Friday, February 29, 2008

No wake for Terps' tourney hopes

For a little while during last night's win over Wake Forest it looked like Maryland was about to see another replay of the two losses to Virginia Tech this season. In both those games they had outplayed the Hokies only to give up a string of crucial baskets in the closing minutes that resulted in losses. Wake Forest knocked Maryland's double digit lead down to one point with just under two minutes left and you had to have the "here we go again" feeling. Fortunately the young Deacons bungled their last few possessions and couldn't knock down a 3-point shot even though they had open looks at the basket. The Terps kept their NCAA tournament hopes alive and escaped with a much needed win.

James Gist finally broke out of his scoring slump with a career high 31 points and 11 rebounds on 9/15 shooting. Gist admitted he got aggressive again on the offensive end and it showed with 12 free throw attempts. His wide ranging game included alley-oop dunks and 3-point daggers and showcased Gist's real value as a big man who can score from almost anywhere on the floor. When he plays like a timid shooting guard and resorts to fade away jump shots he isn't using his variety of talents and makes things very easy for the defense. Even though Gist had two blocks and three steals his defense wasn't exactly of the lock down variety but he's never been a great one-on-one defender. With his fellow frontcourt alter ego ineffective it was an even more impressive performance.

Greivis Vasquez had one of his better games of the season. He sliced and diced the Wake Forest defense for 24 points and 8 assists while making much better decisions that he had recently. He limited his turnovers to four, which for the sophomore isn't all that bad, and took much better shots. He was especially adept at getting good shots for his teammates last night and even though there were only 13 assists for the game the ball movement was much better, especially in the 1st half. With the score tied at 14 minutes remaining in the game he ripped off 7 straight points and helped give Maryland a cushion they would desperately need as they failed to make a field goal for the final 9 minutes of the game. Vasquez was able to exploit his size advantage by posting up and scoring in the low post. He played decent defense against freshman Jeff Teague who only managed to go 2/11 from the floor with at least four missed layups.


Bambale Osby had his worst game of the season without any doubt. Rumor is that he was in the emergency room as late as Tuesday with some form of illness. You could tell that Osby was weak and flatfooted on both ends of the floor, without any of his normal hustle. He failed to score and turned the ball over three times but you have to appreciate the toughness he showed in making an effort when he was clearly not healthy.

Jerome Burney gave a solid 16 minutes and put up a modest 2 points, 2 rebounds and 2 blocks. He didn't do anything spectacular but is providing reliable play on both ends of the floor. He had two big offensive rebounds in the last 10 minutes of the game to help Maryland hold onto the lead. His yeoman efforts make it more ridiculous by the game that he wasn't playing earlier. Thankfully Gary isn't going back to Dave Neal. Burney appears to have taken over the first big man off the bench role and will be critical against a very physical Clemson front line.

Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes struggled again as the two of them combined for 13 points and 8 turnovers. Hayes again showed some shaky decision making and didn't notch a single assist. There were several moments when Vasquez was out of the game when Hayes and Adrian Bowie both dribbled the ball off their own feet when pressured by the Deacon's guards. Milbourne had some dumb fouls, including one late in the game to cut Maryland's lead to one point, but did also have six rebounds.

Besides the dribble off the foot Bowie did a decent job in 16 minutes of play. Cliff Tucker played all 10 of his minutes in the 2nd half for some reason. He had 5 rebounds during that time which is pretty amazing, including a crucial offensive rebound with Maryland clinging to a one point lead and under two minutes in the game. The twenty six minutes that Tucker and Bowie played is a good sign but it seems that Williams feels he can't afford to leave Vasquez off the floor for very long. Williams indicated in his post game comments that perhaps he needs to learn to live with some mistakes by the younger players because the extended minutes by the starters also degrades their play.

A win is a win but this game further illustrated how thin the margin of error is for this group. Gist and Vasquez played about as good as you could expect and Maryland still had to squeak out a narrow victory. They out shot Wake Forest 49% to 37% but the 20 turnovers by Maryland and 16 offensive rebounds by the Deacons negated that huge advantage. With more production from Milbourne, Osby or some bench players the Terps would probably have won with little drama. With the lack of production from two starters and Hayes continuing his erratic play Maryland was fortunate that Wake Forest wasn't experienced or talented enough to take advantage of their mistakes. I was happy to see Gary Williams even mix in some zone defense (gasp!) to throw the Deacons off balance and keep Vasquez and Gist out of foul trouble.

Ratings
Offense: 101.6
Defense: 94.0

Below is a chart of the ratings for all the games since the first Virginia Tech loss. Note that the defense has been fairly consistent with the exception of the Miami game but it has been the offense that has been very unreliable.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Death of the midrange offense

This article on the Basketball Prospectus by Ken Pomeroy is essential reading for college basketball fans. He charted 4,000 games worth of field goal attempts which totaled about 340,000 shots over five seasons. There were some interesting results and it is pretty clear that the 3-point shot has had a seismic effect on the way that offense is played in college basketball. If you have to chance to watch some films of the college game before the 3-point shot was instituted you'll notice it has little resemblance to the chuck and duck style of today's game. In a counterintuitive way there was more pressure on defenses to cover more area on the floor before the 3-point shot. As Pomeroy wrote in his article many defenses are designed to force shots inside the 3-point arc but outside of ten feet from the basket.

Pomeroy notes that the accuracy of intermediate shots is lower than those shots right at the 3-point line. There may be a number of reasons for this but the coaches in the game understand there is little to gain shooting from around 15 feet when the percentages are worse than beyond the 3-point line. Part of this could be explained by the fact that every player has practiced thousands of shots over the course of their basketball career from 3-point range but probably few from 15 feet. Besides that it is simply a numbers issue. You need to hit 60% of your two point attempts to match a 3-point shooter hitting only 40% of his shots. There are many players who can shoot over 40% from 3-point range, there are nearly 20 in the ACC alone, but there are very few players who can approach 60% from the floor. There are less than a half dozen players who are shooting over 50% from the floor in the ACC. Now this calculus doesn't account for free throw shooting and a player like Tyler Hansbrough doesn't need to shoot 3-pointers to be the best scoring machine in the conference. Still, ignoring the advantages of 3-point shooting is a losing proposition in college basketball today.

Many of the finer minds in college basketball understand these concepts and hence devote their entire defensive scheme to preventing good looks from 3-point range. It is probably no coincidence that the best three teams against the 3-point shot in the ACC this year, Clemson, Duke and North Carolina, are the top three teams in the standings. It shouldn't surprise you to find out that NC State and Virginia are the two worst teams at defending the 3-point shot in the league.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Greivis fires back & does 7 wins = 7 wins

Luke Winn has a interesting interview with Greivis Vasquez on SI.com where the sophomore talks about Boris, his Puerto Rican barber, and gives a retort to DeMarcus Nelson. Pretty entertaining stuff.

Over at the Basketball Prospectus John Gasaway points out the Miami may become the RPI test case on Selection Sunday. He has a persuasive argument that Miami may not deserve an NCAA bid unless they beat Clemson tonight despite a lofty RPI ranking. Does a team that lost to Boston College, NC State and Florida State really deserve an NCAA bid over a team like George Mason?


In the one teams's 7-6 is not another team's 7-6 category here is a list of the overall records of ACC opponents for every team in the league.

Team(W-L)Opponent Win %Opponents Record
NC State(4-9)0.56884-64
Miami(6-6)0.55882-65
Florida State(5-8)0.51776-71
Virginia(3-9)0.51076-73
Boston College(4-8)0.50776-74
Maryland(7-6)0.50681-79
Georgia Tech(4-7)0.50069-69
Wake Forest(6-6)0.48973-76
Clemson(7-5)0.48973-76
Duke(10-2)0.48773-77
Virginia Tech(7-6)0.46574-85
North Carolina(11-2)0.46374-86


Please, please stop with the "only two teams that went 9-7 in the ACC were not selected" or even "no 10-6 ACC team has ever been denied a NCAA invite" because those things don't mean anything anymore. With the imbalanced schedule a winning record in the ACC doesn't guarantee anything these days. More and more 9-7 and, yes, even the occasional 10-6 team will be heading for the NIT from the ACC in the coming years.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Terps NCAA chances going south

Maryland had a chance to get back on track for an NCAA bid by going to Miami and beating a vulnerable Hurricane squad on the road. Problem is that Maryland had lost four of five games against Miami since the expansion debacle, which shows how far the Terrapin program has declined since the glory days of 2002. Miami has never made the NCAA tournament since joining the league but that hasn't stopped them from continuing to beat Maryland whenever they play. Last season Miami only won 5 games against ACC opponents, two of which were courtesy of the Terps. The struggles against an awful basketball programs like Virginia Tech and Miami, which can't even get six thousand people to show up to their games, are emblematic of the slide of Maryland basketball into mediocrity.

There are probably a host of reasons why that might be but the league itself is probably weaker than it has been in years. What you have in the ACC this season isn't impressive parity but weak mediocrity. There are probably only three ACC teams that truly deserve bids in the NCAA right now. For me the main reason why Maryland is probably facing the third NIT season in four years is recruiting. I love Gary Williams and I hope he continues to coach at Maryland into the next decade but there is no getting around the fact that major blunders on the recruiting trail have put Maryland where they are today.

It was obvious at times in yesterday's loss that in terms of depth and talent Maryland is painfully thin compared with yesteryear. When Greivis Vasquez and James Gist play poorly it is obvious how little talent the Terps have behind them. Bambale Osby is a great blue collar player and he has been more reliable than anyone could have hoped coming into this season. It isn't an indictment of him to say that he isn't the kind of player that can carry this team. Beyond him you have a collection of players who won't scare anyone and who would probably have a hard time finding starting jobs throughout the rest of the ACC. Consider that in the last three years Maryland has recruited just one special player, Vasquez. Many of the rest are a collection of players who are likely backup level players on better teams or perhaps should not have been awarded a scholarship at a place like Maryland. Some of the younger players could develop into solid starters a couple of years from now, or maybe not. The problem is that many of them seem unable to even fill the role of even a solid backup at this point. Is that what a program like Maryland should be reduced to, hoping that after two years of seasoning players should be able to contribute?

James Gist had his third poor performance in four games. He really didn't do anything well in this game: rebounding, shooting, defense, or passing it was all terrible. He limited himself to 21 minutes, only six in the second half, with a series of dumb fouls. He and Boom Osby were outplayed by Anthony King and Dwayne Collins, neither of which are on the short list for All-ACC honors. Gist has reverted to some of his old habits and has rarely been aggressive on offense or defense the last few losses. A clear sign if this change is that he took 10 free throws against FSU and has only taken 8 in the last two games. Gist gave an excuse about how teams are playing him differently since his 30 point game against NC State which is mostly nonsense. No other teams realized they had to key on Gist after his 22 point 13 rebound game against North Carolina on national television a month and a half ago? Ridiculous. What other teams seemed to have figured out is that if you play aggressive and physical defense against Gist he will revert to his timid and ineffective style of resorting to jump shots outside the lane. Besides just being, on average, better defensive teams than Gist faced earlier in the season Virginia Tech, Duke and Miami did not do anything special to neutralize the senior. Unless Gist turns around his game quickly Maryland will be heading for the NIT.

Vasquez also played poorly, which will be a common theme as no starters played up to expectations, and couldn't make the plays that Maryland needed to win the game. He shot a terrible 5/17, including 1/6 from 3-point range, but did lead the team in rebounds and assists. Jack McClinton didn't really do too much damage with Vasquez guarding him and finished with 12 points and only six field goal attempts. He still has trouble staying in control on offense and his sometime frantic play lead to 5 turnovers. With Gist in a slump and none of the other players contributing much it requires Vasquez to have exceptional performances. Unfortunately he wasn't quite up to it against Miami.

Bambale Osby had a decent first half on offense and scored 7 points on 3/4 shooting but then took only one shot the entire 2nd half even though he played 18 minutes. He struggled at times with Miami's physical front line and wasn't as effective on defense as he is normally. You would expect more than 3 rebounds in 36 minutes of play and Miami grabbed 9 offensive rebounds in the 2nd half that really hurt the Terps. Osby is a very reliable player and is likely to give Maryland somewhere around 12-14 points and 6-7 rebounds per game, night in and night out, but he can't carry this team.

Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne both struggled in this game as well. Hayes did break a string of terrible shooting performances by going 5/8 from the floor and leading the team with 14 points. He balanced that with four turnovers and only two assists. Hayes is supposed to be the more steady and reliable player but the last few weeks he has been just as prone to turn the ball over and make awful decisions as Vasquez. His defense against James Dews (5/7, 13 points) was awful as Dews was able to almost dribble into the lane at will with nary a turnover. Dews had only scored in double figures once in the last four games until putting up 13 on Maryland. I don't know if his ankle is still bothering him but he doesn't seem to possess the agility necessary to defend or dribble into the lane against ACC caliber athletes. Milbourne chucked a season high 16 shots but unfortunately only made five which totaled 13 points. If Vasquez and Gist had scored near their averages that may have been a decent contribution but Milbourne's 11 missed shots, many of which seemed like good looks that he couldn't convert into points, killed the Terps in the 2nd half. The sophomore went 3/11 in the second half while the team shot a pitiful 29% from the floor.

Reserve Jerome Burney finally made an appearance in his first ACC game of the season. He played 12 minutes and recorded 4 points and 5 rebounds, both decent numbers. He was the only reserve to score a point. Gary Williams had commented that Burney was playing better in practice the last few weeks and I felt he may get a shot to play against the team he had originally committed to as a high school recruit. Instead of being pleased that he got a chance I was annoyed that Williams has given 69 minutes to Dave Neal since the first Duke game while Burney languished on the bench. I don't want to abuse Neal but there is no comparison in the physical talents of Neal and Burney. Burney could become a valuable reserve that can give you quality minutes in league play, something Dave Neal will never be able to do. In those 69 minutes Neal produced 14 points and 7 rebounds which adjusted to a per/40 minutes basis is 8.1 points and 4.1 rebounds. Based only on one game Burney's per/40 minute stats are 13.3 points and 16.6 rebounds. Some might think this is unfair but Miami's frontline is probably a tougher test than most of the frontlines that Neal was facing earlier. It isn't Neal's fault that he lacks the talent to be a serious bench player, it is Gary Williams' fault for putting him out there to prove some sort of point about practice habits. I don't know what the real reason behind Burney's MIA period, and I doubt we will ever know, but I hope it was a damn good one because it may have cost Maryland an NCAA bid.

Two things are clear: Williams' has little faith in his bench players while at the same time he has botched his handling of the freshmen reserves. He chose to play Hayes and Vasquez for all but 3 minutes of the game and the only reason Burney played was because James Gist was in foul trouble. It only took Burney 12 minutes to have more rebounds than either Gist or Osby. The reserves didn't stink up South Beach by shooting a pathetic 37%, the bench went 2/5 from the floor, it was the starters that bricked their way to 21/57 shooting. The freshmen are not a panacea to the deficiencies of this group but Williams isn't really putting them in any position to help. Williams admitted that Tucker was healthy enough to play against Virginia Tech but that he had only practiced briefly before the game so he chose to play Jason McAlpin instead. I'm not sure that will ever make any sense to me but I suppose I'm just another Internet yahoo who cannot understand how playing McAlpin gives you a better chance to win.

Although the team played a poor game they were still within three points, at 61-58, with just under six minutes left in the game. The Terps then proceeded to shoot 2/8 from the floor, including a meaningless layup by Hayes with 22 second left, and turned the ball over twice. Miami on the other hand scored on six of their last seven possessions as Maryland ran out of gas and played turnstile defense. The atrocious defensive rating below bears that out, sorry it is worse than atrocious, so much worse I don't even know how to describe it. Maryland had been on a hot shooting streak going into this game and they had shot over 50% in six of their last eight games. This was the first ACC game that their opponent had out shot Maryland from the floor.

I'd say right now Maryland is a long shot to make the NCAA tournament. Their only real advantage is that Virginia Tech and Wake Forest have to win all their remaining games to have a serious chance at a bid and Miami's last three games are probably slightly more difficult than Maryland's. I think the Hokies and Deacons will probably play their way out of the NCAAs over the next three games but that may do little good given that Maryland lost twice to Virginia Tech and has to travel to Wake Forest this week. The Deacons are a much better team than the one Maryland beat in January and are 14-1 at home this year.

Ratings
Offense: 98.0
Defense: 126.7

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Feeling ill (updated)

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.

Game Analysis

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.

Ratings
Offense: 86.5
Defense: 96.4

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Vasquez ACC POW

Greivis Vasquez was co-ACC player of the week along with Boston College's Tyrese Rice. The fiery Venezuelan averaged 22.5 points, 7.5 assists and 6 rebounds in two games last week. It was the first such honor for Vasquez and he was the second Maryland player to win the award this season along with James Gist. You never know what Vasquez is going to say in an interview and there is a lost in translation feel to some of his comments. He did have some interesting things to say to reporters the other day. A large section of his interview can be read in the Diamondback.

Vasquez is certainly aware of the criticism he gets from Maryland fans. His enigmatic style lends itself to a love and hate relationship from the fans. He'd probably be better off not talking to the media much. He can provide some great quotes and is always an interesting post game interview on television but his honesty sometimes works against him. Gary Williams pointed out on his radio show that fans tend to look at other guards around the ACC and notice all the good plays they make while focusing more on the warts of the players on their own team. Vasquez admitted that his summer experiences may have resulted in him trying to do too much on offense and being "selfish" at times. For a sophomore to place so much pressure on himself to lead a team is remarkable. Because he started for most of last season fans sometimes forget that he is only in his second year playing ACC basketball. When Vasquez came to College Park if anyone had predicted he would average 17 points per game and over 7 assists in ACC play by the time he was a sophomore most fans would have been ecstatic over that kind of play. His erratic play and questionable shot selection frustrate me as much as any fan but he is good teammate and an awesome competitor. Even perhaps the greatest point guard in Maryland history, Steve Blake, got more than his fair share of criticism during his career.

Who is currently the best free throw shooter on the team? That honor may go to Landon Milbourne who is shooting almost 90% from the line in ACC games. He has taken 28 free throws so it isn't as if he only has a few.

Watch the foul shooting tonight as I think Maryland will have some opportunities to get to the line often against Virginia Tech.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Terps show up in second half

There was clearly some early hangover from the loss to Duke in the first half against Florida State. The Terps were lethargic and sloppy for much of the 1st half on both offense and defense. The Seminoles built an early lead mostly based on some torrid 3-point shooting (6/12) and some really poor defense on high screens. On offense the ball movement was weak and the cuts were not crisp which lead to few good looks at the basket. The mixture of zone and man-to-man defense the Seminoles employed did seem to bother the Maryland offense somewhat. The Terps did shoot fairly well from outside in for the game, including in the 1st half, but were just 6/16 from inside the arc. Early foul trouble for James Gist and Greivis Vasquez, who both picked up their 2nd fouls with 11 minutes to go in the 1st half, certainly didn't help.

Even with the early foul trouble Maryland was still hanging in the game with a miss mash of players off the bench. With Cliff Tucker out due to the flu Gary Williams had to get creative with some of his lineups. Adrian Bowie, Dave Neal, Shane Walker and even Jason McAlpin saw significant minutes in the 1st half. None of them did all that badly as Williams tried to ride out the 1st half with assorted foul trouble and a shorter bench. For a stretch of about 6 minutes these reserves actually outscored Florida State 8-5 and handed the game back to the starters with a slight lead. Shane Walker had some nice hustle plays including an offensive rebound that he took away from four Seminole players. Maryland played with offense/defense substitutions in the last few minutes but it was obvious how concerned Gary Williams was about the direction of the game as he had both Gist and Vasquez playing with two fouls. In the last couple of minutes some FSU spurted out to an eight point halftime lead by going on a 9-0 run. Three turnovers and a missed one-and-one were the worst of the end of half futility for Maryland.

To start the 2nd half things were totally different. Maryland stole the ball on FSU's opening possession of the half off a great sideline trap and Landon Milbourne was able to sink both his free throws after getting fouled. It was an auspicious start for the sophomore who would go on to set a personal scoring record. Greivis Vasquez then hit three 3-point baskets in a row and either scored or assisted on 11 of Maryland's first 15 points of the half. The result was a 11-2 Terrapin run that erased Florida State's lead. The Seminoles would never lead by more than a basket the rest of the game. The defensive pressure was much better in the 2nd half and forced FSU into four turnovers in the first four minutes. FSU seemed to go away from the perimeter shots that they took off the high screens in the 1st half. They only attempted four 3-point baskets in the first ten minutes after taking 12 in the first half. Instead they attacked the lane with pull up jumpers and layups off of their high screens. Bambale Osby was a big factor blocking shots in the lane and probably saved at least four points on sure layups with some great rejections. The Terp defenders also did a decent job of not fouling the shooters, which was wise since FSU is probably the best free throw shooting team in the league.

In the deciding stretch of the game you would expect Greivis Vasquez and James Gist to come up big for Maryland, and they certainly did a good job in the 2nd half with 27 points between the two of them, but Landon Milbourne really exploded offensively to clinch the victory. He scored 7 straight points with Maryland clinging to a four point lead with under six minutes to go in the game. He showed his ability to play inside and outside with a 3-pointer and a vicious one handed dunk on FSU's Uche Echefu. When Jason Rich went for the steal on the pass Milbourne reacted by going hard at the basket and Osby sealed off the lane. Those two points gave him a career high 18 for the game on 6/9 shooting. Milbourne is still learning how to play but this game was an example of what he could do if he can use all his tremendous skills. The smaller and quicker Rich gave him some trouble on defense but overall I thought Milbourne did well as Rich only shot 4/16 from the floor.

James Gist really struggled against Duke earlier in the week and was not playing great in the early going against FSU. He hung with it and hit some big 3-point baskets in transition that helped keep the pressure on FSU. He also did a better job getting to the rim with his shots not falling. The result was 10 free throws and allowed him to score 9 points from the line. He had a couple of big rebounds at the end of the game, even though he only had five for the day. Gist must play well for Maryland to be competitive with the better teams in the league, even with Shane Walker showing some improvement. That is a great deal of pressure for the senior but that is what you expect.

Vasquez was a little sloppy in the early going and let Tony Douglas get some early 3-point baskets. He settled down at halftime and scored 15 points in the second half, 9 in the first few minutes. After that he was great at moving the ball and getting good looks for his teammates. He had 8 turnovers to balance out his 8 assists in the game but you can't really complain about 7/9 shooting. He only had one really bad 3-point attempt. With Hayes really struggling the last few games Vasquez has been the most consistent guard on the team, even if he is mistake prone. Unless he has a large drop off in the next few weeks he has locked up an All-ACC selection.

While he wasn't doing very much on offense Eric Hayes did a great job grabbing defensive rebounds. He had seven for the game and had a number of them in the closing stretch of the win. Ralph Mims exploded for 26 points against Hayes but not all of it was his fault. The frontcourt did a much better job on the screens in the 2nd half.

Maryland still had some turnover issues but FSU is second only to Duke in steals in ACC play. Eleven of Maryland's 17 turnovers were steals, with Douglas and Mims both grabbing four apiece.

The Terps outscored FSU 50-32 in the 2nd half, much like they did in the NC State game. They shot 56% in the 2nd half including 6/9 from 3-point range. That was mostly due to great ball movement and spacing.

The Terps get a bruised Virginia Tech team which was routed by North Carolina on Saturday. It is hard to predict how the Hokies will respond but they seem to be running out of gas. Locals Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen may be pumped up to visit Comcast Center but this is a game that the Terps should win easily. Unless the 3-point defense collapses against the Hokies Maryland should be sitting at 8-4 going into a two game road trip.

Ratings
Offense: 119.3
Defense: 103.7

Friday, February 15, 2008

By the numbers

Team(ACC games only)Offensive RatingDefensive RatingRating Margin
Duke117.096.220.9
North Carolina111.2100.910.3
Clemson112.1103.98.2
Maryland106.9104.82.1
Georgia Tech107.8107.80.0
Virginia Tech98.699.7-1.1
Wake Forest104.2106.2-2.0
Boston College108.9111.4-2.5
Miami104.5110.1-5.6
Florida State97.8106.6-8.9
Virginia97.7109.9-12.2
NC State101.6114.3-12.7


Note that the numbers may not exactly add up since I rounded them after the calculations. Clearly Duke is the class of the ACC while Clemson is much closer to UNC than you would think(if two overtime games didn't convince you). Part of that might be the injury to point guard Ty Lawson. It seems the first four teams have separated themselves from the rest of the league. Also interesting that according to the numbers Virginia isn't the worst team in the league.

NCAA Projection

With the exception of Miami and Georgia Tech each ACC team now has six remaining games before the ACC Tournament in Charlotte. Here is a breakdown of the remaining schedule of teams with NCAA tournament hopes.

Duke (10-0) RPI 2
Home:Georgia Tech, UNC
Away: Wake Forest, Miami, NC State, Virginia
They have four road games left but none of them are very daunting. The Blue Devils have an outside shot at being 15-0 with North Carolina coming to Cameron. That would be a must watch game. Wake Forest is suddenly making some noise and Miami will be very physical with Duke like they were a few weeks ago. They could lose one of those games but it doesn't seem likely. Projection: 15-1 NCAA

North Carolina (8-2) RPI 4
Home: Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Florida State
Away: Duke, NC State, Boston College
It really is tough to handicap this team without Ty Lawson. They have escaped with three wins in the games he missed but they could also easily be 6-4. The schedule is favorable if they get Lawson back with some cake walk home games and two road games that they should win. A number one seed doesn't seem very solid at this point. Projection: 13-3 (without Lawson returning, 12-4) NCAA

Clemson (6-4) RPI 23
Home: Miami, Virginia Tech
Away: Maryland, NC State, Florida State, Georgia Tech
The Tigers are probably better than their record indicates, hence the solid RPI number. They face four road games but the Maryland game seems the only really tough contest. The home games should not be a problem. They are vulnerable with injuries and their poor free throw shooting keeps other teams in the game. Still, they should be able to lock up the third spot in the ACC. Projection: 10-6 NCAA

Maryland (6-4) RPI 50
Home: Florida State, Virginia Tech, Clemson
Away: Miami, Wake Forest, Virginia
It is a balanced schedule with three home and three away. None of the games should be intimidating and there are plenty of wins to be had with this schedule. The next two home games are critical, if they win both then they can coast to a winning record and likely ACC bid. If they drop a game then things begin to look a little less bright. With three games against the bottom of the conference, even though two are on the road, a winning record looks like a solid bet. Projection: 10-6 NCAA

Wake Forest (5-5) RPI 79
Home: Duke, Maryland, NC State
Away: North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech
Given a weak RPI and some tough games left the Deacons look to be long shots at this point. I only put them up on the list because they have surged a little with two wins over some bad teams. Upcoming games against Duke and UNC are likely to knock them out of the NCAA discussion but a win could catapult them into serious bubble discussions. Still lack a signature win and probably need to win two against the UNC, Duke and Maryland trio. A 5-1 finish is the only way they would get into the postseason with room to spare. Projection: 7-9 NIT

NC State (4-6) RPI 52
Home: North Carolina, Clemson, Duke, Florida State
Away: Virginia, Wake Forest
Their falling but still respectable RPI is the only thing that keeps them on the list. The Wolfpack probably face the most difficult slate of remaining games. They may get UNC, Duke and Clemson at home but have not shown any ability to win games against superior opponents. The away games are not too difficult but even if they sweep those games and go 2-2 in their home contests that still leaves them in NIT territory. Projection: 7-9 NIT

Miami (3-6) RPI 41
Home: Maryland, Duke, Virginia, Boston College
Away: Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State
The Hurricane's RPI is also the only reason I mention them here and that is fading fast. The remaining slate isn't terrible but Miami doesn't really have much home court advantage to speak of. The loss to FSU probably ended their hopes. They would have to sweep their home games and win two out of the three road games to get serious consideration. Maryland came back from the dead last season at 3-6 but this team isn't as seasoned or well coached. Projection: 6-10 NIT

Boston College (4-6) RPI 79
Home: Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia Tech
Away: Florida State, Virginia Tech, Miami
The Eagles slim hopes were revived last night with a win over NC State. The RPI is awful and the best win is probably over Maryland last December. Boston College probably need to win out to get serious NCAA consideration. Given their weak schedule that might be possible. Beating UNC at home is a necessity but the road games are not intimidating and the Eagles could sweep those three middling opponents. That would give a nice boost to their RPI but they dug such a hole with the six game losing streak that 9-7 might not be enough. Projection: 7-9 NIT

I didn't bother to mention Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech because they have no chance unless they win out to have any consideration. The Hokies face road games at Maryland, UNC and Clemson with the need to probably win two out of the three to get their dismal RPI into tournament territory. Georgia Tech has too many losses to get in without a run to the ACC Tournament finals, even if they finish 9-7 in the ACC. They need to win at Duke to get a victory that will impress the committee. The Yellow Jackets are probably the fifth or sixth best team in the ACC but had some tough early losses.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Same result, different game

Duke used a slightly different method than they did in College Park but produced the same efficient and convincing win over Maryland. Though Maryland got to within two points with just under eight minutes left the game really wasn't as close as the score indicated. Without a stretch of dreadful shooting by Duke, something they have done in a number of games with a large lead, they would have cruised to any easy victory. From the opening minutes it was clear that the Terps would not be able to execute the game plan that Gary Williams wanted them to and when that didn't happen the coach again failed to respond by switching his rotation.

It was a strange kind of game, very fast paced but a defensive struggle. The pace was around 78 possessions which is break neck speed but Duke only managed a 77 points and Maryland a paltry 65. Besides Duke scorching Maryland's perimeter defense with 12 3-point baskets the Blue Devils didn't shoot all that great only managing 39.7% for the game. Maryland shot only slightly better at 40.9% but Duke managed to sink 19 free throws compared to the Terp's 8. Add in the 3-point baskets and Maryland's turnover problems and that pretty much sealed the win for Duke.

In the 1st half Maryland didn't make good decisions on the offensive end and often settled for the first jump shot that was available. Give Duke credit for trying to neutralize Gist and Osby but the guards did not do a good enough job getting either of them the ball. James Gist came in averaging over 22 points a game recently and only took six field goal attempts in the half. Two of those were off an offensive rebound that he grabbed. In the context of the offense he only had four shots the entire half. To help Duke by not working to get Gist some opportunity was unfathomable. Gist did struggle on defense but many of Kyle Singler's points were off dribble penetrations or rebounds where the defense scattered.

After halftime Duke went cold from the floor and Maryland was able to scrape back into the game and cut it to two points. When they got in striking distance Dave Neal and Landon Milbourne both blew what should have been easy baskets. There were also two fast breaks that should have been points for Maryland that ended up with nothing. One should have perhaps been a foul on Duke but the other Vasquez just threw the ball away. Towards the end Duke followed the same script they had in College Park. The spread Maryland out and started dribble penetrations. Over the course of the game Duke had very little success on the inside. A number of their shots were blocked by Osby and they had little ability to finish around the basket in the 2nd half. Unfortunately for the Terps when they collapsed the shooters on the perimeter had some wide open looks.

At the end Gary Williams had the same bizarre scenario that he had at Comcast. He had James Gist guarding Jon Scheyer which is a terrible mismatch for Gist. Instead of pulling Landon Milbourne off of Gerald Henderson (who was totally ineffective) and switching him to Scheyer he left Gist on the smaller, quicker guard who scored 6 points in the closing minutes. Once again Gary Williams was bested by the tactics of Krzyzewski and failed to change his rotation to minimize some of the mismatches. Heaven forbid he subs in Cliff Tucker or Adrian Bowie for defense. Bowie had given up a couple of 3-point baskets to Greg Paulus in the 1st half and was never seen again. Until Williams gets more confidence in his bench this will continue to be a problem for Maryland. He left the starters in the game for the last seven minutes and because of mismatches or fatigue they were outscored 18-8 as a unit.

On a night when Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne were largely ineffective it would have made sense to substitute more for either of them. The loss was not only their fault, Vasquez and Gist also struggled, but when those two go 3/13 from the floor and commit 6 turnovers while playing 67 minutes. Neither was a defensive stalwart on the night. Meanwhile Bowie and Tucker had 4 points and 5 rebounds in just 13 minutes of play. In this game Maryland didn't get any offensive benefit to playing Hayes and Milbourne over 30 minutes each as they combined for 7 points. It is hard to get much production from your bench when you don't play them. If Williams doesn't change his habits and keeps getting tunnel vision in regards to his bench it may just cost Maryland an NCAA bid.

Greivis Vasquez got too caught up in the drama of the game and started letting his emotions get the better of his judgment. He had to be warned by the official to stop taunting the crowd and afterwards DeMarcus Nelson indicated that Vasquez was acting like Cameron was "his place" and as if it was "more about him than about [Maryland]" which may have some merit. I think Vasquez lost confidence in some of his teammates and started trying to win the game himself. He continued to take ill advised 3-point shots and often failed to get the team running its offense. He also scored 25 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and had 7 assists and you can't really blame him for giving up on Hayes and Milbourne who were having dreadful games. Vasquez is such an integral part of Maryland's offense it is obvious when he is struggling to run it. He needs to learn to be more patient and trust the offense to work.

Maryland only had 11 assists but 19 turnovers resulting in 31 points by Duke. That gives you an idea that the offense wasn't running well. It would explain the wretched 83.0 rating on offense which is the lowest since the abysmal Ohio loss in December. The whole team seemed tight and nervous from the start and the numbers probably don't tell the story of how poorly the team flopped last night in their last big test of the regular season.

Duke is a great team and they deserve much credit. They forced Maryland to do some things that no other team has been able to do recently. They had a great game plan and executed it very well. Maryland should have been more competitive and I was disappointed that Gary Williams didn't make better adjustments.

Now the Terps have two home games against teams they should beat. It gives them a chance to shore up their NCAA resume before the final four games, three of which are on the road. If they lose one of the next two their NCAA chances would suddenly be in doubt. Their position is probably more precarious than it seems at the moment. They need to keep winning and a home loss to two NIT level teams would be devastating. The good news is there isn't a game left on the schedule that this team doesn't have a good chance of winning.


Ratings
Offense: 83.0
Defense: 101.3

Monday, February 11, 2008

Terps getting noticed

Maryland's recent string of wins is getting some them some NCAA buzz. Now commentators are not mentioning the losses to Ohio and American as a modifying clause whenever the mention the win over North Carolina. Most recent is Andy Katz on ESPN's Weekly Watch. The Duke versus Maryland game this Wednesday is the biggest game in the league this week and will go a long way towards showing Maryland is not the same team it was in December. You can bet that Vasquez and Gist are going to be motivated for this rematch on national TV. The Terps have an advantage that only one other team in the ACC has and that is they know can go into Cameron and win. They have that confidence that only North Carolina has in recent times.

Krzyzewski mentioned in his conference call this week that Gerald Henderson is playing with a nicked wrist that was banged up against North Carolina. He was a really difficult defensive matchup for Maryland and it will be interesting to see who Gary Williams chooses to play on Henderson. He is too strong for a guard and too quick for most of Maryland's post players.

I know there is some differing opinions in regards to the gold uniforms, yellow isn't the official color, but I have grown to like them. Winning may have something to do with that but they are more attractive to me than the dreadful black uniforms they dragged out in the ACC tournament back in 2006. Players these days love this kind of stuff and if it gets them more excited to play the game then I'm fine with it.

Maryland is currently leading the league in ACC games in both field goal percentage (49.4%) and field goal percentage defense (41.6%).

Around the ACC
Clemson extended its history of futility in Chapel Hill the other night to 53 games. In a thrilling 103-93 double overtime victory the Tarheels showed a more poise and determination that they had all season. Quentin Thomas is still a train wreck at point guard but he settled down in the closing minutes of the game to get it into overtime. With Virginia coming up UNC might be able to ride out Ty Lawson's absence without too many damaging losses. They are much more ordinary without him but are still a solid team. Once Clemson stopped getting out in transition and UNC stopped turning the ball over the Tigers had little answer for the Tarheel's counter blows.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Terps surge past Pack

Maryland looked a little shaky in the 1st half of yesterday's game against NC State. The hot shooting that had carried them to early leads in the last few games was absent and the Wolfpack staked an early lead as Maryland failed to hit a basket for the first three and a half minuted of the game. It was the largest first half deficit that Maryland had faced since the Wake Forest game. The Wolfpack were finding some holes in Maryland's defense and the Terps were taking contested shots on the offensive end. The team clearly looked out of sync. It was just the kind of moment you need your seniors to step up and carry your squad when things are not going well.

I'd say James Gist certainly fit the bill last night. His 18 points in the first half kept Maryland in the game when no one else was doing anything. He went 7/11 from the floor in the half and added 5 rebounds and 3 blocks to go along with over half of his team's 31 points. With the help of Gist's heroics the Terps clawed back into the game and tied it just before halftime. A foul of Gavin Grant with less than a second left on the clock gave NC State a two point advantage going into halftime. The momentum was clearly shifting to the Terrapins. In an eight minute span from 3 minutes left in the first half to 5 minutes into the 2nd half Maryland went on a 28-7 run and blew away the Wolfpack.

The 2nd half offense by Maryland was a clinic. State's defense got shredded by crisp passing and slashing drives in the lane. The Terps hit 10 of their first 11 shots after halftime mostly on dunks and layups. Greivis Vasquez tied the Maryland single game record with 15 assists while bedeviling State's bigger perimeter defenders. Grant and Courtney Fells were too slow to guard him and Vasquez out muscled Javier Gonzalez. You don't need to check that box score again because Maryland did indeed shoot 74% from the floor. After Maryland came out after halftime and delivered some counter blows to NC State it seemed the fight went out of them. It was an intense game and well played in stretches but there was a sense that the Wolfpack players had a "here we go again" feeling as their lead evaporated in the first moments of the 2nd half.

Defensively Maryland has fallen off a little from where they were earlier in the season. Some of that is related to playing better opponents but it may also have something to do with the offense blossoming over the last few weeks. The team is working much harder to set screens and make cuts on the offensive end and I think that is taking away a little from the defense. The defense is still very good but not outstanding. With the way the offense has improved that is a trade you would be willing to make. The high level of minutes that the starters are playing is also factoring into some defensive lapses. Over the last five games Maryland's opponents have shot 42.2% in the first half and 49% in the 2nd half. To me it is obvious that the fatigue of playing 30+ minutes wears down some of the players.

Yesterday may have been one of the better rebounding performances of the season. NC State only grabbed 6 offensive rebounds, though it isn't really a strength of their's, and were out rebounded by Maryland 36-26. Some of that had to due with the torrid shooting by the Terps, there were only 7 defensive rebounds to be had in the 2nd half.

Greivis Vasquez tied the single game assist record with 15, set by Terrell Stokes against Western Carolina in 1998. Vasquez did set the Maryland record for assists in an ACC game, besting Steve Blake's 14 against North Carolina in 2002. Vasquez didn't shoot very well, only going 6/16 but he nearly got a triple double with 13 points, 15 assists and 9 rebounds. He had four turnovers but a couple came at the end of the game when it was already decided. He seemed to have problems slipping in the floor, perhaps it was some issue with his shoes. In one sequence he cut across the lane on a fast break only to slip but as he was falling he flipped a pass to Landon Milbourne cutting on the baseline for a thunderous two handed dunk. When Vasquez plays like this Maryland will be tough for any team to beat. He is so versatile that he can score 25 points one night and then go out and dish 10 assists the next. Very few players in the ACC can do that and he is only a sophomore.

Eric Hayes also had a nice night. With Gist and Vasquez playing Batman and Robin he quietly had 14 points on a very efficient 5 field goal attempts. His 3-point shooting is getting deadly sitting at 48.1% in ACC games. He has had several clutch 3-point baskets in recent games when teams started keying on Vasquez. He played good defense on Javier Gonzalez and did a great job of doubling down on JJ Hickson in the 2nd half to give Bambale Osby help. Hickson only scored 6 points in the 2nd half.

Landon Milbourne got back to his scoring ways with 11 points and 3 rebounds after doing very little at Boston College. If he can provide that level of offense consistently then Maryland is a much more dangerous team. His play gets overshadowed by some other players but he is greatly improved from where he was a month ago. Even Gary Williams admitted in his post game comments that he probably didn't play Milbourne enough last season. He has added another dimension to Maryland's offense by shooting 57.8% from 3-point range in ACC play and is using his impressive athleticism with more effectiveness. He even got a break away steal that resulted in two foul shots. His defense is getting to be adequate. Milbourne is just starting to understand how good he can be.

Boom Osby really struggled in the 1st half. He had just two points and four rebounds while also turning the ball over twice. Hickson was getting too many good looks in the paint using a pivot move against the less agile Osby. But he turned things around in the 2nd half and finished with 11 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks. His defensive presence shouldn't be undersold and their were a number of times he altered shots by Wolfpack players. With some help he was able to contain JJ Hickson, who is the best freshman post player in the ACC.

As with last game the bench didn't contribute much offense. Cliff Tucker had 5 points and that was it. Adrian Bowie and Braxton Dupree came in a provided some good minutes on the defensive end. Bowie looked like he was pressing a little on offense and made some mistakes as a result. I expect to see him play a large role at Duke.

The game really belonged to James Gist. He has proven all of the skeptics wrong, including me. Earlier in the season after the Ohio and American losses I wrote that he just didn't seem to have the determination to lead this team. In the last 6 weeks he has blown away all that talk. Before the 30 point, 9 rebounds tour de force last night Gist was 4th in the ACC in scoring, 4th in rebounding, 5th in field goal percentage and 2nd in blocked shots in league games. Barring some collapse Gist should clear some space on his mantle because he is going to be a 1st team All-ACC player. He scored from inside and outside, through double teams and from the foul line. In short he can do it all. Sidney Lowe tried playing him straight up with Ben McCauley but Gist just backed him down and elevated over him to score. There are no more fade away jump shots in Gist's offense and it is showing. He is much better if he is aggressive on offense. He has a combination of leaping ability and touch around the basket that is rare. It was great to see Gist's parents in the stands celebrating the best game in his college career.

This group has continued to show an impressive toughness and great poise. They rallied after an emotional halftime scene in the locker room in which players spoke up about how important it was to win the game against NC State. Their ability to win on the road speaks volumes about their maturity. Those wins would not have been possible in December. The trio of starting sophomores are really starting to play at a high level and their two senior frontcourt players in Osby and Gist have been dominating the last month. I'm not sure how far this team is going to take Maryland fans but I'm pretty sure they will be part of March Madness. A win in the next game would all but assure the Terps will be dancing in March.

Wednesday night.

ESPN.

Duke.

Bring it on.

Ratings
Offense 121.5
Defense 102.2

Friday, February 08, 2008

Pack getting confident

NC State seems to think they have figured out their many problems now that they are sitting at 4-4 in the ACC. They have no signature win in or out of the conference and that last second gift over Villanova is looking less impressive by the day, even if you think they were not given the game due to bad officiating. A win over Maryland might give them some momentum going into the second half of the season. On closer inspection this turnaround by the Wolfpack may be a bit of a mirage. They have only managed one win in four road games and got demolished at Duke, Clemson and North Carolina. They needed last second miracles against Miami and Wake Forest to pull out home victories and of their four ACC wins only their game against Virginia Tech was by a comfortable margin and even that required fighting off a furious rally.

In short the Wolfpack are still not a good team. I cannot imagine a Sidney Lowe coached team coming to Comcast and winning this Saturday. In addition Lowe indicated that Brandon Costner was unlikely to play against the Terps due to the rib injury that kept him out of the win over the Hokies.


The 2008 football schedule was released by the ACC today. You can view it here.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Football recruits sign

Coach Ralph Friedgen signed a solid 2008 recruiting class yesterday. It may have ranked only 6th in the ACC and outside the top 25 nationally but it did a good job of filling some needs for this team in the coming years.

The strength of this class has to be the three receivers Maryland landed. Dematha standout Kenny Tate probably is the highlight of this group and of the class overall. He is quick, physical and big. He can go down the field and over the middle with equal ability. Initially Tate was leaning towards Illinois but decided to stay home so that his friends and family could see him play. Kevin Dorsey and Kerry Boykins are also two 4-star receivers that will join Tate in College Park. With a deep receiver corps going into next season I would expect that at least two of the three will redshirt. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Isaiah Williams, Danny Oquendo and LaQuan Williams form a pretty solid group, even with the last two recovering from injuries that ended their seasons. The other younger wide outs have not stepped up so there may be some need for depth unless 2007 recruit Landsford Watson can also move outside. It is too bad there can't be any play on the fact that this group of wide out recruits all have names that begin with the letter K. Triple K...hmm that doesn't work. "Special K's," maybe.

Watson, Devonte Campbell and Drew Gloster will probably fight it out for the tight end and H-back roles left by Joey Haynos and Jason Goode.

Gary Douglas and Davin Meggett provide some needed running back depth behind Morgan Green and Da'Rel Scott. Meggett is the son of former NY Giant Dave Meggett though the two are not close. Both are very productive and underrated running backs that don't wow you with measurables but just churn out yards.

Hopefully this offensive line class will provide some depth over the next few seasons. Along with the 2007 class maybe this is a sign that Friedgen is finally committed to dealing with some weak recruiting in the trenches over the prior classes. Justin Lewis, R.J. Dill and even possibly A.J. Francis may provide interior line depth.

One of the bigger "need" recruits was DT Masengo Kabongo. He is a 6-1 fireplug who is very solid and agile for a kid his size. He may be needed right away with the departures of Carlos Feliciano and Dre Moore. He is more of an attacking lineman than an anchor type. He wants to get up field and shoot gaps, not just occupy blockers. Tackle Teddy Dargan would be a nice addition to the defensive line but appears to have some academic issues. Friedgen wasn't optimistic about him qualifying.

Eteyen Edet may be the latest underrated linebacker to come to Maryland and make a name for himself. He has not been playing football at a high level very long and only recently performed at a level to make the Terps take notice. When Fridge went to see him he nearly posted 20 tackles and was making plays all over the field.

Corner Cameron Chism has been compared to former standouts like Josh Wilson and Domonique Foxworth. If that is true Terp fans should be delighted to have landed this big and fast corner. Of all the players in this class I am most excited about Chism. He, Kabongo (you know his nickname with be Ka-Boom), Meggett and Tate will add much to their various positions over the next three seasons. I do expect most of this class to redshirt.

In an interesting side note Fridge said he is probably limiting his recruiting attention to within a 5 hour drive of the Washington area. That specifically cuts out places like Florida and Georgia. Maryland has gotten some good players from Florida like Donnie Woods and D'Qwell Jackson over the years. Friedgen hinted that the academic requirements at Maryland may make it difficult to find players in those states that can gain admission to the school. The head coach made the point repeatedly that he focused on recruiting good students with high character. I have to think that is related to some of the recent recruiting incidents with questionable characters like Melvin Aleaze (now serving time in prison) and others who did not keep their commitment. It may not be a flashy class, they whiffed on a elite quarterback, but it fills many needs for Maryland with very solid players who probably will not end up as busts.

You can get much more information on these recruits here.

Terps ground Eagles, Gary notches 600th win

It was a historic night for Gary Williams. He returned to the place where he got his first big break in coaching when he was hired away from American University to coach in the Big East for Boston College. He returned over twenty years later as the head coach for a team he built into one of the elite basketball programs in the nation. It was fitting that he reached a milestone in Boston and after the horn had sounded Williams let himself smile ever so briefly. Afterwards the emotion of the moment caught up with Williams as he reminisced about all the years he spent in the coaching ranks to get to his 600th win. A number of old acquaintances from Boston College stopped to congratulate Williams as he left the floor. In typical Gary Williams fashion he quickly turned back to the accomplishments of this year's team and their gritty trio of recent road wins. It really is remarkable that this group has been challenged late in each of their last four road wins but have come out on top. Their defense and sometimes spotty offensive execution has let some teams get a little too close for comfort in the closing minutes but to their credit they have made enough plays to hang on for the win.

I didn't see the game because it was banished to ESPN's version of the Bermuda Triangle. The Basketball Prospectus has a pretty decent summary of the game here. It seems similar to the thoughts of my brother who was able to see the game through Dish Network.

My comments probably wouldn't be worth much beyond the obvious kudos to Greivis Vasquez and James Gist. As I've said before you have to live with the "Jekyll" Vasquez that makes you want to pull your hair out because he can give you games like his 25 point, 8 assist, 6 rebound masterpiece last night. Osby seems to struggle against slower and bigger low post players like Tyrelle Blair and John Oats. Landon Milbourne only took two field goal attempts which given his recent offensive renaissance seems odd. Eric Hayes had a quiet night but hit a clutch 3-point basket in the final minute to seal the win. The defense, besides some breakdowns on the perimeter with Oats, seemed fairly good.

Ratings
Offense: 116.9
Defense: 107.8

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Super Wednesday

Tonight will be a critical test for a number of teams hoping to stay in the race for an NCAA tournament bid. Two bids are all but locked up by UNC and Duke but league supremacy might be on the line tonight. If Duke wins in Chapel Hill tonight you'd have to assume they would be favorites to win the regular season title with a two game lead over the Tarheels. The loss of UNC's Ty Lawson comes at an opportune time for the Blue Devils.

The ACC will probably get four bids with a fifth being a slim possibility. Right now Clemson seems on track to grab the third bid from the conference with a very solid RPI rating. They will travel to Virginia on Thursday in a game they can't afford to lose with a trip to Chapel Hill on the back burner. They will earn their bid if they make it because they face six remaining road games in league play.

The rest of the league is battling for one or possibly two spots. Virginia Tech lost again to NC State last night helping the Wolfpack's chances to stay in the hunt even though they look like one of the worst teams in the league at times. NC State is really a mess of a team, with no decent guard play and a disconnected bunch of players. They have managed to hold things together based on some skin of their teeth victories. I still don't see Sidney Lowe steering this team to the NCAA tournament, however. The Hokies face what amounts to a must win against a desperate Miami team on Saturday. Their 5-3 midpoint record was a bit of a mirage but it has given them just a bit of breathing room.

Speaking of Miami a loss to Florida State tonight might put the nail in their NIT coffin. A loss to FSU with road games at VT and Georgia Tech followed by Duke, Maryland and Clemson might spell the end of their NCAA chances.

Georgia Tech and Wake Forest have another separation game as well. After dropping a game at home to Maryland the Yellow Jackets need to steal a road game against another middling opponent. The loser drops to 3-5 and NIT territory. The Deacons are 3-0 at home in ACC play so far.

Boston College is in free fall mode. They have lost the last four games by an average margin of almost 18 points and their RPI is fading fast. They must beat Maryland tonight to keep their slim NCAA chances alive. With the way Maryland has been playing lately you would think this game should not be close but I have a feeling the Eagles will give the Terps their best shot.

It is signing day for Maryland football and it seems Fridge has pulled in a pretty solid class. I'll write more on the highlights of the class later.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Terps gathering postseason steam

Maryland should have won in comfortable fashion against Georgia Tech but a furious series of comebacks by the Yellow Jackets turned the last few minutes of the game into a nip and tuck affair. It was another indication that this team has become much tougher than it was in the early part of the season. On the road against a tough team this team held it together in the closing minutes and made enough plays to come away with a win. Besides a one point loss at Virginia Tech that this team should have taken they have won the last three road games at Charlotte, North Carolina and Georgia Tech. That is a very good sign. With at least three road games that should be in play the rest of the year (Boston College, Virginia, Wake Forest) the Terps will need to take a couple of those.

Maryland jumped out to an early lead, those slow starts seem to be a thing of the past for now, and held on for a 10 point halftime advantage. Boom Osby was just a monster on the boards in the first half. Georgia Tech doesn't have a stout defense but does have a few credible post players in Jeremis Smith, Gani Lawal and Alade Aminu. Osby scored 16 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in the 1st half alone. He even had a few nice half hooks to add to his repituare. You may not realize it bu Osby is shooting 77.5% from the free throw line in ACC play with 40 attempts. He had another double-double for his fourth in ACC games and sixth overall. He is a legitimate All-ACC candidate at this point in the season. In the second half his only problem was that his teammates were not able to get him the ball. He only took one field goal the entire 13 minutes he played in the 2nd half. Whatever happens the rest of the season Maryland fans should savor the play of this unlikely hero in Osby.

James Gist had a very solid 14 points and 9 rebounds. He wasn't a significant option in the 1st half with Osby and Landon Milbourne providing most of the offensive punch. Gist is giving consistent performances and is showing more leadership and aggressiveness. There were a number of times he was fouled but nothing was called. Gist and Osby are forming the best front court tandem in the ACC right now.

Landon Milbourne had perhaps his best game as a Terrapin with 16 points, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 assists. He is starting to take advantage of his athletic ability and his dunk and block in the closing minutes showed that he is starting to become a reliable option late in a close game. As I've written before his emergence has made Maryland's offense much more potent.

Greivis Vasquez had a pretty poor game. He had 13 points and 9 assists but also had 8 turnovers along with some really terrible shot selection. His 3-point shooting was terrible and he forced things on offense way too often. He went 5/15 from the floor and only hit 50% of his free throws including two critical misses in the final moments of the game. If Bambale Osby had not hit two free throws with 17 seconds left the game may have been forced to overtime after Vasquez missed two in a row and Eric Hayes missed the front end of a one-in-one. It was the kind of dreadful game that you have to live with when it comes to Greivis.

Eric Hayes had a good game with 14 points and 8 assists and hit 2/4 3-point shots. Georgia Tech didn't have the ability to exploit Maryland's sometime weak perimeter defense so Hayes' problems there were not exploited as much. Maryland did have some problems when the Yellow Jackets got out in transition and pushed the ball up the floor after Maryland misses. Paul Hewitt knew that their half court offense wasn't working well and knew they had to push the ball to try for easy scores. The big men and guards for the Terps did a poor job of getting back and stopping the athletic Georgia Tech big men from getting quick outlet passes down the lane.

Once again Hayes and Vasquez played way too many minutes in this game. Hayes played 36 minutes and Vasquez played 37 minutes. That is just too much and it nearly cost Maryland this game like the Duke loss last week. Cliff Tucker and Adrian Bowie only scored 12 points in just 13 minutes of play with only one turnover, yet they only played two and three minutes each in the 2nd half. Bowie had a clutch 3-pointer with 10 minutes left in the game that pushed the lead back to six points. Gary Williams has paid lip service to reducing the minutes by Vasquez and Hayes but he has not seriously committed to it. As soon as the game gets a little tight he tends to pull his freshmen and go for long stretches with his starters. It will cost this team at some point in the near future if he doesn't do a better job managing the rotation.

I don't understand Gary's obsession with playing Dave Neal. With Osby in some foul trouble he put Dave Neal in the game and he proceeded to commit two fouls and two turnovers in just 7 minutes of play. He simply wasn't a good matchup for Zach Peacock who even I knew was a decent outside shooter. His simply shot right over Neal with 1:45 left in the game to cut the lead to three and then James Gist had to switch on Peacock when Neal wasn't quick enough to get out on him and fouled Peacock for three foul shots. He wasn't a good matchup for any player on Georgia Tech. The fact that Neal is out on the floor probably says more about what Williams thinks about Shane Walker and Braxton Dupree than about Dave Neal being a good bench option. I don't even know what the mystery behind Jerome Burney and Dino Gregory not playing could be at this point. Gary alluded to issues of poor practice on the radio but who knows what might be the reason for that.

The shooting was very good (55%) and the offense sliced apart Georgia Tech's defense with great ball movement in the first half. The defense was once again a little under par and has not been as stellar in the last few weeks as it was earlier in the season. The turnovers were awful. Georgia Tech forced 24 turnovers on 13 steals and scored 25 points off Maryland's miscues. Hayes, Osby and Vasquez accounted for 16 of the 24 turnovers. This will come back to haunt Maryland if they don't take better care of the ball.

Next up, revenge for the Luckie game!

Ratings
Offense: 107.3
Defense: 107.0