Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bison no match for Terps

It didn't start off as smooth as some fans may have liked but by the 2nd half the men's basketball team was playing like it had the previous week against Northwood in its opening game against Bucknell. There were clearly some opening night jitters among the players, the players and coach Williams admitted so after the game, and that resulted in some poor shooting in the 1st half. A combination of Maryland's defense and some poor execution by the Bison resulted in a 33-17 halftime lead for the Terps. In the 2nd half the offense got much better and the players started getting more aggressive in the half court and in transition. After starting the game shooting a putrid 34% from the floor, only a little of that having to do with Bucknell's zone defense, the team picked it up in the 2nd half with a 53% mark. Some of the improvement was due to Maryland getting out on the fast break, which they struggled to do in the 1st half, but they also ran the half court sets more efficiently. The defense played very well for most of the night. There were some breakdowns in the 2nd half and the team needs to work on defending high screens but overall Bucknell really had to work for decent looks at the basket.

It was nice to see Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez not have to play nearly 40 minutes like they often did last year. This game helped validate that Cliff Tucker and Adrian Bowie are ready to contribute this season and that there isn't a significant drop off when those two are in the game. Hayes played 19 minutes, though he did have to sit the last 5 minutes of the 1st half after picking up his second foul, and Vasquez played 29 which is about what I'd like to see this season. Both will be more effective if they are not forced to play the 30+ minutes per game they were forced to play last year. One of the major differences from last year is that the bench will actually be useful this season. Against Bucknell the bench scored 29 points which was more than the bench scored in any game last season. That is a great improvement from the a situation that required Greivis Vasquez and James Gist to score 20 points per game for the team to be successful. This Maryland team is deeper at the guard positions than any team Gary Williams has had in years.

Hayes played well in picking his spots and getting the offensive sets running. Hayes picked up four defensive rebounds in the 1st half and had a number of nice plays on defense as well even though it is not considered his strength. Jerome Burney lost the handle on a rebound and it was picked up by a Bucknell player leaving Hayes as the only man standing in his way to the basket. Hayes quickly bodied the taller and heavier Bucknell forward and forced him to travel. It was a great play, the kind that never get picked up in the box score. Hayes doesn't have the offensive skills that some of the other guards have but if he continues to play like he did on Friday he can be very useful to this team.

Greivis Vasquez came back from his one game suspension for a team rules violation and had a mostly effective game. He lead the team with 6 assists though he rarely played point guard, which demonstrates his versatility and effectiveness. It still boggles my mind that some fans felt he was part of the problem last year. He added 6 rebounds and 2 steals to his 13 points and only had one turnover. After his lone turnover he was apparently heckled by someone in the student section because at the TV timeout immediately following Gary Williams turned and let loose a string of invective at the culprit. That probably explains Williams prickly post game interview. I can't understand what would possess someone to boo or heckle their own players not even 10 minutes into the season but that is the state of things these days in College Park. So much for the idea that Maryland has great basketball fans. Vasquez still struggled with his shot selection, a bigger bugaboo that his turnovers last season, and only went 6/15 from the floor. Hopefully he'll settle down and take some better shots.

Bowie and Tucker both played very nice games. It is obvious that they are both significantly improved from their freshman season when they looked tentative and lost at times. Both are playing with great confidence on both ends of the floor. The duo bring a quickness and athleticism to the game that Hayes and Vasquez lack. Their ability to pressure the ball and get steals off weak side double teams is a great improvement from last year. Besides lacking production off the bench the Terps would hardly get any steals from their half court defense but Bowie and Tucker combined for four steals against the Bison. Both players are very efficient in on offense and Tucker is really developing into the kind of all around offensive threat that he wasn't last year. He is probably gets out in transition better than any player on the team but has added a sweet midrange jumper and three point shot to his arsenal. Last season foul shooting was also a problem for both Bowie and Tucker who shot 52% and 40% from the line respectively. This season they have combined to go 11/13 from the free throw line against Northwood and Bucknell. That shows some real hard work over the summer and a vital improvement in what is a glaring weakness for a guard.

Landon Milbourne is showing an aggressiveness that he has not shown in two years at College Park. He seems more aware on the floor and more confident than he ever has and maybe the status as a team captain has really helped his self confidence. His two games to start the year have been dominating on offense where he is averaging 18 points and 5 rebounds. On defense he is also much more effective than last season and is even using his quickness to jump passing lanes and grab steals. His shooting is excellent, especially his free throw shooting, and if he can continue drawing fouls like he did against Bucknell he will be a great offensive weapon.

The one troubling sign is the lack of production by the froncourt players. Braxton Dupree looks like his confidence has been wrecked and assistant Joe Harrington spent about five minutes during halftime warmups trying to motivate Dupree. Dupree's stat line looks better than you would think after watching him struggle all night. Perhaps it is a good sign that he scored 6 points and grabbed 6 rebounds even though he really had an awful night. I think there is room for improvement with Dupree and his real struggles are mental. He has to do a better job in protecting the ball in the post and developing stronger hands. Jerome Burney was barely noticeable in his 10 minutes on the floor. Dino Gregory was a pleasant surprise in limited minutes providing great energy and hustle with 5 rebounds, two blocks and a steal in only 10 minutes. This team doesn't need Gregory to score much but if he can provide those kinds of hustle stats he will be very useful. A sign of the struggling front court was the 16 minutes played by Dave Neal. He had a few nice plays on offense but really struggle on the defensive end. The perimeter defenders will have to get used to the fact that there are no shot blockers behind them like Bambale Osby and James Gist this season.

The freshmen played well as a group and will be a factor this year. Sean Mosley admitted he was "hyper" for his first college game and it showed. He missed several shots you'd expect him to make (1/5 from the floor) but again I think that was a function of nerves. He still put up three points, four rebounds and four assists which in your first college game isn't bad. On defense I felt he and fellow frosh Jin Soo Kim gave nice effort. To see Kim guarding a player about six inches shorter 20 feet from the basket was impressive. He wasn't spectacular but held his own with a defensive assignment that few 6'8" players could handle. Though Kim only took three field goals he still scored 5 points which is a small indication of his offensive prowess. Forward Steve Goins had a few minutes in garbage time but looked okay and may get a large role if the froncourt woes continue.

Coach Williams was really shifting lineups and substitutions all night long and fans should expect more of that over the next three games. Once the players start to establish roles the rotations should become more regular. While the returning starters and Bowie and Tucker have established themselves the rest of the positions are waiting for someone to step up to claim them. With the struggles of Virginia Tech, Florida State and NC State in their opening games there is reason to be optimistic with what this group can accomplish.

The efficiency stats for the first two games:

As you can see the offense took a dive from the 141.8 against Northwood to a respectable, but not great, 102.9 against Bucknell. The defense improved though from 83.4 against Northwood, pretty damn good on its own, to a fantastic 67.4 against the Bison. Two trends that deserve some watching: there may be a weakness in giving up offensive rebounds like last season and the first two opponents have gotten to the free throw line a little too often.


terpfan said...

I think the complaint about Vazquez is his decision making and his shot selection. As you mentioned, but very quickly and dismissively, he had some poor shot selection in this game as well. He's clearly a huge talent, but needs to make better decisions at time.

Esquire said...

Eric Hayes, Sean Mosley and Jin Soo Kim all shot as poorly as Vasquez but I didn't mention any of them. Vasquez is still the best player on the team but it isn't by as wide a margin as last season because Tucker, Milbourne and Bowie seem to be playing better. We'll have to see if that continues when the opponents get tougher. Vasquez has proven himself against the best competition. Hopefully Vasquez will learn to trust his teammates. He gave Kim an earful for NOT shooting the ball in the 2nd half. He isn't selfish. His decision making works in both directions as he sometimes takes bad shots but also makes great plays that no other player on the team can make. In the end I think his play is clearly a net positive for this team and more important than some of the other players on the team who don't take many chances but don't make many plays to help you win either.

Silver Spring Alum said...

It's just a little frustrating to see Vasquez play and know if he could significantly reduce his errors, he'd truly be one of the best players in the country.

His positives certainly outweigh the negatives, but the easiest place for him to contribute to MD is not more points, assists and steals, but better shot selection and NOT being in the top 5 in the NCAA in TURNOVERS!

At the same time, thinking he will change or improve much in this regard is a mistake. The same aggressiveness that allows him to create opportunities for himself and teammates is exactly the same thing that at times gets him into trouble. With Vasquez, you need him, but you get what you get. His last two years at Maryland are going to look pretty similar to last year.

Obviously I'm still pulling for him to further refine his game, but I'm certainly not holding my breath. Hopefully Hayes, Bowie and Tucker can continue to develop reliable steady games to counteract Vasquez's ups and downs.