Monday, December 01, 2008

Thanksgiving Notes

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.


terpsfan said...

I do read your blog a lot and think your insight is great. But I can't seem to fathom why you have such a crush on Vazquez. Sure, the team had a poor game against Gtown when he was doubled, but that's not why they lost. They lost because they have no frontcourt, like you pointed out. Dupree doesn't even know where the basket is when he takes a shot. And the team gets killed on the boards, as was seen also against Gonzaga. But Vazquez's faults are still there - turnovers and poor shot selection. He averages over 3 turnovers a game, and has less than 1.5 assist to turnover ratio. He also is a weak three point shooter, yet has shot 6 more 3-pointers than anyone else on the team. These are his two biggest faults, and has hindered the team in a sense because it's less possessions. Turnovers, and one and done three pointers hurt a team that's struggling to score points. He's better suited as a 3, not the 2 and definitely not the 1. As much as you make sure to point out he's not the villain Gilchrist was, John improved his assist to turnover ratio every year, finishing his junior year with over a 2-1 ratio. And he averaged less shots a game than Vazquez, despite being a superior shooter.

Esquire said...

I think turnovers had little to do with either loss to Gonzaga or Georgetown. In both games the opponent had more than Maryland, moreover 13 and 15 turnovers respectively are not going to lose you a game, even with a slow tempo. In the two losses Eric Hayes had two assists and five turnovers in the losses but you don't hear much about how he killed the team. I've never been convinced that assist to turnover ratio is a great metric for guards, especially since the traditional point guard position is a fading role.

When you shoot under 40% you have little chance to win. Sometimes it is that simple. Vasquez isn't getting much help from the rest of the backcourt and you saw how impotent the offense looked when he was struggling. Sure, the frontcourt got killed with the rebound margin but part of that was the perfect storm of missing 81 field goals, and giving the other side plenty of opportunities for rebounds, while allowing the opponent to shoot so well (over 50%) they only miss 49 field goal attempts. 81 compared to 49, no wonder they got out rebounded so badly.

Vasquez is not a great 3-point shooter and I've never contended his is one. Unfortunately Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne, who are supposed to be "good" shooters are barely any better, or even worse than Vasquez, this season. His ill advised shots certainly hurt the offense but they were only one element, and not even a significant one, in the losses

I don't think there is much point in comparing Vasquez to John Gilchrist. Vasquez is a far superior player in practically every facet of the game. I think you need to go back and look at the stats. Vasquez had a better FG% as a sophomore than Gilchrist had as a junior and is a far better free throw shooter. Gilchrist was at best a mediocre 3-point shooter and that was the only category he had any advantage over Vasquez. Gilchrist also had, and this is the sad part, far better players around him in his junior season than Vasquez. Compare Eric Hayes, Cliff Tucker and Landon Milbourne to Chris McCray, DJ Strawberry and Nik Caner-Medley.

Is that even worth debating? The failure of that season isn't only on Gilchrist, that entire roster was a mess, but to consider the serious off the court problems with Gilchrist and his corrosive selfishness as somehow equivalent to Vasquez's issues is puerile.

terpsfan said...

Well, I'm not sure if it's puerile to compare two players - I'm pretty sure that's what makes sports great. I think you remember Gilchrist more for his off-court antics, and while he was an immature player who did not realize his actual place in the game, he was a great point guard. He took the team on his wings during the ACC tournament in 04, and the team would've most likely made the tournament in 05 as well if DJ didn't get hurt. But to compare Vazquez and Gilchrist's sophomore years:

FG%: Vazquez 43.2%; Gilchrist 47.4%
3-PT FG%: GV: 30.9%; JG: 38.4%
Ast/G: GV: 6.8; JG: 5.0
TO/G: GV: 4.4; JG: 3.1
Stl/G: GV: 1.4; JG: 1.75
Pts/G: GV: 17; JG: 15.4
Shots/G: GV: 13.6; JG: 11.9

To say Vazquez is better in almost every facet of the game is incorrect - he only leads in assists (which is likely due to his high amt of passes driving to the lane setting up easy shots for his teammate due the ability to bring the double team) and points/game. The assists is true, but you have to realize that almost half of those passes also result in turnovers, so it's not a high percentage opportunity. And then, despite his worse field goal %, he took almost 2 more shots per game, and most of them were low-percentage threes. GV took 207 3-pt attempts, while Gilchrist took only 112.

Is this a function of Vazquez needing to take shots because of worse talent? I'm not sure. I would argue that the post-2002 class was the most overrated, softest, bunch of guys that have played for Maryland. But I guess you can argue that the current players try to take the cake on that. I am not arguing that this loss or that win was a direct result of Vazquez's play. Did he hurt Maryland against Georgetown by having a tough game, that will happen over time? Probably. I'm just talking about over the course of a season, he has hurt the team on many occassions. And this sentiment was agreed on by Andy Katz and Fran Fraschilla during Thanksgiving night's broadcast of the Michigan St game. He needs to bring those turnovers down and be more selective on shots. Then he will be an elite player.

I also believe there is little coincidence that the last "top-25" type Maryland team was 02-03, and that was the last time we had a traditional pass-first PG. Or we just had better talent from the backups of the championship team than the starters of the current teams.

Just to jog your memory, Gilchrist's ACC Tournament stats from 2004, when we were probably on the outside-looking-in for the NCAA's going into the first game, as a number 6 seed:

24 p/g; 63.4% FG %; 64.3% 3-pt %; 4.7 rb/g; 6.3 a/g; 2 to/g; 3.15 a/t ratio

Esquire said...

As I said in my response I was comparing their second years as starters, Vasquez's sophomore season and Gilcrhist's junior season. To me that is a more worthy comparison. I am still correct that Vasquez was superior in almost every statistical category.

I remember John Gilchrist on the court as well as anyone and I never thought now or then that he was a "great" point guard as you contend. At the time in the ACC he was probably the fourth best point guard behind players like Felton, Paul, and Jack. His best finish was a single 3rd team All-ACC selection, even Nik Caner-Medley was a two time All-ACC selection. Gilchrist made his reputation based off of three games but a career is not made by a tournament hot streak. I remember a player so selfish and immature that he was benched at the end of his junior season with a phony ankle injury. I also recall a player who rarely ever made his teammates better with his play and who overestimated his offensive skills. In addition his defense during his junior season was so astonishingly lazy and apathetic it defies comprehension.

Look at what Gilchrist did in regular season ACC games over his last two seasons as a starter and you'll see a much more mediocre player than I think you would imagine. He shot 44% from the floor his sophomore year in ACC games, slightly better than Vasquez as a sophomore, but was a putrid 30.5% from 3-point range and shockingly Vasquez was actually better (33.3%). I can guarantee right now that Vasquez's junior numbers will be dramatically better than Gilchrist's who shot a terrible 38.9% from the floor as a junior in ACC play. Gilchrist made sure to get his points when playing the garbage teams in out of conference play and it inflated his numbers. What really matters is what he did against ACC competition night in and night out.

It is also worth remembering that Gilchrist didn't win the ACC Tournament on his own. Travis Garrison and Jamar Smith also had major rolls during those three wins but the myth persists that Gilchrist was responsible for getting the team into the NCAAs.

Gilchrist had his moments and at times was a productive player but he was and is vastly overrated by many recent fans.

From my perspective comparing Gilchrist with Vasquez is like comparing Mike Jones with Drew Nicholas. Vasquez understands of the game of basketball in a way Gilchrist never did.