by Milbourne and hit his third 3-point basket of the 2nd half for the game winner. The sophomore forward was guarding him on all three baskets. Milbourne is certainly the goat of the game but is it his fault that Williams put him in a situation where it was likely he would fail? Oliver Purnell isn't dumb, he recognized the weakness and attacked it like teams have been doing to Maryland all season.

Now things look much worse for the Terrapins. They need to win the next two games, at Virginia and then the first game of the ACC tournament, to have a decent chance of getting selected. They probably can get little better than the 5th seed in the ACC tournament and may even slip to 7th if things don't go well since Miami and Virginia Tech have tiebreakers.

Offense: 87.2
Defense: 95.0

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Kill me now

Two things happened tonight: a little piece of my soul died and I'm pretty sure Debbie Yow accepted a NIT bid without asking Gary Williams first.