It was a busy holiday for Maryland fans as the basketball team played three games against top 20 teams in four days and the football team faced Atlantic division leading Boston College on their home turf on Saturday. I was out of town for the whole weekend in the Mordor of college sports, commonly known as North Carolina. I did get a chance to watch the Gonzaga and Georgetown games but didn't see anything else yet though the other results are waiting on my DVR.
If you had told me that the basketball team would play three top 20 teams in Orlando and come out with a win I think I would have taken that and been happy. Funny how the order and nature of those results can change the way you evaluate them. After beating a short handed Michigan State team it seemed the Terps were content to leave with that victory alone and not try for much else. They kept it close against Gonzaga for only a half and were never even competitive against Georgetown.
On a side not Georgetown is not a "rival" of Maryland's no matter how much the pimps at ESPN try to make them so. The two have only played three games in over 20 years and among the local programs that places Georgetown well behind other local "rivals" like American University, George Mason and George Washington. When Georgetown can't even draw more fans than Wichita State only a year removed from a Final Four apperence how big of a game would it be between Maryland and the Hoyas? Maryland has finished in the top 25 in attendance every year since 1994 and outdrew Georgetown in 2007 by about 140,000 fans even though Georgetown was a top 25 fixture all season and the Terps finished in the NIT. Since 2000 Maryland has outdrawn Georgetown by almost ONE MILLION fans even though the vagabond Hoyas play in an NBA arena. The Hoyas may be better than Maryland on the court for the last few years but have not been the most popular team in the Washington area for the vast majority of the last three decades. That position is firmly held by the Terrapins and that probably won't change anytime soon.
But I digress. Given the sound defeats the team suffered in the last two games you have to wonder where the psyche of this team sits going into what is now a critical game against Michigan. The Wolverines also have a big win over a top team, beating UCLA 55-52, but had to go to overtime to beat Savannah State on a last second shot. It is a team that Maryland should defeat at home if they have any designs of playing in the NCAA Tournament.
The last two losses certainly put some of the flaws of this squad in the spotlight. The weak frontcourt was exposed in a way it wasn't in any of the prior games. Gonzaga and Georgetown dominated the combinations of Braxton Dupree, Dave Neal, Landon Milbourne, Dino Gregory and Jerome Burney in the post. It as pathetic to watch Dave Neal trying to rebound against Josh Heytvelt and Greg Monroe. If the defense and rebounding doesn't improve by the beginning of the ACC schedule it will be very difficult to get on the right side of the NCAA bubble. Milbourne has been a failure as a power forward where he has not produced rebounds or scoring against top competition. He seems to have regressed over the course of the last three games. Braxton Dupree has showed terrible hands and a inexplicable lack of intensity. Why Jerome Burney continues to languish on the bench is flabbergasting. In eight minutes he had four rebounds against Georgetown, more than Dave Neal and Braxton Dupree had in 35 combined minutes, and two blocks. Admittedly Burney's minutes were in garbage time but I think it is time he is given a chance to see what he could do with a larger role. Neal relies on 15 foot jump shots to score and hasn't been able to rebound against power conference front court players this season.
The critics of Greivis Vasquez got a taste of what this team would be like without his contributions in a blowout loss to Georgetown. He had his worst game as a Terrapin as Georgetown decided to double Vasquez every time he drove into the lane. That he struggle so badly was surprising but it is clear that the Hoyas had scouted Maryland and determined that none of the other players could beat them if given the chance. Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes proved that strategy correct with 14 combined points, most scored when Maryland was done by 20 points. Nothing about this loss was due to Vasquez's poor shot selection or turnovers. What was exposed in these losses was that Gary Williams has little alternative to the Venezuelan when it comes to scoring. When Vasquez is shut down or just having a bad night there is no one else to carry the scoring load. Milbourne and Tucker have been shockingly bad the last few games in making only six of their last 25 combined field goal attempts.
The only player who is making a case to be an alternative to Vasquez is Adrian Bowie. Why Bowie is not in the starting lineup is beyond my ability to fathom. He is currently the second leading scorer on the team and the only player averaging over 10 points a game besides Vasquez. He brings a dynamic quickness to the backcourt that is lacking among the starting three of Hayes, Vasquez and Tucker (or Mosley). In the Georgetown game he clearly gave the Hoyas problems and was often too quick for their collapsing defense. He is without a doubt the most efficient offensive player on the team and leads in field goal shooting. Let's hope that Gary starts giving Bowie more playing time in an attempt to jump start the offense. Sean Mosley has struggled recently even with an elevation to the starting lineup and could do better off the bench in making room for Bowie.
The sky isn't falling but it is clear that there are serious issues with this group and, as with last year, Gary Williams needs to do a much better job with his substitutions.